Say Brother was WGBH-Boston’s answer to America’s racial crisis. On April 4, 1968, as the news of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s, murder touched off major unrest in other cities, Boston Mayor Kevin White considered a dilemma: White feared that a concert scheduled for the following day, April 5, by R&B icon James Brown would, by gathering thousands of young African-Americans in the city center, create a potentially-explosive situation. But canceling the concert risked angering Boston’s black citizens anew. City officials approached the leadership of Boston’s educational television station, WGBH, with a proposal to broadcast the concert live on television, and encourage fans to stay home. WGBH’s executives readily agreed, and the vast majority of fans did choose to stay home and watch the broadcast. The streets of Boston saw little of the violence that raged elsewhere, and city officials–and national media–gave credit for the city’s relative calm to the broadcast and, of course, to Brown’s considerable influence.
Ultimately, the recognition given to WGBH for televising the concert spurred the production of Boston’s first Black public affairs television program, Say Brother.
WGBH was far from the only public or commercial station to launch a black-oriented program in the aftermath of the assassination.
Initially, Say Brother’s African-American staff was able to set an editorial agenda with little input from the station about the program’s message and style. In an interview, Stan Lathan, Say Brother’s first director, surmised that their free reign came from a mix of white fears about black militancy and liberal hopes about the potential for black self-expression:
…we had absolute freedom for the first year; I think there was a tolerance that came about because of the time at that time we were able to say “You don’t get it because you’re not black.” (Lathan 2005)
Black public affairs television began in the late sixties as African-Americans took control of the streets — and the airwaves. After decades of unfair representation in the media, a new generation of African-American producers, writers, and editors brought their news and views to programs like Black Journal, Soul!, Say Brother, and many others.
Black public affairs television was born of turbulent times, a product of America’s great societal upheaval in the 1960s. The passage of federal legislation to prohibit discrimination at the lunch counter and the voting booth (the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, respectively) did little to address the everyday indignities of economic and racial discrimination for most African-Americans. Urban schools remained woefully underfunded and overcrowded. Banks made it nearly impossible for black families to purchase homes and businesses, so African-Americans were segregated into low-cost, low-quality housing in urban ghettos. Poverty, powerlessness, and police brutality became the norm for many urban African-Americans. From 1964 on, in cities as far-flung as Watts, New York, Baltimore and Chicago, African-Americans took to the streets to violently protest racial and economic inequality. Read More …
Black Journal/Tony Brown’s Journal (1968-2008) (transitioned from PBS – to commercial network – back to PBS)
Black Perspectives on the News, WHYY Philadelphia (1974-1979)
Soul!, WNET New York (1970-1973)
Say Brother, WGBH Boston
Talking Black, Eastern Educational Network, Boston (one-off program, 1968)
Another Voice, WHYY Philadelphia
The National Black Political Convention, WTTW Chicago (poss. 1973)
Forty years ago, the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn was one of the largest and most dynamic African-American communities in the country – 400,000 people made their home within its three square miles. But Bed-Stuy became synonymous with crime and poverty when the mainstream media focused on urban unrest during the ’60s. One television show decided to change all that.
Charles Hobson was a producer for WBAI radio when he was approached to produce a news program about Bedford-Stuyvesant. Robert F. Kennedy conceived a television series that would show the ‘real’ Bed-Stuy -– a neighborhood of working families, students, artists and professionals. “Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant” came to New York’s airwaves in 1968.
On “Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant”, Charles Hobson captured his neighborhood in black and white — local celebrities, activists, musicians, and regular residents all made appearances on the weekly show. The program ran for two years, and Hobson moved on to produce shows like “Black Journal” and “Like It Is”.
Watch Hobson Interview (7:45)
Described by Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant producer Charles Hobson as one of the program’s “most-requested pieces”, this video features the Leroi Jones Young Spirit House Movers and Players delivering a jaw-droppingly powerful spoken-word performance.
These kids, from Bed-Stuy and Brownsville, deliver a powerful protest about race relations in America.
Watch the Leroi Jones Young Spirit House Movers and Players (9:33), introduced by Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant host Roxie Roker: Read More …
In this 1968 segment, singer/actor/activist Harry Belafonte talks to the Bed-Stuy community in a local Brooklyn park, and takes a Q&A from Bed-Stuy residents.
Belafonte had always been active in civil rights–Five years before this interview, he joined the historic March on Washington, D.C. with Martin Luther King, Jr. In this video, the entertainer, surrounded by a group of adults and kids in a park, discusses his problem with the inaccurate representation of blacks in the media. He later fields questions from several spectators on issues of poverty, education and politics affecting the black community. Read More …
Before it became Tony Brown’s Journal, Black Journal was a weekly newsmagazine originating from NET (National Educational Television–pre-WNET) and airing nationally. The tone was a mixture of serious, educational, and irreverent– in news stories, interviews (2 Black Panthers in this episode alone), profiles, and skits.
Hosted by Lou House and William Greaves, initially the staff on Black Journal, and, in fact, for this first episode, were NOT all black producers, directors, etc… but between when the first episode was being prepared and its airdate, the black staff of the show went on strike (more about this later, when we interview producer Charles Hobson, spokeperson for the group). The goals of the strike? For the staff, at the very least the senior staff, to be all black. These goals were met by the time the show, and this first episode, launched. Read More …
This episode of “Black Journal,” one of the earliest black-produced newsmagazines on television, features:
* A profile of L.A. grassroots empowerment organization Operation Bootstrap, including one of their components, a factory that produces black dolls and babydolls.
* A skit about racial disharmony, featuring actor Antonio Fargas.
* A segment on the challenges faced by elected black public officials (including an interview with Shirley Chisholm).
* The words and music of singer Nina Simone, including a performance by Ms. Simone at Morehouse University.
It is one of two episodes of Black Journal nominated for a Peabody Award. It originally aired in 1969, and is hosted by Lou House and William Greaves. Read More …
Starting in 1968, Detroit public TV station WTVS produced an African-American news and public affairs show called Colored People’s Time, abbreviated as CPT. The show’s original mission was to build more community involvement among Detroit’s largely African-American urban population.
CPT was originally hosted by Tony Brown (picture at right), who went on to produce WNET’s Black Journal, and later helm his own show for over 30 years, Tony Brown’s Journal. CPT covered local and national news and events pertinent to Detroit’s African-American community, as well as the arts, fashion and culture, including live performances from musicians, dancers, more. The show is still airing today on WTVS as American Black Journal. Many shows from the archives are online. Read More …
Soul! was a spectacular NET/WNET production that aired from 1968-1973. 9 episodes are online. Watch Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Tito Puente, Ashford & Simpson, Earth, Wind & Fire, and many more on the show. Go now…