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Broadcasting While Black

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009
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Inside Thirteen blogger: Robin Edgerton, editor, thirteen.org


African singer/activist Miriam Makeba performs,
while dancer/costume designer Judy Dearing
interprets, on an episode of Soul! from 1972

‘Broadcasting While Black’ is thirteen.org’s approach to Black History Month programming. We’ll be presenting articles and videos on thirteen.org throughout February 2009, focusing on early years of black-produced television. We’re putting up full episodes of Soul! (1968-1973) and early episodes of Black Journal, both early WNET productions we are proud of, as well as interviews and articles.

Why this topic in particular? For starters, the history of black-produced TV is neglected on the Web. We found that the source information on this theme is scant: An occasional episode list, a description of a show isolated in a producer’s bio, a clip or two on YouTube, not much else. We’d like to provide more information and hopefully a location for further discussion of these programs.

Traditionally, during Black History Month most media organizations offer content on the civil rights movement, emancipation, Jim Crow laws, and so forth—while this is absolutely valuable (and Thirteen’s BHM on-air program, Looking for Lincoln, is great), this approach skews the discussion to be about racial conflict and oppression. For instance, you can’t address Jim Crow laws without involving the lawmakers or oppressors—Black History Month then becomes, in part, White History Month.

Instead, this online project emphasizes identity—African-Americans who took control of media moving their debates and art forward—and at the same time developing a broader place and stronger voice.

Here’s what we’ll be posting during the month:

Broadcasting While Black: An Overview
Wayne Taylor looks at how these programs started, focusing on 5 of the earliest from around the country:

    Say Brother at WGBH Boston
    Black Journal at WNET New York
    Colored People’s Time/CPT at Detroit Public Television
    Soul! at WNET New York
    Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant at WNEW New York


Image from an early Black Journal skit

Soul!
Many full-length, online streaming episodes (6 to start) of this groundbreaking art and politics variety show, which ran from 1968-1973 on NET and WNET.

Black Journal
Two early episodes of this flagship NET program, full-length, streaming online.

Interviews and articles:
* Director Stan Lathan about his work on Soul!, Say Brother, Black Journal (and Sesame Street)
* Producer Charles Hobson about his work on Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant and Black Journal
* Gayle Wald’s examination of iconoclastic Soul! producer Ellis Haizlip, whose freeform vision shaped the series.
* Devorah Heitner’s list of all(?) black-produced programs produced in the U.S. between the 1960s and the 1980s, adapted for the web with links and clips.