Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

Black Power and the Mainstream Media

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Chicago's "Wall of Respect," which featured more than 50 African American heroes and is considered part of the black power and black arts movements. It stood from 1967 to 1971.

They Didn't Mix in '60s, and the Feeling's Still Mutual

The Smithsonian Institution is hosting a two-day conference in Washington called "1968 and Beyond: A Symposium on the Impact of the Black Power Movement on America," and judging from the first day, the mainstream media are being paid little respect.

The battle-weathered activists who took part in that misunderstood part of history would probably say the feeling was mutual. And it's true that hardly anyone from the mainstream media was there to cover it. 

For those old enough to remember those times, the words "black power" might conjure images of John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising black-gloved fists at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, gestures some found threatening. The recollection could also be of Stokely Carmichael, later known as Kwame Ture, declaring "Black Power!" in Greenwood, Miss., in 1966, during a three-week-long protest march to secure for black Mississippians the right to vote. It also could be the poster image of Black Panther Huey P. Newton, wearing a turtleneck and a black beret, holding a spear in one hand and a rifle in the other.

According to the participants, those iconic images were just symbols, and nowhere near the whole of the movement, which took place from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. Think of the growth in black elected officials and black studies departments; of alternative schools; Afrocentric bookstores; the acting workshops that produced Denzel Washington and Danny Glover; and yes, the political groundwork that would help elect President Obama. Think beyond the news media script that often pits a noble civil rights movement against a "destructive" one preaching black power.

"The white media just basically attacked us," Askia Muhammad Toure, activist, educator and poet and one of Monday's panelists, told Journal-isms. "Very few black people were writing in the white media at the time, and those who did attacked us, too." He attributed the attacks to fear of black self-assertion. "If you don't define your reality, somebody else will," Toure had told the conference, which continues on Tuesday, free and open to the public.

The media played "a very important role" in the black power movement, poet Sonia Sanchez said.  "Positive and negative, but mostly negative.

"That's why a lot of us don't give interviews."

She cited a couple of exceptions, such as black New York television journalists Ellis Haislip and Gil Noble, but Sanchez said most reporters were more interested in creating an uproar than providing context and getting facts right. She said she doesn't see much difference today, citing recent coverage of Obama's grappling with the economy.

The activists didn't always feel so alienated, according to playwright Amiri Baraka, formerly LeRoi Jones. The media "were a little naive earlier," he told Journal-isms. "But they got wise. You used to be able to hear Dr. King, Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael," he said, referring to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. But those voices soon disappeared. Today, "they only put fools" on the air. (And too many, Toure added, are happy to go on.)

The news media's role in the black power movement did not rate its own discussion at the two-day event, where the intermissions Monday were punctuated by such songs as Nina Simone's "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" and Aretha Franklin's "Respect."

It was an unfortunate omission, because there would be much to tell from the news media side. Black reporters could recall how they were singled out at community meetings with a "there's one!" as if they were working for the enemy, or how they were sometimes in catch-22 situations where they could please neither black community members nor their editors. They could also explain the triumph of satisfying both.

If one point was made, it was that the issues raised during the black power movement remain.

Toure charged that Johnson Publishing Co. pulled the plug in 1976 on its handbook-sized Black World, previously Negro Digest, after pressure Johnson Publishing received when it published an article "explaining" the Palestinian position. Johnson said then that Black World, edited by Hoyt Fuller, just wasn't making money.

The Palestinian issue is still with us, and them. Some panelists criticized the Obama administration's threat not to attend the second World Conference Against Racism, in Geneva, unless changes were made in the conference's main document. According to the New York Times, the document seeks to ban criticism of religion, calls for slave reparations and attacks Israel as racist. Israel and some American Jewish groups urged a boycott of the April conference, and several close American allies, including Canada, said they would not go,

Panelists celebrated the community and movement journals, and the "little bitty newspapers" of their time, as journalist and former SNCC activist Charles E. Cobb Jr. put it. Baraka linked ownership of media outlets to community self-control, specifically criticizing the tabloid New York Post.

Today, according to members of the coalition, racial and ethnic minorities make up 34 percent of the U.S. population, yet own just 7.7 percent of full-power radio stations and 3.15 percent of television stations.

As for News Corp., parent company of the Post, Sharon D. Toomer, managing editor of New York-based Web site Black and Brown News, reported last week, "It seems that while those of us who follow the business of news media were fixated on News Corp's take over of Dow Jones-The Wall Street Journal in 2007, the multinational media conglomerate was quietly acquiring a number of neighborhood newspapers in New York City."

It would be a mistake to think these activists and scholars spent much time criticizing the media. It was more like, "don't ask, don't tell," though Chicago artist Frank Smith, an early member of the black arts movement known as African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists (AfriCOBRA), did tell this story:

In 1967, community members in Chicago created a mural called "the Wall of Respect" that inspired a nationwide community art movement. It was a montage of more than 50 African American heroes chosen by residents.

He named some: musician Charlie Parker, singer-songwriter Oscar Brown Jr., Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., writer and editor Lerone Bennett, playwright Baraka, heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, NBA superstar Bill Russell, activist/comedian Dick Gregory.

"These were not people who were popular with the press," Smith said from the stage. "These were not leaders who were set before us. In fact, the ones who were set before us were deliberately not chosen."

The wall lasted until 1971, when the building was damaged and torn down.

"Something Is Missing" as Detroit Curbs Home Delivery

"Maybe once a year, a city has a news day as heavy as the one that just hit Detroit: The White House forced out the chairman of General Motors, word leaked that the administration wanted Chrysler to hitch its fortunes to Fiat, and Michigan State University‚Äôs men‚Äôs basketball team reached the Final Four, which will be held in Detroit," Richard P?©rez-Pe?±a and Mary Chapman reported¬†Monday in the New York Times.

"All of this news would have landed on hundreds of thousands of Motor City doorsteps and driveways on Monday morning, in the form of The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News.

"Would have, that is, except that Monday — of all days — was the long-planned first day of the newspapers’ new strategy for surviving the economic crisis by ending home delivery on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Instead, on those days, they are directing readers to their Web sites and offering a free, truncated print version at stores, newsstands and street boxes.

“'This morning, I felt like something was missing,' said Nancy Nester, 51, a program coordinator at a traumatic brain injury center who is from West Bloomfield and has subscribed to both papers for four years. 'There was this feeling of emptiness.'”

Michael Eric Dyson to Host Public Radio Talk Show

Michael Eric DysonThe African American Public Radio Consortium, which sparked "the Tavis Smiley Show," its successor "News & Notes" and "Tell Me More" with Michel Martin, all on National Public Radio, is launching "The Michael Eric Dyson Show" on Monday in partnership with Baltimore's WEAA-FM, the Morgan State University station, the consortium announced Monday.

The prolific Dyson, author, college professor, minister and talk-show pundit, hosted a show syndicated on Radio One until March 2007.

Starting Monday, the Dyson show will air Monday through Friday, in 18 markets:  Atlanta (WCLK-AM), Raleigh-Durham, N.C., (WSHA and WNCU), Las Vegas (KCEP) and Houston (KTSU). Air times will vary according to the market, the consortium said.

The consortium's "News & Notes" went off the air March 20 amid budget cuts at NPR. It was carried on 64 stations.

Ken Burns Includes Latinos in Latest PBS Series

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, whose "The War" miniseries was the subject of a protacted battle between Latino activists and PBS over its omission of Latinos, has done better with his new series, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," columnist Carlos Guerra reported Thursday in the San Antonio Express-News.

Burns was in San Antonio to promote the six-episode series, which debuts in the fall.

"I was pleased to see the story of George Melendez Wright, a Latino biologist who got the National Park Service to focus on preserving the parks' flora and fauna instead of trying to attract crowds by using wildlife in cruel circuslike acts," Guerra wrote.

"I also liked the tale of Juan Luj?°n, who as a young man from Redford was changed after he got a Civilian Conservation Corps job at Big Bend, setting him on a life that eventually led to his earning advanced college degrees.

"There are also tales about the black soldiers who guarded the parks, and of Japanese Americans who popularized them.

"Tree-hugger that I am, I look forward to the entire series.

"And I'm reminded of the wisdom of that dicho that advises: 'El que no habla, ni dios lo oye' — if you don't speak up, not even God will hear you."

"We Shall Remain," an ambitious five-part series, premieres on PBS on April 13.

Five-Part Series Tells Thanksgiving from Indians' View

"On a steamy day last summer, the reproduction Colonial cottages at Salem's Pioneer Village buzzed with modern-day activity: cameras and boom mikes and makeup artists, real chickens, and a deer made of foam," Joanna Weiss wrote from Salem, Mass., on Sunday for the Boston Globe.

"Actors playing Pilgrims, bearing the heat beneath thick woolen coats, milled about a table set with berries and nuts. Native Americans in traditional garb lounged near a rental truck, waiting to be called into action.

"Their task: to re-create the first Thanksgiving for 'American Experience,' the public-television history series produced by WGBH. But this retelling — part of the upcoming series 'We Shall Remain' — would be different from other Thanksgiving stories. It would be told from the point of view of Massasoit, the Wampanoag leader who made the risky choice to forge an alliance with the British colonists of Plymouth.

"And it would end with a pointed question about whether Massasoit might have regretted his decision, since the trust he built with the colonists wouldn't last to the next generation. Among the props on the set was a model of a human head: Massasoit's son, King Philip, which the colonists would later impale on a stick.

"The Wampanoags' arc, from hope to despair, makes up the first episode of 'We Shall Remain,' an ambitious five-part series that premieres on PBS on April 13. Less a historical survey than a set of portraits, it aims to tell Native American history from the Native Americans' perspective — and focuses on individual leaders, tragic and heroic, who affected the course of history."

A Short History of Blacks in White House Press Corps

Alice Dunnigan and Simeon Booker"More than 28 years ago, when — thanks to Ted Clark — I started doing commentaries for National Public Radio’s 'All Things Considered,' I was in a constant race with the staid old 'Gray Lady' — The New York Times, so named because of its stodgy, hidebound, gray appearance and style — and with The Washington Post to pitch story ideas to my editors before they appeared in those two important, national 'newspapers of record,' ” multimedia Washington journalist Askia Muhammad, whose work appears in the Final Call and the Washington Informer and on Pacifica radio, wrote on his Web site on Sunday.

"After a story appears in one of those publications, no reporter can claim it’s still 'news.' So for me, as often as not when editors rejected my story suggestions, if and when the story later appeared in print, I would always call and remind them that I pitched the story to them, before it was seen in The Times or The Post. I wanted them to know they could trust my 'nose for news.'

"But once in a while, there is still some 'news' after a story appears in The Gray Lady. In this instance, it’s an old saga made new, by a report by Times writer Rachel L. Swarns, published March 27, 2009. 'Obama Brings Flush Times for Black News Media,' reads the headline.

“'For the nation’s black magazines, newspapers, and television and radio stations, the arrival of the Obama administration has ushered in an era of unprecedented access to the White House,' she begins. That may well be true, and it’s about time!

“'At his news conference Tuesday (March 24), he skipped over several prominent newspapers and newsmagazines to call on Kevin Chappell, a senior editor at Ebony magazine,' she continued. 'It was the first time an Ebony reporter had been invited to question a president at a prime-time news conference.' Stop right there.

"What we see today may or may not be 'The Greatest' days The Black Press has ever seen at the White House, but understand: these are just 'The Latest.' And, by a long shot, they certainly are not The First!

"The Times article, well intentioned as it may have been, is a classic example of how short-term memory can revise history."

Muhammad goes on to discuss Simeon Booker, Roy Betts, E. Fannie Granton, Don Agurs, Tamu White, Glen Ford, Sonya Ross, Ethel Payne, Alice Dunnigan and April Ryan.

Story of Bonuses United Bloggers, Mainstream Press

"While the news agenda of bloggers often differs from that of the traditional press, there was no such divide last week when it came to $165 million in bonuses paid by insurance giant AIG," according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism's New Media Index for March 16-20.

"Outrage over AIG — which has received about $180 billion in bailout funds — dwarfed all other subjects in the social media last week, just as it did in the mainstream press. And as was the case with reaction in the traditional media, the vast majority of online commentators expressed anger over the bonuses while a small minority voiced support.

"That discussion made the economic crisis overwhelmingly the top subject for bloggers, accounting for 65% of the most linked-to stories by blogs and social media sites from March 16-20, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism."

Rebecca Lopez' story of the police officer who stopped an NFL player from seeing a dying family member is her biggest in 10 years.

Dallas Reporter Gets Her Biggest Story in 10 Years

"Last Wednesday at first didn't look like much, at least from Rebecca Lopez's perspective as WFAA8's principal police reporter," Dallas television writer Ed Bark wrote Monday on his blog.

"'It was a really slow news day, and I didn't have anything to pitch for the 10 p.m. newscast,' she recalled Monday in a telephone interview from New York. 'So I just thought of calling some people that I know on the beat.'

"One of her sources told her he'd 'overheard something that you might be interested in.' Hours later, Lopez had what turned out to be the biggest story in her 10-plus years at the Dallas-based station. The traffic stop incident involving Ryan and Tamishia Moats and Dallas traffic cop Robert Powell quickly became a mega-story, both locally and nationally, after Lopez first reported it on Wednesday's 10 p.m. newscast.

"'I proceeded to follow the records and get the police tape," Lopez says. 'And then obviously when you see the tape, there was just no doubt that it was going to be a big story.'

". . . Thousands of emails have poured into and other Web sites, the great majority of them demanding that Powell be fired after detaining the Moatses outside Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano, where Tamishia's mother was dying.

"Lopez was in New York City Monday, where she did the only local TV interview with the Moatses after they first spoke exclusively to ABC's Good Morning America and co-anchor Robin Roberts."

June Memorial Service for John Hope Franklin

"In honor of his wishes, there will be no funeral for Dr. John Hope Franklin, the respected historian of the black experience in America who died Wednesday at age 94," Gregory Childress reported Friday in the Durham (N.C.) Herald-Sun.

"'He was a humble person that way,' said Duke University spokeswoman Camille Jackson. 'He didn't want a lot of fuss around him.'

"Instead of a funeral, there will be a celebration of Dr. Franklin's life June 11 at 11 a.m. in Duke Chapel. That day was chosen because it would have been the 69th wedding anniversary of Dr. Franklin and his late wife Aurelia Franklin.

"'He specifically didn't want that [a funeral],' Jackson said. 'The event in June is a celebration of his life.'"

The New York Times, which had placed news of Franklin's death inside a front-page box referring to inside stories, recovered on Sunday with a story by Peter Applebome in the Week in Review section that dominated the section's front page.

Franklin's passing apparently never made the front page of the Los Angeles Times, which placed its initial story, written by the Associated Press, on page A26, according to a database search.

The National Visionary Leadership Project announced Monday that its video interview of Franklin is available on its Web site.

"Dr. Franklin was a great friend and advisor to NVLP from our earliest days," said the project, which interviews "Visionaries" who are at least 70 years old.

Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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RE: Black Pundits

I guess it didn't help that the conference is occurring at the beginning of a work week making it very difficult for one to attend. It is also not that publicized in the local media. Of course, black nationalism still has impact, but most of all, it is relevant and perhaps more relevant once it is realized that everything cannot be obtained through efforts geared towards integration.

black power movement coverage

It appears that a few aging veterans of the black power movement still suffer from some of the same perceptual myopia they displayed about the mainstream press at the height of the movement in the 60s and 70s. This aging veteran of mainstream media covered much of that movement and can attest that, yes, much of the media coverage was unfair. But a lot of it, especially by black reporters such as Earl Caldwell, Jack White, Paul Delaney, Reginald Stuart, Paul Hathaway, Sam Ford, Tom Johnson, and others (among whom I'd like to include myself) was spot-on. While Askia Muhammed Toure's observation that "very few" blacks were working for white media then, is correct, he is way off base when he sweepingly generalizes that "those who did attacked us too." It betrays the same lack of understanding of what a professional journalist does that we encountered then from many in the movement. Our role wasn't to be their public relations emissaries, despite what we may have personally felt about black power. Our motives were also considered suspect by many of our white colleagues as well. So we got it from both sides. But in the end, our objectivity became our credibility--allowing us to earn the respect both of our white coworkers and those members of the movement who understood that fair and comprehensive coverage of their cause could be advantageous.

Blacks in White House Press Corps

Haven't seen the referenced story on Blacks in the White House Press Corps, but if Ed Bradley's very prominent place in the Jimmy Carter White House Press Corps (for CBS Network Television News) wasn't included, then the piece is seriously flawed. Bradley was called-on regularly. If memory serves me well, Ed only exited that White House beat because he wanted to be back in the "field" actively working stories. The 60-Minutes gig provided that opportunity.

Wall of Respect

As an original member of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC), creators of the Wall of Respect in 1967 (and a documenter of that process) and a journalist for Muhammad Speaks Newspaper I agree with the basic tenet of Mr. Boyce's comment. Additionally, the true history and story of the Wall of Respect has yet to be told. I am not aware of how many surviving members there are but Robert Senstacke, Roy Lewis and myself were there and can bear witness to what happened. I couldn't agree more with Eric Tait's remarks.

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