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Lena Horne Was a Friend to the Press

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Sunday, May 9, 2010
"She Made Remarkable Revelations," Biographer Says

Profs Concerned About Court Nominee's Hiring Record

Obama: Information Shouldn't Become a "Distraction,"

Denied Weekly Column, Massey CEO Sued the Paper

Project Compares "Well-Being" Among Races

Black American, Chinese Students to Meet in S. Africa

46 in Congress Want Public Hearings on NBC-Comcast

James Leeson Dies, Taped Black Man's Execution

2 Weeks Left to Nominate Journalism Educator

CBS correspondent Ed Bradley would say, "'Have you seen my Lena Horne interview?'" (Credit: CBS)

"She Made Remarkable Revelations," Biographer Says

The late CBS correspondent Ed Bradley was fond of saying, "When I get to the pearly gates and St. Peter asks what have I done to gain entry, I'll say, `Have you seen my Lena Horne interview?' "

In that classic 1981 piece for "60 Minutes" [video], "he got the legendary performer to candidly discuss topics she had never broached in public: race, sex and the cost of being black in Hollywood. At one point, she even reached out to take his hand," David Zurawik recalled in the Baltimore Sun after Bradley died in 2006.

Lena Horne's appearance on Ebony magazine's cover of May 1980 cover was her 10th.It takes nothing away from Bradley's interviewing skills to say that Horne, who died Sunday night at 92, was a friend to reporters.

"She was very accessible to the press from the very beginning of her career," said James Gavin, author of "Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne," published last year.

In fact, "she very often had an easier time telling the truth to strangers than she did to friends," Gavin told Journal-isms on Monday.

"When I interviewed her at 30 in the spring of 1994, she didn't know me. She knew that I cared about her and cared about her career. She gave me one of the best interviews she ever gave anybody. We talked for over two hours. It became the kernel of the book that I did 10 years later.

"She did hundreds of radio and print interviews. She made remarkable revelations that made my book possible," he said.

"Something always came out. She wasn't always presenting the politically correct, image-conscious Lena Horne." Many of the revelations concerned her treatment by the MGM studios. But she also talked about racism, such as the time in the late 1940s when she was told she could not address the white host of a radio show by his first name.  Horne blasted the racism of the broadcast industry in an interview with Nate Gross of the New York Daily News.

Cooperating with the press was part of the job, Horne told younger entertainers, such as the veteran singer-songwriters Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson.

"Lena Horne once told us, 'When you don't want to do your part of the job, stay home,' " Simpson recalled for Journal-isms last year.  " 'So if you don't want to give them what they need to do their job - 'cause this is part of your job, it's show business - then you stay home. If you don't want to be pleasant about it, and get that part of the job done, then there's no reason to be there.' "

In the 1940s, according to Gavin's book, the white press called Horne "sepian songstress," "beauteous bronze" and "chocolate cream chanteuse."

In the black press, Horne was additionally a figure of pride. She was "a glamor queen, a sex symbol, a champion for Black rights" who was "far too beautiful, far too talented, far too irrepressible to be overlooked," as Ebony magazine described her.

The magazine introduced a May 1980 cover story on Horne with a boast about the access she gave the publication: "A rather shy, exceedingly private person off-stage, Lena has a longstanding rule against admitting the press to her home. But, remembering her more than 30-year relationship with EBONY (This marks her 10th appearance on EBONY's cover), she made an exception and invited EBONY Managing Editor Hans J. Massaquoi and Staff Photographer Moneta Sleet Jr. to visit her at her Santa Barbara, Calif., hideaway."

Horne wasn't just written about in the press, she was a part of it, writing an opinion column for the People's Voice, which was published from 1942 to 1948 and was founded by Harlem politician Adam Clayton Powell, a congressman for 26 years.

"In one essay, she berated the entertainment industry for continuing to depict Negroes as 'silly, simple, shuffling types, laughing, dancing and bowing their way through life. A great section of White America laughs at these characterizations, and accepts them as normal and true to life . . . When will our entertainment be truly American in its scope and democratic in its treatment of Negroes and other persecuted peoples?' " Gavin wrote in his book.

The first AP news alert about Horne's death moved at 1:17 a.m. Eastern time on Monday: "Singer Lena Horne, who broke racial barriers as a Hollywood and Broadway star, has died."

Unlike with the death of civil rights leader Dorothy I. Height, who died April 20 at age 98 after a hospital stay, and whose death also was announced in the early hours, this time nearly all news organizations seemed prepared. (The New York Times had no obit ready when Height died.)

The Washington Post, for example, ran an AP photo gallery on Horne.

A later AP lead, by Verena Dobnik: "Lena Horne, the enchanting jazz singer and actress who reviled the bigotry that allowed her to entertain white audiences but not socialize with them, slowing her rise to Broadway superstardom, has died. She was 92." headlined, "Revolutionary Beauty Lena Horne Dies at Age 92."

The New York Times' Aljean Harmetz wrote, "Lena Horne, who was the first black performer to be signed to a long-term contract by a major Hollywood studio and who went on to achieve international fame as a singer, died on Sunday night . . . "

The Los Angeles Times' Dennis McLellan began, "Lena Horne, the silky-voiced singing legend who shattered Hollywood stereotypes of African Americans on screen in the 1940s as a symbol of glamour whose signature song was 'Stormy Weather,' died Sunday . . . "

"She was the pinup poster for thousands of black GIs in World War II and a fixture of the nightclub and cabaret scene of the 1940s," Joel Dreyfuss began on "Lena Horne, a beautiful daughter of Brooklyn, whose career was limited by the apartheid of her time, died Sunday at age 92."

President Obama nominates Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court on Monday amid questions about her hiring record at Harvard Law. (Credit: White House)

Profs Concerned About Court Nominee's Hiring Record

A group of law professors is finding an attentive audience with an assertion that President Obama's new choice for the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, paid little attention to diversity while dean of Harvard Law School.

"The first woman Dean of Harvard Law School had presided over an unprecedented expansion of the faculty — growing it by almost a half," wrote Guy-Uriel Charles of Duke Law School, Anupam Chander of University of California-Davis School of Law, Luis Fuentes-Rohwer of Indiana University's School of Law and Angela Onwuachi-Willig of the University of Iowa College of Law, writing Friday for

"She had hired 32 tenured and tenure-track academic faculty members (non-clinical, non-practice). But when we sat down to review the actual record, we were frankly shocked. Not only were there shockingly few people of color, there were very few women. Where were the people of color? Where were the women? Of these 32 tenured and tenure-track academic hires, only one was a minority. Of these 32, only seven were women. All this in the 21st Century.

"One of us aired some of these concerns, which we expressed in a joint letter to the White House, on a blog. The White House never responded directly to us, but it did provide a defense of the Solicitor General’s record to concerned civil rights groups, who then made the document public. . . . We are glad that the White House has responded to some of the questions that we have raised.

"Unfortunately, the White House’s defense of the solicitor general’s hiring record while she was Dean at Harvard is surprisingly weak."

Among those echoing the professors' questions were Pamela D. Reed, whose piece was posted on various blogs, including Diverse: Issues in Higher Education; Roland S. Martin of Creators Syndicate and; syndicated columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson and Sherrilyn A. Ifill, writing on

Others, meanwhile, examined her record on First Amendment issues.

Students celebrate as President Obama speaks at the commencement ceremony at Hampton University in Hampton, Va., on Saturday. (Credit: Pete Souza/White House)

Obama: Information Shouldn't Become "Distraction"

President Obama, in his first commencement of the graduation season at a historically black colleges, reminded Hampton University students Saturday of Frederick Douglass' advice that "education . . . means emancipation.”

And in that connection, he also offered his thoughts on today's media landscape.

"You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter," he said.

"And with iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — (laughter) — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy."

Denied Weekly Column, Massey CEO Sued the Paper

"After I signed on as editorial page editor of the Charleston Gazette, West Virginia’s premier newspaper, the first visitor to the editorial board was Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship," Susanna Rodell wrote last week in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The paper was reporting on a dark side of coal mining, on a practice that reduces mountains to rubble "that then chokes the surrounding valleys, creating thousands of acres of decimated, dead landscape."

She wrote, "the main character in this ongoing drama, I was informed — a man who could have come from Central Casting in the role of old-fashioned mustachioed Bad Guy — was Blankenship.

"He arrived at our office with a PR guy in a green suit and regaled our little gathering with his Local Boy history: childhood in rural Mingo County, graduation from West Virginia University, working his way up from the bottom of the industry. He then told us he thought it would be only fitting for us to give him a regular column.

"We didn’t do that. We told him we’d be happy to treat him as any other member of the community and consider any contribution to our op-ed page, but that we weren’t in the habit of handing out weekly space to anyone who asked for it. To him, I’m sure, it only seemed fair that he should have his own regular forum in the paper to 'balance' the aggressive and dedicated reporting of our coal beat reporter, Ken Ward.

"What I remember most about the encounter, however, was Blankenship’s quiet arrogance: He was clearly a man used to getting what he wanted and utterly convinced of his right to walk into the local newspaper and demand a forum. Once he figured out that wasn’t going to happen, we paid a price: He slapped the paper with a $300 million defamation suit. He lost the suit eventually, but it cost our little paper dearly in legal fees. And in the intervening time, he would ruin the career of a state Supreme Court judge who ruled against his company in environmental suits, spending millions to promote the election of an unknown lawyer who then ruled in his favor."

She concluded, "while the swaggering Blankenship deserves considerable blame, there’s another enemy in this story: the one we see in the mirror. The least we can do, as participants in this drama, is to remember who’s risking their lives to keep our lights on, and encourage our lawmakers to keep up the pressure on Big Coal and its enablers to clean up their act. Make sure they can’t hide behind the mountains any more."

Project Compares "Well-Being" Among Racial Groups

The "American HD Index uses official government data to create a composite rating of overall well-being based on health, education, and income levels," according to an announcement from the American Human Development Project.

The project, "a nonpartisan, nonprofit initiative that seeks to augment GDP as a national measure of economic well-being," ranked the races by this measurement, which it calls its American Human Development (HD) Index [PDF]. “While GDP asks how the economy is doing, the American HD Index asks how people are doing,” Kristen Lewis, co-director of AHDP, said in the release.

The results?

"At the national level, Asian Americans score the highest, followed by whites, Latinos, African Americans, and Native Americans and Alaska Natives.

Among the findings:

  • "Asian Americans live the longest (86.6 years), followed by Latinos (82.8 years);
  • "African American life expectancy today is on par with that of the average American three decades ago; and
  • "Latinos outlive whites, on average, by over four years, and in all but four states, Latinos either equal or surpass the national average in life span.
  • "In no U.S. states do African Americans, Latinos, or Native Americans earn more than Asian Americans or whites;
  • "Asian Americans and whites earn the most; Latinos and Native Americans earn the least. Native Americans‚Äô median earnings are less than $22,000, while whites‚Äô are more than $30,000."

Six journalism students from Florida A&M University, left, plan to work with six from Shantou University in China. Together, they plan to cover the World Cup next month in South Africa.


Black American, Chinese Students to Meet in S. Africa

"This project is unprecedented here at FAMU; we've never had a foreign reporting opportunity for our students before. I'm not sure any HBCU journalism program has undertaken anything like this," Joe Ritchie told Journal-isms, speaking of Florida A&M University and historically black colleges and universities.

The project? "I'll be taking six FAMU students to South Africa during the World Cup; we'll be hooking up with six journalism students from Shantou University in China and collaborating on developing multimedia coverage of the Cup and of life in South Africa in general during this period." The World Cup takes place June 11 to July 11.

"The cross-cultural experience of working with international journalism students from a third continent, well, I think this is a program that meets the definition of unique."

Ritchie is the Knight Chair in Journalism at FAMU. Already, he notes, Caryn Wilson, the fall news editor of the student newspaper, the Famuan, is in Shantou, China, for a spring semester abroad as part of a broader effort "to establish a real relationship between FAMU and Shantou."

"We will be going, but we could use a little help," Ritchie continued. "I am using Knight Chair funds, but my budget is limited, and will barely cover a minimal program, once we've covered all the flights and our accommodations. I've knocked on a lot of doors, but to mix a metaphor, the wells are pretty much dry.

"We're also looking for outlets for the students' work. We'll be doing all kinds of multimedia reporting. They will write feature stories, do video packages, podcasts, blogs, and we'll have a website."

Ritchie may be contacted at joe.ritchie (at)

46 in Congress Want Public Hearings on NBC-Comcast

"Forty-six congressmen — many from the Congressional Black Caucus and from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — Thursday night called on the Federal Communications Commission to hold off approving Comcast’s deal for NBC Universal until a series of public hearings can be scheduled," Ira Teinowitz reported Thursday for

In a letter sent to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and signed first by U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the congressmen expressed concern about Comcast and NBCU's record with diversity.

"It cites as among the concerns a report by the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility giving Comcast a grade of 50 out of 100 on diversity of its workforce and a report by the National Hispanic Media Coalition giving NBCU an overall C+ grade and an F grade for 'creative executives' for not having any Latinos in its creative executive roster."

Meanwhile, "NBCU has agreed to sell one of its three Los Angeles TV stations before going ahead with its deal with Comcast," Teniowitz reported on Friday.

"Besides owning KNBC-TV, NBCU owns independent KWHY-TV and Telemundo station KVEA-TV. It is the independent station, KWHY-TV that will be sold.

"Current FCC rules only allow a company to own two TV stations in a market, but NBCU has a temporary waiver from the agency to operate all three stations."

James Leeson Dies, Taped Black Man's Execution

James Leeson Jr."James Leeson Jr., whose taping of a May 1951 radio broadcast describing the atmosphere at a black man’s execution in Mississippi in a highly publicized rape case was drawn upon for a newly released book and a radio documentary, died Monday in Franklin, Tenn. He was 79," Richard Goldstein reported Friday in the New York Times.

"Mr. Leeson committed suicide, said Detective Lt. Tony Phillips of the Williamson County Sheriff’s office. His body was found outside his home. A friend, E. Thomas Wood, wrote on a blog on the Web site of Nashville Scene, a weekly newspaper, that Mr. Leeson died of a gunshot wound.

"Mr. Leeson was a part-time college student and a journalist for The Hattiesburg American when he taped a broadcast from the lawn of the Laurel, Miss., courthouse where Willie McGee, a black handyman, was executed in a 'traveling electric chair' that was moved around the state. The broadcast was made while a crowd of hundreds gathered on the lawn, some of its members whooping in delight.

"Mr. McGee was put to death for the 1945 rape of a white woman, a mother of three. He maintained his innocence but was convicted by all-white juries in three separate trials. The first two verdicts were reversed on technical grounds.

"Albert Einstein, William Faulkner and Josephine Baker were among those who sought clemency for Mr. McGee in a case that drew worldwide attention amid allegations of perjured testimony, suppressed evidence and a hostile and racially prejudicial atmosphere. Bella Abzug, a young lawyer at the time, handled the final appeals.

"Mr. Leeson’s tape recording was used by Alex Heard for his book 'The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex and Secrets in the Jim Crow South,' to be published by HarperCollins next week."

In the Nashville Scene, Wood added:

"After a few years working for the Associated Press, Leeson joined the Southern Education Reporting Service by 1963, according to press accounts. The SERS was funded by the Ford Foundation and provided a rare impartial perspective on what was happening in Southern educational systems.

"Jim was not an activist. He was a realist. As editor at SERS and its successor, the Race Relations Reporter, he presided over a non-commercial news operation that sought no public glory but carried influence in high places — following something of a pattern for his later life. . . .

"Working with him at the publication were several young writers who would go on to much bigger things — including Egerton, North Carolina journalist Frye Gaillard, Time columnist and senior editor Jack E. White Jr. and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright."

2 Weeks Left to Nominate Journalism Educator

The National Conference of Editorial Writers annually grants a Barry Bingham Sr. Fellowship — actually an award — "in recognition of an educator's outstanding efforts to encourage minority students in the field of journalism." The educator should be at the college level.

Nominations, which are being accepted for two more weeks for the 2010 award, should consist of a statement about why you believe your nominee is deserving.

The final selection will be made by the NCEW Foundation board and will be announced in time for the Sept 22-25 NCEW convention in Dallas, when the presentation will be made.

Since 2000, an honorarium of $1,000 has been awarded the recipient, to be used to "further work in progress or begin a new project."

Past winners include: James Hawkins of Florida A&M University (1990); Larry Kaggwa of Howard U. (1992); Ben Holman of the U. of Maryland (1996); Linda Jones, Roosevelt U., Chicago (1998); Ramon Chavez, U. of Colorado, Boulder (1999); Erna Smith of San Francisco State (2000); Joseph Selden of Penn State (2001); Cheryl Smith; Paul Quinn College (2002); Rose Richard, Marquette University (2003), Leara D. Rhodes of the University of Georgia (2004), Denny McAuliffe of the University of Montana (2005), Pearl Stewart of Black College Wire (2006), Valerie White of Florida A&M University (2007), Phillip Dixon of Howard University (2008) and Bruce DePyssler of North Carolina Central University (2009).

Nominations may be e-mailed to Richard Prince, NCEW Diversity Committee chair, richardprince (at) The deadline is May 21.

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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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