NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 141

BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE Public television was also a key element of President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” liberal reform agenda. At Johnson’s request, the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television conducted an 18-month study that critiqued the narrowness of commercial television and called for “enlisting television in the service of diversity.” The Carnegie Commission, which counted novelist Ralph Ellison among its members, presented a lofty vision for public television. It imagined a network that would serve as the nation’s public sphere, injecting “a civilized voice in a civilized community.” The Commission’s report provided a moral and political blueprint for the Public Broadcasting Act, signed into law in November 1967. The law declared that it was in the public interest to create television programming that would address “unserved and underserved populations, particularly children and minorities.” The Act established a new public entity, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (cpb) to gradually take over the Ford Foundation’s role in financing programs under government oversight. Federal Communications Commission (fcc) chief Nicholas Johnson exhorted public broadcasters to address “controversial topics” and to help solve the nation’s social problems. In particular, the hope was that public television would help release the pressure built up within aggrieved communities that continually erupted into urban uprisings. 139 The Ford Foundation was one of the principle architects of educational television as well as its chief financial supporter, and it played a crucial role in this transformation. In the late 1950s and 1960s Ford granted over $90 million to net, which also housed New York City’s public television station (Channel 13). net, established as a non-profit corporation in 1952, was the chief producer and distributor of original programming for the network of public television outlets. In 1967, the President of the Ford Foundation, McGeorge Bundy, declared that “The first of the nation’s social problems is still the struggle for Negro equality.” Bundy, former Harvard dean and national security advisor in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, told his audience that despite pronouncements, protests, court battles, and legislation, black Americans faced profound obstacles rooted in white Americans’ prejudice. Bundy believed that public television might lessen prejudice and hasten racial integration by exposing white Americans to African American perspectives. He argued that the Foundation could help to counteract racist commentary — what he termed “preachers of hate” — in popular media. In March 1968, three months before Black Journal went on the air, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders published a report which sought to find not only the causes of these violent disturbances, but ways to avert and control them. The commission, established by President Johnson a year earlier, enlarged the framework of white culpability advanced by Bundy, noting that “What white Americans have never fully understood — but what the Negro can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto.” The group, popularly known as the Kerner Commission in honor of its chairman, Ohio Governor Otto Kerner, analyzed hundreds of major and minor disturbances in urban communities including Newark, Tampa, Cincinnati, and Atlanta. They offered the somber proposition that social change required “unprecedented levels of funding,” difficult choices, and “new attitudes, new understanding and, above all, new will.” The commission singled out t