NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 142

140 Several experiments in black community programming were already underway on public television. One of the first was in Detroit, where a young and ambitious civil rights worker, Tony Brown, collaborated with students from Wayne State University to develop a four-part series focused on black history and politics. The series appeared on the local public television outlet in the winter of 1967, just months before the city’s devastating riots. “Our timing could not have been better,” Brown recalled. “In the midst of growing racial tensions and the unrest of the summer of 1967, we portrayed the life of the black community in a way that had never been done before.” The series was later picked up by Detroit’s public television affiliate wtvs, becoming Colored People’s Time, a title that hailed black viewers directly. Within months, other public and independent television outlets considered the possibility that media access would be a cathartic release for communities wracked by strife. In New York City, independent broadcaster Metro Media created Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant and in Boston, fledgling black media workers created Say Brother on the city’s educational television station. wttw, Chicago’s public station, started a short-lived program called Our People, while in San Francisco, Rev. Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial Church launched Vibrations for a New People on the local CBS affiliate. All of these shows were borne of struggle as black broadcasters, filmmakers, and community groups agitated for time on the airwaves. They were also distinctly local ventures that provided community residents a venue through which to address each other. Only Black Journal and the variety show Soulhad a national audience. Black Journal debuted on June 12, 1968 at 9 p.m. on New York City’s Channel 13 and was shown on 147 public television stations across the country. The staff of Black Journal was part of a small but thriving community of black filmmakers who were anxious for autonomy and self-expression. Among them was St. Clair Bourne, a graduate film student and a member of the Student Afro-American Society at Columbia University. He was part of an uneasy alliance of black and white activists who stormed the campus and took over a locked administration building to protest the university’s ban on indoor demonstrations and its plans to build a gymnasium in Morningside Park adjacent to the campus. For Bourne and his fellow protestors who occupied Hamilton Hall, the Morningside Park takeover represented a war against white elite interests usurping black communities. After a week’s occupation, Stokley Carmichael and H. Rap Brown renamed the building Malcolm X University and the students dug in their heels. As was the case in so many uprisings of the era, the university administration brought in police and an episode of violent reprisal ensued. Bourne was among the more than 700 students who were arrested and subsequently suspended after the incident. Years later, he recalled this politicizing experience as influencing his interest in television programming. “Fresh from the barricades and a night in jail, I was brought on as an associate producer” of Black Journal, he said. “The life of Black Journal was closely allied to the Black movement that gave birth to it.” William Greaves, an older and more experienced filmmaker, also joined the fledging television program after years struggling to find a niche in the media. Born in New York City, he spent the immediate postwar years working in theater and film in the city. Greaves found discrimination in the u.s. film industry so pervasive that he decamped to Canada, spending eight years there training and producing films at the National Film Board. He worked with a host of important filmmakers and was influenced by celebrated documentary director John Grierson, in the process developing a distinctive cinema verite approach to storytelling. When Greaves returned to the states in the mid-1960s, the black revolution was everywhere yet “there were barely a handful of black documentary filmmakers in America,” he remembered. He marked the creation of Black Journal as the moment when “the whole filmmaking field really began to move for African Americans.” After a stint producing films for the United States Information Agency, Greaves collaborated with net on a documentary on the black middle-class for net. Titled Still a Brother, it was broadcast on New York’s Channel 13 in April 1968, just three weeks after King’s assassination.