NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 153

BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE Black Journal was not the “electronic stimulus for a black revolution” as many activists might have hoped. Yet, it did lay the groundwork for a handful of local public affairs programs — notably Boston’s Basic Black (originally Hey, Brother) and Detroit Black Journal (originally Colored People’s Time) — that continue to be broadcast. Perhaps Black Journal’s most enduring contribution was to spawn successive generations of independent black filmmakers and producers whose work populates pbs programs like p.o.v. (Point of View), American Experience and Independent Lens. St. Clair Bourne recalled that while the dream of black authorship on public television was often thwarted, the show “did achieve some of its aims in terms of racial identity and a greater recognition of the need for economic and political self-determination.” Black Journal and the programs that followed it were able to constitute African Americans as resistant subjects, rather than objects of scrutiny and scorn, for millions of television viewers. 151 Four years after the inception of Black Journal, the program’s staff and advocates faced a dramatically altered political environment. The Ford Foundation’s activist philanthropy may have helped establish landmark television programs but it did not sustain them over the long term. Media historian Chon Noriega noted that as Ford realized its efforts had made little inroads in overcoming racism in the media, “it blamed the larger society, then withdrew.” McGeorge Bundy’s foundation sought to intervene in the nation’s racial crisis, but failed to consider what African Americans wanted — to control their own media. Ford’s model of developing prototype minority programming was insufficient to change the interests and behavior of the industry, and the Foundation’s own assets were in decline. The ability of controversial public television programs to obtain sustained financial support remained elusive. By 1974, only 25 percent of the stations in the pbs programming cooperative elected to carry Black Journal. Brown scaled back the program with fewer episodes reaching a more limited audience. As the system began to require that all programs seek corporate underwriting, Black Journal had to become more entrepreneurial in approach. In 1977 the program left public television and became syndicated with the new title Tony Brown’s Journal. It appeared on commercial television for several years before returning to the public broadcasting network. The program broadcast continuously until 2009 with Brown at the helm. Over the span of nearly 40 years, Brown’s own politics drifted rightward; he declared himself a Republican, vocally supported the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and asserted t