22 Slices
Medium 9781936227068

17. Diversified Interests

Belva Davis Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

• • •

I’m sometimes astonished to remind myself that I grew up in an era before colorization, when not only were television and movies almost exclusively black and white, but the people who starred in them could more accurately be characterized as white and whiter. On the rare occasions that I did see black people on-screen, they were playing sidekicks, servants, or slaves.

Back then—except for films made by pioneering black filmmakers such as Oscar Micheaux—the media gave me no black heroes or heroines, no depictions of black family life, and of course, no black journalists telling the stories of my community.

After I broke through one of those barriers and into the business, I felt obligated to help tear down other obstacles and make way for more people of color, so that we could transform the face of news and entertainment. Over the years, I’ve tried to mentor, support, and encourage dozens of young journalists and performers. But I also tried to advance the cause in a more systematic fashion, starting with my union.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781936227068

15. When Work Hits Home

Belva Davis Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

• • •

We felt fortunate that our family emerged relatively unscathed from the 1970s—which is rather ironic to say, considering we were driven from our home after a biker gang of white supremacists plotted to kidnap our teenage daughter.

Nonetheless we fared better than many others in the San Francisco Bay Area who paid a far greater price during what was to be a harrowing decade, drenched in a senseless violence that seemed to seep toward the edge of apocalyptic: The Zebra murders. The Symbionese Liberation Army abductions, armed robberies, and shootings. The cult exodus and mass suicides of Jonestown. The assassination of San Francisco’s mayor and first openly gay supervisor. Real life too often resembled the melodramatic movie trailer “In a world gone mad...”

For six months beginning in the fall of 1973, San Francisco and its environs were unnerved by faceless assailants who unleashed random yet deadly attacks on everyday people doing everyday activities. Homicide inspectors who worked the case would characterize it as “the opening of the gates of hell”—it was, indeed, one of the most ruthless and prolonged cases of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781936227068

16. White Night and Dark Days

Belva Davis Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

• • •

We knew her only as Miss Glover, a heavyset middle-aged woman with cropped hair and ebony skin—but what distinguished her from our previous housekeepers was her ability to move throughout our house without making a sound. She left our rooms spick-and-span. But in retrospect, her stealth should have been a clue that there was more to Miss Glover than met the eye.

I always made a point of establishing a rapport with anyone who worked for us. Miss Glover was my greatest challenge. She kept herself tightly buttoned up and answered my questions with trepidation, as though she suspected my innocuous chatter concealed traps.

Over time, I learned that she had no family left and was selling the house she once owned in California’s Central Valley. “Are you sure you want to do that?” I asked her. “You know, it’s always good to have a place of your own to go home to someday.”

“No ma’am,” she said firmly. “We need the money for the work of the church.”

Her church was called Peoples Temple, and by the mid-1970s it was attracting hundreds of followers. Its leader was a charismatic reverend who preached an amalgam of utopian Christianity, racial harmony, communal socialism, megalomania, and paranoia. Temple members called him “Father.” To the rest of the world, he was the Reverend Jim Jones.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781936227068

12. Ringside at the Racial Revolution

Belva Davis Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

• • •

The first thing I learned about him was that he loved music and played classical piano. We were introduced by his girlfriend, LaVerne Williams, a virtuoso mezzo soprano who would sweep the talent competition at the 1966 Miss Bronze Pageant. LaVerne clearly was smitten with this shy, softspoken yet intense Oakland City College student—he possessed a passion for the composition of Tchaikovsky, the poetry of Shakespeare, and the philosophies of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. The student had a beautiful face, and in him LaVerne felt she had found a soul mate who shared her artistic sensitivity.

“Belva,” LaVerne said, “this is Huey. Huey Newton.”

“Hi, nice to meet you,” he said.

His name meant nothing to me at first, although I sized him up as well mannered, intellectual, and seemingly a good match for LaVerne. But as we chatted, I eventually placed him as the youngest son of Walter Newton, a devout Baptist who worked several jobs to ensure that his wife remained at home raising their seven children. The Newtons had something in common with the Meltons—both of our families had moved from Monroe, Louisiana, to Oakland and found military jobs during World War II. As I was later to learn, his parents named Huey after Huey P. Long, the cantankerous Louisiana governor whose public racism often masked the good he did for blacks: For example, by declaring it an abomination that white nurses were forced to care for ailing old black men, the governor was able to hire black nurses on the state payroll.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781936227068

8. Lend Me a Tiara

Belva Davis Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

• • •

In the 1960s, valiant Americans put their bones and bodies, their livelihoods and lives on the line to halt the ravages of racism. At the decade’s opening, black people in many places could not safely vote, attend integrated schools and universities, marry a white person, purchase a home in a nice neighborhood, or sit at a Woolworth’s lunch counter. We had never had a post-Reconstruction U.S. senator, major airline pilot, Supreme Court justice, network TV drama star, mayor of a large city, NBA coach, congresswoman, member of the New York Stock Exchange, or Vogue magazine cover girl.

By the end of the decade, African Americans—determined that the blood of civil rights martyrs not be spilled in vain—were rewriting history with a vengeance. Ed Brooks was sworn in as U.S. senator from Massachusetts. Marlon Green was hired as a passenger-airline pilot. Thurgood Marshall became associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Bill Cosby was a co-star of NBC’s I Spy. Carl B. Stokes was elected mayor of Cleveland, Bill Russell coached basketball’s Boston Celtics, Shirley Chisholm was seated in the U.S. House of Representatives, Joseph Searles III joined the New York Stock Exchange, and model Donyale Luna graced the cover of British Vogue.

See All Chapters

See All Slices