A Retired Black Television Broadcaster's Lifetime of Memories: From the Cotton Fields to CBS
This riveting, compelling, and fast-paced memoir traces the author's life long before he became the first African-American broadcaster hired by a Los Angeles network owned and operated television station. It goes back much much further - -to a time when he worked those Louisiana cotton fields alongside an uneducated, hearing-impaired widowed mother. It captures those touching moments when he, as a young 9-year-old, served as his mother's interpreter as they stood with others on a chilly, early morning street corner, waiting for those cotton trucks.
This memoir recounts an unforgettable scheme fostered on his behalf by a group of grassroots black mill workers---a scheme that ensured that he would have a job every summer in order to complete his college education.
In the Deep South, it was not easy for parents, white or black, to raise youngsters amid the hostile and dangerous racial climate which characterized the turbulent 1960s. Rebellious white youngsters were battling to retain the status quo and protesting black youngsters were trying to destroy it. This circumstance resulted in frequent racial clashes on and off campuses of newly integrated schools. One black youngster embittered by this tense environment was Edward Thomas, the author's nephew. His hatred of whites had become obsessive, almost a sickness.
This memoir recalls quite graphically and dramatically the author's crusade to "save young Thomas." Thanks to an old high school buddy---a prison guard--- a secret, behind-the-scenes visit was arranged at Louisiana's then legendary and notorious Angola Penitentiary. Posing as new prison guard recruits, the author and his highly militant nephew were privileged to see, first hand, the "real Angola Penitentiary". The one about which then-unsubstantiated rumors of killings, brutality and harsh living conditions were widespread. With the author's prison guard friend serving as private escort, nothing was held back: the antebellum environment, the sordid lifestyles, the sadistic guards, the flagrant homosexuality. Even a visit to the room housing Angola's old electric chair was controlled by a seemingly carefree guard who seemed to delight in harassing the condemned men. The author would say later that the visit to Angola did more to "purge young Thomas of his evil intentions" than the local minister, sympathetic schoolteachers, and several concerned community leaders.
This memoir paints a very compelling picture of the author's "pioneering years with the CBS Los Angeles station". As an example, when those devastating 1965 Watts riots erupted, the author was the only black television newsman in Los Angeles. Yet, the station's news management was reluctant to press this obvious advantage because the news director was fearful of sending the first black journalist the station had ever hired down into Watts to cover a black story. And, a riot at that! What if he were killed? How would that set with the black community? Then, too, would the station be accused of hiring a black "just to cover black stories"? After the author was reluctantly granted permission to cover the Watts riots, there was still another problem. All the camera crews were white! They couldn't get down to Watts during the early rioting. Too dangerous! So, the author had to secretly do "phone-in reports," or meet the crew well outside the riot zones. He had to be careful not to "draw attention to himself". After all, he now worked for the "establishment".
This memoir recounts many of the author's unique, and, sometimes humorous, experiences covering those riots. There are many others, including his encounters with Alabama's then-segregationist governor, George Wallace. The memoir also details quite vividly the author's experience