By Ora Wiseman
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing one of this country's most important news figures, Belva Davis - the first black female television journalist in the Western United States. This is important to American history because Davis was hired in 1966 by KPIX Television in San Francisco, California at the height of civil rights movement.
Davis chronicles her fascinating journey in her new memoir "Never In My Wildest Dreams: A Black Woman's Life In Journalism." I found myself glued to the pages of the book as I read about Davis' experiences as a brave reporter during the tumultuous 1960s.
In the foreword of the book, Bill Cosby expresses the profound impact of Davis' hiring at KPIX during that time:
Belva Davis was someone who sustained us, who made us proud. We looked forward to seeing her prove the stereotypical ugliness of those days to be wrong. She was the first woman of color that many viewers came to know and trust and she met that challenge with integrity and dignity and grace.
Belva Davis started out working as a radio disc jockey and a clerk at a black radio station in the Bay Area. "Working multiple jobs was a way to get into the business back then," declared Davis during our interview at the Newseum in Washington, DC, where she is profiled. In 1964, Davis eagerly traveled with her radio news director Louis Freeman, a "one man news department," to the Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. "We got into the building with gallery passes because they would not credential black media," she shared.
Davis and Freeman hid out and gathered news from the rafters for a couple of days until they were discovered and chased away by authorities who yelled racial slurs and threw bottles at them. One bottle narrowly missed Davis and crashed onto the ground leaving her frightened but with a new determination. "I looked at the way they were treating us and then saw the way they were treating the media, and I resolved with no experience, no college and no training that I was going to become a journalist," Davis said.
Davis wanted to use the power of the media to tell the stories of Black Americans and she did just that, overcoming the obstacles of racism and sexism to help change the face and focus of television news.
An eight-time local Emmy winner and a reporter for almost five decades, Davis has reported on many of the most explosive stories of our time and interviewed countless cultural icons.
"The wonderful thing about my life is I've been allowed to do so many stories," Davis said. "What I liked better than anything else is that many of the people just treated me as if I knew what I was doing - that I was a qualified journalist to do this work and expecting that of me, I expected it of myself."
Today, Davis continues to host a weekly news roundtable and special reports at KQED, one of the nation's leading PBS stations.
For more information about Belva Davis and her book "Never In My Wildest Dreams," visit BelvaDavis.com.
Ora Wiseman is a media & Communications professional committed to working for "a cause." She serves as advocate for arts, education and social issues involving today's youth and disadvantaged groups.