News / USA

Pioneering Reporter Helped Change Face of US TV News

African-American Belva Davis was among the first to break the color barrier

Belva Davis on the set of the television program, 'This Week In Northern California.'
Belva Davis on the set of the television program, 'This Week In Northern California.'

Multimedia

Audio

Through the first half of the 20th century, as television became a fixture in U.S. homes, the reporters Americans saw on TV were white, and almost all men. That began to change in the 1960s. African-American Belva Davis was at the forefront of that shift.

For thousands of TV viewers in the San Francisco Bay Area, Davis is a trusted, familiar face on the evening news. But, she recalls, while growing up, there were few black faces on TV.

"When I was a kid at home, we used to yell, 'Come look, come look. There's a colored man on television.' And the whole family would stop and we'd come to get a little glimpse of whoever that person of color was," says Davis. "Well, my goodness, if you did that now, you'd be exhausted by the end of the day."

Early years

Davis is one of the reasons American television now reflects the racial and ethnic diversity of the country. She grew up in a poor Louisiana family in the 1930s, a place and a time in which segregation and discrimination were rampant.

Things weren’t much different when her family moved west, when Davis was still in school.

"We arrived in California expecting milk and honey, was not at all so," she recalls. "Just being disliked by so many people who didn't like our accents, didn't like our names, just didn't like very much about us because we were so different.”

Belva Davis interviews Coretta Scott King.
Belva Davis interviews Coretta Scott King.

Challenging times

Davis began her career writing for Jet, a black magazine, before moving on to radio. She remembers the early years as pretty tough.

“All my experience, the majority of it was working in totally segregated media. I could only work at stations that were programmed especially for black people. I could only write for newspapers that were published for a black audience. And no one else would give me even a decent (job) interview for many years."

But Davis persevered. She was among the first to break the color barrier when she was hired by a San Francisco TV station in 1967. As the first woman of color in the newsroom, Davis was seen as an oddball and many of her colleagues thought she wouldn't last.

At that time, Davis says, society at large wasn't ready for a black female TV reporter. She recalls encountering hostility and skepticism.

Breaking in

"I was working, doing the City Hall beat, and I wasn't allowed in the press room. I couldn't even put a telephone in the press room. And when I was asked to leave news conferences, because they'd say 'This is for reporters.' No one could believe that I was a reporter," she says. "Or a couple of times in hotels, being mistaken for the ironing person or the cleaning person. Those were all parts of growing in the business."

Belva Davis interviews Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Belva Davis interviews Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Determined to prove the skeptics wrong, Davis worked long hours and eventually reported on some of the most explosive stories in the headlines; Vietnam war protests, the Al Qaeda bombings in Africa that preceded 9/11 and the assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and gay activist Harvey Milk.

In addition to the headline news, Davis sought out stories that would otherwise go untold. In the 70s and 80s, she was among the first in the nation to report on breast cancer, dyslexia and the mysterious new disease that was killing gay men - AIDS.

"The very first live interview with someone diagnosed with AIDS was a guy named Bobbi Campbell. Our technicians didn't understand the disease and it moved so swift and was killing so fast, that there was a lot of hysteria around it," she says.

Pioneering African-American reporter Belva Davis
Pioneering African-American reporter Belva Davis

According to Davis, the technicians refusd to set up the microphone because they didn't want Campbell touching any of the equipment.

"It was one of those real demonstrations of women power. They decided that the medical reporter would put the mic on him and the producer would go ahead and crank it up upstairs and we recorded that program and it made history of a sort," she says, "and were rewarded greatly by the fact that some lives were saved because of those early stories."

Today, Davis is still telling important stories. Now in her 70s, she remains active in journalism as host of a weekly current affairs show on public television.

Off the air, she continues to promote the hiring of minorities in the media, and serves as a role model for young journalists who will tell the important stories of the future.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Researcher: Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor at Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome says problem involves more than calorie intake, warns of worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs