Friday, October 28, 2011

Bay Area News Pioneer Belva Davis--"Never In My Wildest Dreams"

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 60's-70's and early 80's, I used to watch Belva Davis on television. She was  a television news anchor first on CBS Channel 5 (KPIX) and later on the main Public Broadcasting station in the Bay Area, KQED, which she hosted a nightly news program called "A Closer Look" and later a show called "This Week in Northern California."   She and the erudite Rollin Post were my favorite news people on the tube.    
I realized she was unique in being an African-American Woman on the television, but I didn't know  she was the only African American female anchor west of the Mississippi.   Or that her life was so interesting and so remote from the past I imagined.  Thanks to her fortitude and inner power to overcome the racism endemic in a high-profile business she did excellent work in documentaries and interviews and captured a lot of those times--which included riots in Berkeley over the Vietnam War, the rise and violence swirling and surrounding  the Black Panther movement, the Zebra and  Zodiac mass murders of the early 70's, the firing of radical UCLA Professor Angela Davis by the then-Governor Ronald Reagan,  the kidnapping of Patty Hearst in 1974, the mass killings of 900 people in Guyana in November 1978 by the demonic Jim Jones and his People's Temple followers and the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and America's first openly-Gay supervisor,  Harvey Milk, at the San Francisco City Hall that  very same month. 

Her memoir tells these stories as well as her own---a child raised by her aunt in Monroe, Louisiana--the same town that Black Panther Huey Newton came from--and her coming to California with her family when jobs in military plants opened up in World War II.  I know a lot of people have never heard of this lady, but I think at least the broad outlines of her life is worth hearing about.   And she's still working.
 Here is a introduction to Ms. Davis from the PBS News Hour .    


  1. She is an amazing lady considering the time and conditions she has navigated. I remember those times but I lived it in entirely different circumstances. It is hard to imagine the difficulties in the lives many people less fortunate than ourselves have had.

  2. That's the way I felt reading this book, Mike. Belva Davis' circumstances were so different from my upbringing. I knew about some of the problems African-Americans faced when so many came to the Bay Area during World War II, but to here a personal experience of it shows just how messed up and pervasive were racial attitudes even in "tolerant" northern California.

    It makes it all the less surprising that groups like The Black Panthers sprang up.

    She's a lady with great skills for her work in a time when, at least it seemed to me as a kid, all of society was in some stage of turmoil. It could be a matter of race, war in South East Asia, poverty, coming to grips with new roles for women in the professions, reexamining American history in the light of wrongs done to Native and Japanese-Americans, gay rights, whatever, she always seemed to be a calm and intelligent voice in the media-driven storm, giving all sides a fair hearing. And, as the video shows, she was brave, as many were in the journalism field, just to cover the protests around UC-Berkeley and San Francisco State.

  3. We are so lucky to have women who have blazed the trail. This sounds like a really good book.

  4. It certainly is. As you probably guessed, Mary Ellen, I always liked Belva Davis. But reading about her personal story showed me she was indeed quite the trailblazer.

  5. Obviously I have never come across this person before, it certainly seems that she broke new ground in the early days of television in California and has taken a stance of some major controversies over the years. I'd be fascinated to know her views of the 9/11 truth movement because for me that is the acid test of independent freedom of expression in the media.
    That is not to say that the commentator has to agree with everything (or anything) the Truth Movement says, but not to allow the discussion to ever to be aired publicly tends to make liars of the corporate media news presenters in the final analysis I think.

    I hope Belva Davis is different, I wonder what position she would take on this crucial question Doug?

  6. She certainly did, AA, although until I read this memoir I never realized just how far she came--I would have thought her a product of the small black middle-class that came out of parts of post-WWII America. That was not her case. She brought a perspective to the news that people today take for granted and assume, wrongly, was always there.

    One of the most chillling parts of her life story was having to leave her suburban neighborhood she and her husband were living in in the early 1970's due to threats that her daughter would be kidnapped by an underground white surpemeist group.

    I'll see layer I can find something on her views of 9/11.

  7. AA-
    I didn't find anything in her book on her personal take on the 9/11 Movement but Ms. Davis has had interviews with a variety of leaders (like Fidel Castro, who she talked too extensively on one trip to Cuba in the 80's ) and led humanitarian and investigative missions to Kenya and other nations, so I think its safe to say she had some very independant thoughts on those matters.