Mar 012017

Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed (1968); narrated by Bill Cosby, co-written by Andy Rooney and Perry Wolff, produced by Perry Wolff

At WBBM I was also assigned public interest “sustainers” or unsponsored programs. In the 40’s the commercial broadcasters were required to do public interest programming or face the threat of their license being given to someone else. A license to broadcast was a license to print money. Nevertheless almost nothing was spent on “sustainers.” I directed a series entitled, Democracy USA, which fictionally detailed the accomplishments of American Negroes, as they were called at the time: Harriet Tubman, and heart surgeons Ulysses Grant Dailey and Daniel Hale Williams. I directed and co-wrote with Dick Durham, the editor of The Chicago Defender, the leading black newspaper in Chicago.

Part of the arrangement between the radio station and The Chicago Defender was that I would write a few words in their newsroom about race relations. As the only white in the newsroom I was uncomfortable in their premises and they were too.

I submitted a few hundred words of copy to the editors. At the end of the first day Durham asked me to leave for good.  When I asked why, he and two others pointed out that in my copy I had not capitalized the “n” in Negro.

The Chicago Defender was a one day gig in 1947.

Democracy USA was a thirteen-week series. Durham wanted no whites to interfere with the writing and production, including me.  He quit and took the series to a competitive local station.

I was blacked out. Or whited out.

In 1968 after the murder of Martin Luther King, I did a series, Of Black America. With the help of researchers I wrote the first episode, Black History, Lost, Stolen and Strayed.  It later won many awards. When I first presented it to one of Bill Cosby’s staff, he read it and stared at me.

“You didn’t write this script.”

“I did.”

“You couldn’t have.” It was an accusation, not a compliment. I could not be that accurate and perceptive.

I had been whited out again.

At first Cosby was distant. Later, the reviews were so complimentary about Black History, Lost Stolen and Strayed he called me and asked if he could do another episode in the series. I flew to England where he was filming. He narrated my script for The Black Soldier without submitting it to his informal black advisors. He trusted me.

Other blacks didn’t.

At an award dinner honoring the broadcasts I was seated among a number of blacks and whites when I overheard the following:

“As for the Hebes, the problem is that they look like every other white. So they pass for white. But they are different.”

“Right on, man.”

This time I hadn’t been whited out. I had been Jewed out.



Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed (1968),