The End of an Era — Belva Davis Retires from KQED

Belva Davis

Legendary broadcaster Belva Davis of KQED was paid special tribute at the 2012 Northern California Emmy Awards. Learn more about this pioneer of television in this story reported by PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff. Watch the video on YouTube

Belva Davis finally has some time to breathe as she sits down to talk at the KQED studios. She's recently returned from the 2012 national political conventions and is looking ahead to her final broadcast as host of This Week in Northern California on November 9, 2012. Belva smiles, "I hope it turns out to be interesting and not a teary messy muddle."

Belva was the first female African American television journalist in the West (on KPIX-TV), and for nearly half a century, she's reported on many of the most important stories of our time. From the University of California at Berkeley Free Speech Movement student protests and the birth of the Black Panthers to the Peoples Temple cult that ended in the mass suicides at Jonestown, the assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, the onset of the AIDS epidemic, and the terrorist attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania that first put Osama bin Laden on the FBI's Most Wanted List.

Her storied career has been bookended by politics. In 1964, while working at KDIA AM radio, she attended the Republican National Convention in San Francisco. She and her colleague left amid racial epithets and a throng "tossing garbage at us -- wadded up convention programs, mustard-soaked hotdogs, half-eaten Snickers bars … then a glass soda bottle whizzed within inches of my skull…"

I imagine that you were thinking about your experience at the 1964 conventions while you were in Tampa.
More before I got there, actually. The anticipation of it. Unfortunately, it lacked color as much in 2012 as it did in 1964. And that was rather a sad thing. Also, along the way, not with a chip on my shoulder or looking out for anything, I was conscious to be aware to see if there were any symbolic things going on. And, of course, they delivered on one. I don't know if you heard about the [black] CNN camerawoman who was crossing over an aisle and some delegates near her started throwing peanuts and yelling at her "That's the way we feed animals down here."

She avoided cooperating, even with her own network, about making a story about it and being interviewed. I was in full sympathy with her, but I never contacted her. A friend of mine did get her name and sent her a copy of my book.

Maybe she'll contact you at some point?
Or maybe she'll wonder, "Why did someone send me this book? Who is this woman?" [laughs] But other than that, no one did anything overtly to me.

Were there some particularily memorable moments from the conventions?
There were a lot of memorable human interactions. I was impressed [at the Republican National Convention] by the sincerity of the delegates of from the San Francisco Bay Area, and I was surprised and pleased by the absolute cooperation and politeness of people who identified themselves as tea party members.

My takeaway is to try not to feel guilt on behalf of an industry I work in because we've contributed so much, by the very nature of the way we operate with these two separate camps of information streams to the separation of Americans and the ways they think about themselves and their country.

I understand that an interview you did with Maya Angelou in North Carolina will be part of your final This Week in Northern California broadcast. How did you two meet?
I've known her since the beginning of my career. She's always been bigger than life. I met her around the circle of people that bound themselves to public television and the idea of it. And this was way before I ever worked in public television. I used to support it. Come for the auction, that kind of thing.

But how we got to really be friends, I couldn't tell you except that she was part of a group that came [in the early 1960s] to the Rainbow Sign — a black-owned book club and artists hangout in Berkeley, where James Baldwin and the like came to have intellectual discussions. That's where we met, and it grew and grew from there.

What do you see for yourself after November?
I haven't really been able to get a vision of what it is that I'll do. For the moment I serve on three boards — the Fine Arts Museum, the War Memorial Board and the Institute on Aging -- that are really interesting and could be a full-time job if I dedicated more time to them.

But I'm sure that there will be another chapter related to the business of media and communications. Because it's been my life for well over 50 years. I don't think the door is just going to close. I just have to be open and wait for it to come to me. The first time I left KQED, in the 1980s, I had no idea what was going to happen. I was president of the actor and performers union that had been picketing KRON, and then I get a call from the news director and they hire me! I'll guess I'll just stand around and see what happens next.

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