Even as others were dismissing TV as a vast wasteland, African Ameri-
cans seized the opportunities created by social crisis to create and retool
representations of themselves in an increasingly influential medium. So-
cial crisis created the conditions of possibility for a momentary war of
position in which emergent Black radicalism could be injected into the
media flow, helping both audiences and media makers reimagine what TV
could mean. In an era of multiple and contested ideas about Black lib-
eration, these shows portrayed Black communities as discursive environ-
ments where Black nationalist ideas had permeated and were debated, and
a place where parents on welfare, business owners, teachers, war veter-
ans, police officers, and high school students held and articulated strong
political beliefs. The programs represented new cultural practices and
legitimized activism by documenting struggles against school segrega-
tion, university discrimination, substandard housing, and public officials’
lack of accountability to Black constituents. Programs like Inside Bedford-
Stuyvesant and Say Brother countered the invisibility of Black artists by
showcasing little- known local performers alongside national acts. The his-
tory of these programs shows that local television, as well as national tele-
vision, offered a crucial set of possibilities for Black viewers. Examining
local television, especially in urban areas, is crucial to understanding the
possibilities for African American television, as the majority of African
Americans live in urban areas of the United States.
Letters such as the following one, from an African American viewer of
Soul! (writing to protest the cancellation of that show), typified the trans-
Previous Page Next Page