Throughout history, African Americans have established an inspirational presence in communities through television. Spanning from different backgrounds, African American television personalities, producers, actors, and directors have impacted American households for decades. In honor of Black History Month, we would like to showcase a few African American television pioneers from the past and present.
The Nat King Cole show was the first show to be hosted by an African American. The show premiered in 1956 on NBC, and would cause controversy in the next year. The show aired across the country but some Southern stations refused to broadcast it. NBC attempted to reconcile the show as Nat King Cole welcomed many African American guests. The station attempted to get rid of his African American back-up singers and implemented strict rules such as maintaining formal relationships with white female guests. Cole decided to end the show a year later after lack of funding and to sustain his nobility.
Max Robinson was born in Richmond, Virginia and began his television career in 1959 at WTOV-TV after attending Oberlin College, Virginia Union University and Indiana University. Although he was hired as a news anchor, he was hidden behind the station’s logo while reading the news. He was soon fired after stepping in front of the camera during a nightly broadcast. Robinson then moved to Washington, D.C., where he became the first African American news anchor for WTOP-TV and WRC-TV. He won six journalism awards and to Emmys for his documentary, “The Other Washington,” a film about Anacostia. He later joinethe team at ABC’s World News Tonight and taught at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Deborah Roberts currently works for ABC’s newsmagazine “20/20”. A graduate from the University of Georgia, she began her career at WTVM-TV in Columbus, Georgia. Roberts was previously bureau chief of the station. She has also earned Emmy nominations for her coverage of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and an Emmy award for ABC’s millennium coverage. Roberts was a former correspondent for “Dateline NBC” and reported in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait after the Persian Gulf War. She also serves as a substitute anchor on “Good Morning America” and “World News Weekend.” Roberts is married to Al Roker and resides in Manhattan with their two children.
The celebration of Black History Month started in 1976. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History continues to promote Black history year round. This year’s Black History Month theme is “Black Women in American Culture and History,” which honors African American women and the roles they played in shaping America.