Note: This essay is excerpted from the article “Historic ‘Black Journal’ Streams for the First Time,” which originally appeared on the THIRTEEN blog. Read the full feature and learn more about the history of “Black Journal” here.
Preserving Black Media History
On July 7, 2020, the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, a collaboration between public media station WGBH and the Library of Congress, released 59 historic episodes from WNET’s “Black Journal” (1968-1977) series for streaming.
The origins of “Black Journal” began after the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1967. The need for representation of Black Americans in media arose when in 1968, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (commonly known as the Kerner Commission) issued a blistering report on race relations in America, which in particular pointed out the near-total absence of minority images in the media.
As a direct response, WNET’s predecessor, National Educational Television (NET), launched the new monthly program “Black Journal.” From its inception, it was touted as a program produced by and about Black Americans, and its goal was to report on “… the achievements, the concerns and the attitudes of the nation’s Negro citizens” and “to bridge the gap between the white and black communities.”
At its premiere in 1968, The New York Times said that “Black Journal” “turned out to be one of the most exciting new television shows of the season.” The Times went further to state, “‘Black Journal’ is a thoroughly professional piece of work and the commercial networks should be ashamed for not having thought of it first.”
Airing through 1977, the program eventually ran weekly and had both 30- and 60-minute versions. It won many awards — an Emmy, Peabody and Russwurm among them — and nurtured an important group of young talent, many of whom became senior producers and reporters. After 1977, these programs languished on two-inch videotape, which made them inaccessible to WNET staff and the viewing public for the next 30-plus years.
In 2009, when the American Archive of Public Broadcasting was in its infancy, a call was put forth to all public media companies across the nation to dig into their archive to see if they had any existing media that was created during and/or about the Civil Rights Era. Being the Archivist at WNET, I knew that the company produced and owned a treasure trove of media that fit within this theme. The WNET Archive participated in this research and development pilot project, locating more than 50 episodes of “Black Journal.” This project allowed this collection of media to be cataloged with descriptive information for the first time.
After identifying the media, the second phase of the American Archive Pilot Project was to preserve these programs for future generations. These episodes of “Black Journal” were pulled from storage at the Library of Congress and transferred to a broadcast-quality videotape that could be accessed by producers and put on air immediately. Once the new copies were received by the company, a digital file was created for each episode. These digital copies, which are now available for streaming, were donated to the American Archive of Public Broadcasting in 2014 as an additional donation to the American Archive Digitization Project.
Watch 59 “Black Journal” episodes on the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, a collaboration between WGBH and the Library of Congress. Three “Black Journal” episodes from 1968 and 1969 can be streamed on ALL ARTS and THIRTEEN.
More than 300 episodes from the WNET Group are currently streaming in the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, including those from “New York Voices,” “The 51st State” and “Assignment America.” The 15 episodes of the “Dynamics of Desegregation” (1962-1963) are also available on ALL ARTS and THIRTEEN.
Top Image: "Black Journal." Actress-singer Diahann Carroll co-hosts "Black Journal ... This Evening," with executive producer Tony Brown.