“When I first started applying for jobs in television. I had never seen a Black woman television reporter… Back then when we saw a person of color on TV someone would yell, “Hurry, hurry there’s a colored person on TV hurry before you miss them…”- Belva Davis
As a historian the inclination to study those who took the path less trodden and succeeded against all odds has always been a source of inspiration. However, in studying countless heavy hitters and trendsetters in the Broadcast industry it was not until a random search (Thank God for Google) that I came across an interview with Belva Davis, the first black female TV journalist in the western United States. I was immediately transfixed on her story and the pathway that led her to become such an incredible trailblazer in an industry where she was continually told she should pursue other paths.
Born during the Great Depression, and raised in the crowded projects of Oakland, CA. Davis shot for the stars even at a young age during disparaging times. Davis became the first in her family to graduate from high school. But she transitioned into the workforce and was married at 19, when she couldn’t come up with $300 to go to college.
Not going to college was simply a detour as Davis persisted on continuing to pursue her journalistic dreams.
Davis began her journalism career at age 22, writing freelance articles for Jet magazine. She wrote full time for Bay Area African-American newspapers, including the San Francisco Sun-Reporter and the Bay Area Independent. During those times Davis recollects the only markets where she would encounters others who resembled her, “There were examples if you wrote for the black press or if you did radio for a black-owned program, radio stations. But there was no opportunities for women of my color to see themselves in the broader society performing in those kinds of arenas.”
However, Davis’ broadcasting career began in radio, where she worked at various radio stations in the Bay area, including KSAN, KDIA and KNEW. Yet, she made the leap to an integrated news market in 1966, becoming the first African-American woman television reporter on the West Coast when she was hired as a reporter at KPIX-TV in San Francisco.
Davis’ career is what opened the door for a vast number of broadcasters who have continued on in her footsteps, which is why Davis is our FIRST Featured “Pioneer BWIB”. Davis, whose career spanned half a century, reported many of the most explosive stories of her era, in addition to interviewing a major assortment of cultural icons: Malcolm X, Frank Sinatra, James Brown, Bill Cosby, Huey Newton, Muhammad Ali, Alex Haley, Fidel Castro, Dianne Feinstein, Condoleezza Rice and more.
Despite being driven out of conferences, and called derogatory names Davis continued to push forward and use her background to tell a “unique perspective” on the stories that she covered. For Davis, her hunger for success was based off of constantly being told that she would not, “be successful, where I have not been expected to be, had not been accepted for so long, and where expectations had been so low by so many people, I just couldn’t let them win. I couldn’t let them get the best of me.”
Throughout her career, Davis has won eight local Emmys and a number of Lifetime Achievement awards — including honors from the International Women’s Media Foundation, the National Association of Black Journalists’, and the Northern California chapter of the National Association of Television Arts and Sciences. Davis and her achievements are also profiled in the Newseum, the world’s first interactive museum of news.
In her new memoir, Never in My Wildest Dreams, Davis offers, “an unflinching account of her struggle to break into broadcast journalism at a time when stories of particular importance to African Americans and women rarely made mainstream newscasts. When news directors preposterously claimed that blacks couldn’t pronounce long words because their lips were “too thick to enunciate properly.” When a San Francisco station manager dismissed her from a job interview by explaining that he just wasn’t “hiring any Negresses.”
In 1999, Belva Davis retired from full-time reporting at KRON-TV. Currently, Davis continues to host a weekly news roundtable and special reports at KQED, one of the nation’s leading PBS stations.
Ms. Davis, we salute you, and your perseverance and determination to make your mark in this industry. We thank you for giving us footprints to walk in…you are a True Trailblazer.
“Don’t be afraid of the space between your dreams and reality. If you can dream it, you can make it so.” – Belva Davis