2015 Emcee: Belva Davis

Biography

As the first black female TV journalist in the West, Belva Davis helped change the face and focus of TV news. Now she is sharing the story of her extraordinary life in her spellbinding memoir, Never in My Wildest Dreams. As literary luminary Maya Angelou observed, “No people can say they understand the times in which they have lived unless they have read this book.”

It offers an unflinching account of Davis’ 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.”

But Davis, a young single mother struggling to raise two small children, refused to be deterred – the fact that a racist mob pummeled her with insults and trash at the 1964 GOP convention only made her more determined to persevere. And ultimately she did, rising to become one of the most respected and trusted local journalists in the country.

One of her early viewers was Bill Cosby, who was then living on a houseboat in the Bay Area. Cosby writes in the book’s foreword, “Belva Davis was someone who sustained us, who made us proud….She was the first woman of color that many viewers came to know and trust, and she met that challenge with integrity and dignity and grace.”

In a career spanning half a century, Davis has reported many of the most explosive stories of the era, including the Berkeley student protests, the birth of the Black Panthers, 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 from Africa, the terrorist attacks that first put Osama bin Laden on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. During her career, she soldiered in the trenches in the battle for racial equality, and brought stories of black Americans out of the shadows and into the light of day. And along the way, she encountered a cavalcade of cultural icons: Malcolm X, Frank Sinatra, James Brown, Nancy Reagan, Huey Newton, Muhammad Ali, Alex Haley, Fidel Castro, Dianne Feinstein, Condoleezza Rice and more.

It has been an amazing odyssey for Davis, who was born to a 15-year-old Louisiana laundress during the Great Depression. Raised in the crowded projects of Oakland, confronted by racism and abuse, Davis was destined to achieve a career beyond her imagination. She 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. She is profiled in the Newseum, the world’s first interactive museum of news. Davis continues to host a weekly news roundtable and special reports at KQED, one of the nation’s leading PBS stations.

Davis also writes about her life as a volunteer supporting organizations focused on helping people improve and change their lives. She is member of Links Inc. and an Honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

“Belva Davis has lived this country’s history as only a brave black woman could and has witnessed it as a journalist with a world-class head and heart,” noted feminist leader Gloria Steinem. “I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to read her words in Never in My Wildest Dreams without becoming a better and braver person.” Her memoir, written with award-winning journalist Vicki Haddock and published by PoliPoint Press, reminds us all never to fear the space between reality and our dreams.