Inspiring Words from a San Francisco Treasure

Belva Davis, host of the PBS TV show “This Week in Northern California” was the keynote speaker at the Annual Meeting of the League of Women Voters of San Francisco this morning. Ms. Davis has recently published a memoir, Never in My Wildest Dream: A Black Woman’s Life in Journalism, and she had several stories to share with the group. She described how her ambition to become a reporter in the mainstream media was sparked by a frightening clash at the 1964 Republican National Convention held at the Cow Palace. This was the Goldwater convention and delegates were determined to rid the party of moderates like Nelson Rockefeller. When he rose to speak in support of two measures to condemn the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society, Rockefeller’s voice was drowned out by loud cries of “We Want Barry”.  Belva Davis and her colleague Louis Freeman, seated in the gallery, became the target of abusive taunts, wads of paper, and finally bottles hurled at them as they descended the ramp to leave. Worried that she might show some sign of weakness, Louis whispered to her, “If you start to cry, I’ll break your leg.” That made her smile and gave her the strength to maintain her dignity in the retreat. But that bitter evening made her determined to find a place in the mainstream media and become a part of the power structure instead of an outsider.

In the years that followed, Belva Davis became the first black female news anchor on the West Coast and forged a path for many others who had been denied representation in the media because of their race or gender.  Her first years as a reporter were hard as she was given a series of tough assignments to test whether she could make it. She covered so many riots at Berkeley that she was finally given her own gas mask, as was her husband who was the first black cameraman on the West Coast. She covered the AIDS crisis, Jonestown, and the SLA trial after Patty Hurst was kidnapped—and her own daughter was threatened with kidnapping. What she called the assignment of her life was covering the aftermath of the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. She went there because, although the American victims were well cared for, the over 5000 Africans who were killed or injured, were not being adequately treated.

For more than thirty years people in the Bay Area and beyond have learned from and been inspired by Belva Davis and her reports on what is going on in our world. Her work has been recognized by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the National Association of Black Journalists. She has won Emmy awards and been awarded honorary degrees. Now with her book she is winning a new audience among young people, especially those just choosing their careers and deciding how to spend their lives. Her book, Never in My Wildest Dreams, is the perfect graduation gift for any young woman leaving high school or college. Belva Davis is an inspiring role model, and the League was honored to be able to meet her and hear her speak today.

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