When Oprah Winfrey was a youngster, the mere sighting of an African-American on television was occasion to alert all the neighbors, she recalled.
“We would call them to say, ‘Colored people are on TV! Colored people are on!’” The only black child she was ever likely to see telecast was the unflattering role model Buckwheat on the ancient “Little Rascals” comedies, Winfrey added.
Things are different today, which was part of the reason for Wednesday’s gala thrown at New York’s Cipriani Wall Street by the Paley Center for Media, paying tribute to African-American Achievements in Television.
Not only was the event meant to highlight current inroads by blacks in every area of TV, but, as Winfrey told those gathered, “part of the power of this evening is to honor our history” — which, in fact, stretches back seven decades and more, to the birth of TV.
“Olympian Jesse Owens was the first black person shown on the nation’s earliest experimental TV transmission,” Winfrey said, as an example. That was in 1936.
The evening was divided into TV drama, sports, news and talk, music, and comedy, and dug into the Paley Center’s archives for dozens of examples past and present.
On hand to introduce segments were Kerry Washington and Lee Daniels, Julius Erving and Michael Strahan, Wynton Marsalis and Shemar Moore, plus Phylicia Rashad, as well as the co-stars of this season’s new comedy, “black-ish,” Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross.
Oprah, Kerry, Cicely
Kelly McCreary (Grey’s Anatomy)