Photo credits: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Tony Brown (pictured) is a Black American activist, television producer, writer, educator, and filmmaker who hosted Tony Brown’s Journal (1968–2008; original name was the Black Journal until 1977).
His show was the longest-running Black news media program in U.S. history. He was born William Anthony Brown on April 11, 1933, in Charleston, West Virginia. He is the son of the late Royal Brown and Catherine Davis Brown. Segregation and poverty were a part of Brown’s upbringing and influenced his view that freedom can be achieved only through economic means. Brown attended public schools in Charleston, West Virginia, where he joined the track team and excelled in academics, especially English and drama.
He performed in school plays and, shortly before graduating in 1951, performed segments of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar on WGKV radio in Charleston.
After serving in the army from 1953 to 1955, Brown enrolled in Wayne State University in Detroit. He studied sociology and psychology, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1959. Primarily concerned with the suffering caused by poverty that plagued the African American community, Brown continued his studies at Wayne State, focusing on psychiatric social work.
He earned a master’s degree in 1961 and began a career as a social worker. Brown quickly discovered that he did not like the work. Changing careers, Brown became a drama critic for the Detroit Courier in 1962. He soon rose to the position of editor at the newspaper. In 1968, he decided to move on to a job in public-affairs programming at WTVS, Detroit’s public television station.
Over the next 30 years, Brown hosted and produced programming that concerned the Black community. While at WTVS, he produced Colored People’s Time, the station’s first show aimed at a Black audience, and Free Play, another community-oriented program. In 1970, Brown became executive producer and host of Black Journal, a New York-based program that aired nationally and had begun in 1968. It consisted of commentaries, documentaries, and surveys. Brown’s approach to Black Journal garnered much criticism.
His view of the U.S. government and its effect on African American life caused a stir in the broadcasting community. As a result, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funded the program, announced that it would not fund the 1973–74 season of Black Journal. The national Black community protested the decision, however, and the show was aired, although on a limited basis.
In 1977, Brown negotiated a contract with the Pepsi-Cola Company to sponsor the show, changing its name to Tony Brown’s Journal and moving it to commercial television. The show was later moved back to public television after Brown experienced trouble getting desirable viewing times on commercial television stations. Activism was also important to Brown. He maintained a strong presence in community-oriented programs. Brown also began launching initiatives of his own.
His belief that education was the key to success prompted him to initiate Black College Day to highlight Black colleges and the need for African American youth to pursue a college education. He also formed the Council for the Economic Development of Black Americans; the organization’s Buy Freedom campaign encouraged African Americans to patronize Black businesses.
To address the problem of drug addiction, he wrote and produced a 1990 film about the issue titled The White Girl (Britannica, 2021).
Reference: Augustyn, A. (2021, April 07) Tony Brown: American activist, television producer, writer, educator and filmmaker. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Tony-Brown