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Belva Davis
Belvagene Melton

(1932-10-13) October 13, 1932 (age 86)
CitizenshipUnited States
OccupationTelevision and radio broadcaster, news anchor
Spouse(s)Frank Davis (divorced)
Bill Moore (m. 1967)

Belva Davis (born Belvagene Melton; October 13, 1932) is an American television and radio journalist. She is the first African-American woman to become a television reporter on the U.S. West Coast. She has won eight Emmy Awards and been recognized by the American Women in Radio and Television and National Association of Black Journalists.

After growing up in Oakland, California, Davis began writing freelance articles for magazines in 1957. Within a few years, she began reporting on radio and television. As a reporter, Davis covered many important events of the day, including issues of race, gender, and politics. She became an anchorwoman and hosted her own talk show, before retiring in 2012.

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  • ✪ Belva Davis, 2014 SFSU Commencement Speech
  • ✪ John Diaz with David Talbot, Belva Davis, Christopher Moscone and Louise Renne


>>Commentator: So this is a little bit of background in, some of it's to entice you to read this book. I got really engrossed in your story ? >>Belva Davis: Um. >>Commentator: and you were born in Louisiana, Monroe, Louisiana which is not New Orleans and yes there's more to Louisiana than New Orleans -- >>Belva Davis: [laughs] >>Commentator: and you were born to a teen mom and you were, you called it "farmed out" but -- >>Belva Davis: Yeah. >>Commentator: kind of moved around to different families over the course of your life and somehow made your way to the West Coast and to Oakland. And in the face of lots of discrimination accomplished what most people would never dream of accomplishing in their life. At some point you were a single mom. >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Commentator: You were black. You're a woman -- >>Belva Davis: [laughs] >>Commentator: and you managed to become -- >>Belva Davis: [laughs] >>Commentator: a news reporter. >>Belva Davis: [laughs] >>Commentator: The first black, female news reporter on the West Coast. Part of your journey has really been involved in just transcending all different mediums from being on the radio, to TV, to newspapers, everything. And you've covered the gamut and you're self taught. And your story is so rich and I'm not gonna let every, I'll let you tell some of it -- >>Belva Davis: [laughs] >>Commentator: but your story is so rich in purpose and just a purpose driven life that you've led. And you've managed to interview everyone from Frank Sinatra to Fidel Castro. And I would say that really describes the gamut of ? >>Belva Davis: [chuckles] >>Commentator: talking to ? >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Commentator: and meeting with some of the most noteworthy and newsworthy people of your time and in fact of our time. You're currently host of the show 'This Week in Northern California' hosted by KQED where you talk about current topics ranging from politics and other current events and you're a Bay Area legend, >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Commentator: winner of six local Emmys and we're just happy to have you here. 'Never In Your Wildest Dreams' is your story and you had the courage to tell it. So thank you for being here and thank you for sharing your story. Please welcome Belva Davis. [applause] >>Belva Davis: Thank you. [applause] >>Belva Davis: A wonderful introduction. [laughs] >>Commentator: Why don't you start by just telling us what inspired you to tell your story, to write your story, and share it with the world? >>Belva Davis: I think it's because we live in a time when so many young people are giving up. All you need do is look at the national dropout rate for minority youngsters ? >>Commentator: Hum. >>Belva Davis: and you know that we are living in perilous times. >>Commentator: Um. >>Belva Davis: And many of the excuses that I would hear from young people as I do stories about how to get people back on track, how to bring, keep kids in school longer, were a list of stereotypical things that can happen in a life. And if we give up on those points, then we are cut adrift from the major society. And I just wanted to chronicle for any younger person or even any older person who's thinking, "I can't do this anymore," that there are rewards for hanging in there, for having wild dreams, for envisioning yourself as whatever it is that you think will make you happy. And if you can somehow along the way convince yourself to do the work that it takes to get where you wanna go, then there you are. So that was my, my main thought, my main motive as I started to work on the book. I realized that my position had been unique. There was a lot of history in the late 60s, 70s, and 80s, turbulent times. We, we, --when you put it all together in a book and you realize the sprees of murder, suicides, protests, head knockings going on that they were totally different from today's world. >>Commentator: Um. >>Belva Davis: And I saw it through the eyes of a woman who came not from a career as a prepared journalist but just an ordinary citizen who happened to be black. Until my face was known on television, I experienced every, not every, but I experienced the kinds of tough life it is to be black in America. >>Commentator: Um. >>Belva Davis: And I thought there are stories to be told even after you break the color bar that the, these incidents don't stop -- >>Commentator: Um. >>Belva Davis: and they become a little harder to maneuver, to get around, and to keep your self-respect. And so even in writing the stories I thought, "Well I have a different view than my fellow male reporters." And when I started, I was not just the first black woman. I was the first woman street reporter. >>Commentator: Um. >>Belva Davis: And it was a place where the standup guys back then were not all welcoming. >>Commentator: Um. >>Belva Davis: So it just seemed that if for nothing else than the fact that I'm a grandmother now, that my granddaughter should know what her grandma's life was like. And if she ever, ever thought of giving up on herself [laughs] she would know that she had the muscle to do it if she just put her mind to it. [laughs] >>Commentator: I think that's wonderful. I was -- when I was reading the book there were certainly moments for me, while I didn't live in that generation, where I drew parallels to my own life and people who came before me and I saw a lot of teachings from my own family about how to be resilient -- >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Commentator: and I can think back to the 1964 Republican National Convention where in the story, you talk about -- I want you to share with this group kind of what that experience was like, where you had to show a tremendous amount of resilience and courage in order to tell a story ? >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Commentator: and share with the public. So why don't you share with us -- >>Belva Davis: Yeah. >>Commentator: a little bit about that. >>Belva Davis: Yesterday I listened to Tavis Smiley talk about his life story ? >>Commentator: Um-hum. >>Belva Davis: in a book called 'Fail Up'. Well I think of the Republican Convention like that. It was a bad, terrible incident but it inspired me to do something that I may -- might not have ever done had that been a pleasant, ordinary, normal [laughs] convention. But it wasn't. It was when America was making another, well making a very sharp turn politically. It was the Goldwater convention. It was the year the Dixiecrats I said moved in and co-opted the Republican Party, the moderate Republican Party. It was raucous in every way that you could think of. The black delegates were treated extremely bad. One had acid thrown on his clothes. Others were refused seats even though they were delegates. Jackie Robinson, the famed baseball player, was almost into a fist fight with somebody. It was that hot. The major media was at war with this group and mostly because America was changing then. The Civil Rights Act has just been signed in '64. '63 President Kennedy had been shot. President Johnson seemed akin to picking up the work that Kennedy had started in making life more pleasant for African Americans, Negroes back then. And as so they were suffering those changes, echoes of what we hear today from some members of the Tea Party. They wanted to make sure that their country didn't change, their neighborhoods didn't change, that housing the way they knew it, all of these things. It was all these underlying causes. And so the convention was revved up. And we were there and we couldn't get press passes because they were not available. We were minority media. But we were in the rafters sitting quietly, trying to make sure nobody found us when a mob did find us. >>Commentator: Hum. >>Belva Davis: And from that point on life was hell there. And eventually we were driven out of that hall as people threw debris at my news director and I. And he was a proud man who'd been told that he would never be able to be a radio announcer because Negro lips were too thick to pronounce words properly. But he persevered working in black radio and as I, my lips started to quiver as we were leaving. By now we knew it was dangerous to be there and I could tell the tears were swelling up inside of me and he said, under his lips, softly to me, "If you cry, I will break your legs." [laughs] [laughter] And that's how he said it and that's why I like to measure it that way because it was humorous enough that it relieved my anxiety. [laughs] True enough that I thought maybe he would. [laughs] [laughter] So anyway we exited. But watching the major media work, seeing the hatred from that floor, but seeing their power to tell that story to America. And I thought to myself in the car going home, "I wanna do something like that. I wanna be able to tell people what happens to us. Nobody's truly interested in what happens to us if we don't tell our own story." So anyway it convinced me that I could do this job -- >>Commentator: [chuckles] >>Belva Davis: or I should try to do this job. That's it. And started me on a path that turned out to be my life's work. >>Commentator: Well we're all glad you did -- >>Belva Davis: [laughs] >>Commentator: and we're all glad you didn't get your legs broken -- >>Belva Davis: [laughs] >>Commentator: in the process. Let's fast forward to today, I mean 1964 there was clearly division in the parties and how do you think things have evolved or changed? Can you draw some parallels or some differences or some improvements? >>Belva Davis: It's like two different worlds for black Americans today. There's the group we dreamed of that people fought for, marched for. And there are many of you here in this room that represent the end of that dream. And then there's the other world where unemployment is higher than it's ever been, where poverty is just at an unmeasurable amount, where walls are so high that some don't see that they can climb over them -- >>Commentator: Um. >>Belva Davis: but the difference is there are people like you who they can see ignored the stereotypical drumming of what it means to be black in America and say, "You can succeed as well as you can fail. You just have to decide which of those paths you're gonna take." And that's the difference. That doesn't mean that we have done as a society what we should have done for them by now -- >>Commentator: Hum. >>Belva Davis: in terms of investing more in education, in terms of offering more opportunities. So as a country we need to do more. But as a people, there's no denying the world is totally, totally different. I mean I was, when I was starting in this business, I mean I was often asked to leave news conferences because no one could imagine that I was a real legitimate reporter. So today the President of the country is [laughs] black so [laughs]. >>Commentator: [chuckles] >>Belva Davis: At least they can imagine it. [laughs] [laughter] >>Commentator: [chuckles] That's great. I was thinking about what other parts of your story I should ask you about. I said, "I'll flip the question and say, 'What were the other defining moments in your life that sort of helped to shape the person that you became?'" [pause] >>Belva Davis: There were a number of touch points. I started out working for all black programmed or black owned media because it was the only place I could work. I worked in black program radio, I was a stringer for Jet Magazine, I wrote for anybody who'd take copy from me. And then came an opportunity to work in quote unquote major market radio. Got a job in radio, I was Miss KNEW and had a disc jockey slot on weekends. Thought I was sailing along. This is it. And one night I got a call from my station manager. Lot of small talk went on. And finally he got to the bottom line and he said, summarizing what he said, the bottom line was, "Could you please sound a little more black.? >>Commentator: Hum. >>Belva Davis: Nobody will know you're there.' >>Commentator: Hum. >>Belva Davis: And I, I think made one of the smartest moves in my career. I simply ignored it, -- >>Commentator: Hum. >>Belva Davis: the question. So that was my realization that no matter how good I was, I knew, or how good I thought I was, I knew why he had hired me. >>Commentator: Hum. >>Belva Davis: And then I pursued again a different career because radio was not what I wanted to be in anymore. >>Commentator: Um. >>Belva Davis: So I started, after one review of a PSA that I did or a Public Service Program, got a great review that said there should be a place for me in television. It became my mantra and I started banging on any door and every door I could until one day I hit a concrete wall. And that was the day I applied at the ABC station here in town for a job, had an interview, was there, constantly having to refuel the ol', "I can do it." [laughs] And at the end of that interview and there's a long story behind it, you'll have to read the book to get there -- [laughter] but there was something interesting with a famous person [laughs] at that time. But anyway, when we finished our interview he said to me, "You know we're just not hiring Negresses right now, but if we ever decide to hire a Negress, we will certainly call you." And I was, I was just so dumbfounded I didn't know how to answer. And I was afraid that the old thing, I didn't have Louis with me to threaten me about crying -- >>Commentator: [chuckles] >>Belva Davis: I was afraid that was gonna happen but it didn't. I managed to hold on to that because I realized he didn't know he'd even insulted me. >>Commentator: Hum. >>Belva Davis: And so those were, that was another defining point. But again I just knew I was gonna find some way some how to get into this business if for no more reason to let him know that if he wasn't hiring Negresses, somebody would. >>Commentator: Hum. [laughs] >>Belva Davis: [laugh] [laughter] >>Commentator: That's great. >>Belva Davis: So those were, those were big developmental points as I moved forward and eventually did land a job over at the CBS owned station. >>Commentator: That's great. >>Belva Davis: Yeah. >>Commentator: I think the things that you did around pageants -- >>Belva Davis: [chuckles] >>Commentator: and beauty pageants was also an interesting story about how do you get more black women on TV. >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Commentator: And while in the background it looked like it sort of happens naturally and there she was. >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Commentator: There was definitely people who were pushing for that all along. So your efforts did not go unnoticed. >>Belva Davis: Well I started [chuckles] -- you know I was a single mom with a couple of kids and trying to figure out how I could be relevant at a time when the Civil Rights Movement was just ablaze on everyone's mind and everyone was doing all they could. And so I turned it, even in my conversation with other people, I would say things like, "Well I was fighting racism one swimsuit at a time" -- [laughter] >>Belva Davis: [laughs] to justify it. But, in actuality, the Miss America Pageant had a rule in its bylaws, its constitution rather, that barred the admission for competition of anything other than a white woman. >>Commentator: Um. >>Belva Davis: And it was so insulting that the local Chamber of Commerce, Junior Chamber of Commerce, fighting against this in liberal San Francisco aided me in putting together a beauty pageant just for black women. And it was part of a thing from Los Angeles that had been quite successful. I took on the Northern California part of it, ended up through the process the young women, the big prize was a screen test in Hollywood. >>Commentator: Um. >>Belva Davis: And we did well. I mean, one of the winners ended up being nominated for an Academy Award, Margaret Avery in 'The Color Purple'. And some of the singers formed a group called The Fifth Dimension and went on, had many hit records. One of the models became one of the top models. So it wasn't a waste of time. But I think for the young women who took part and I still hear from and am friends with many of them now, there was more to it than that. They had to take charm lessons. >>Commentator: Um. >>Belva Davis: They had to go to, to class to learn to sit, to stand, even how to get in and out of a car. And then there was the talent competition and then we had questions that were truly based in modern news of the day. So it was a good experience for them. The parents liked it. The girls who came from out of town camped out at our house to stay over so that moms could trust them to come from Fresno and Sacramento to compete. So it had its great value and when the walls began to fall, our women were ready to compete at any level. But I do wanna note how I noted the Chamber of Commerce's help. The man who was the producer of the Miss Universe Pageant also thought the Miss America Pageant needed some -- >>Commentator: Okay. >>Belva Davis: kind of lesson and he loaned us the crown for the Miss Universe Pageant for our first Miss Bronze. >>Commentator: Oh wow! >>Belva Davis: So we're always proud of that. We have pictures of her with this huge, wonderful -- >>Commentator: [laughs] >>Belva Davis: multi-whatever crown on her head. >>Commentator: [laughs] >>Belva Davis: [laughs] >>Commentator: That's great. >>Belva Davis: [laughs] Yeah, so that was just one of my diversions, a totally volunteer effort. >>Commentator: [chuckles] >>Belva Davis: But one thing that I know did change lives and it makes me proud. >>Commentator: Thanks for sharing. >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Commentator: So you have a favorite quote about dreams. >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Commentator: You wanna share that with us and then tell us sort of how that came to be your mantra? >>Belva Davis: [chuckles] Well the story of how -- I wrote it during those days of looking for a job in television -- >>Commentator: Um-hum. >>Belva Davis: because it was such a discouraging scene. You can imagine I had -- there was no woman of color on television and yet I thought I belonged there. And why did I think I belonged there was another thing 'cause [chuckles] I said before not a trained journalist just thought it was something that was destined for me. So I wrote a little thing that I used to carry around in my, in my date book or in my wallet I transferred it from time to time. And it was a simple line that just said, "Don't be afraid of the space between your dreams and reality." That was the important part. "If you dream it, you can make it so." I added that second line as I moved along, but it was to get over my fear of the space that I didn't know about. >>Commentator: Hum. >>Belva Davis: That I could find no directional book I could read to tell me how to get over that hesitation of going for what you want and that was it. >>Commentator: Um. >>Belva Davis: In fact that's the one place where Google's in the book. [chuckles] 'Cause I Googled that one day just for the fun of it. I don't know some years back. I really should have updated it -- >>Commentator: [chuckles] >>Belva Davis: but there was at least 60,000 hits on that line. [chuckles] >>Commentator: Oh good! [laughter] >>Belva Davis: [laughs] >>Commentator: We are glad to contribute to -- >>Belva Davis: Right. [laughs] >>Commentator: the propagation of the use for your mantra. That's great. >>Belva Davis: [laughs] Yeah. >>Commentator: Here at Google, we call ourselves Googlers here. I don't know if they, they taught you that term in your lunch or in your tour. And a lot of us work in different functions. Some of us are engineers. Some of us work in sales and finance. But we all are some, we have a lot of passion around technology. >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Commentator: So we Tweet and we use social networks and we access the Internet constantly everyday to do everything. And a lot of the news that we read is via this new medium. >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Commentator: And a lot of, you've seen a lot of press around what was reported around Osama Bin Laden first was reported -- >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Commentator: online before it was confirmed in other media. As someone who's kind of transcended media for your career, very, very long and successful career, how do you see kind of technology and Internet playing into shaping media to be better, more informative, or less informative? >>Belva Davis: Um. >>Commentator: Tell us what you think or kind of embellishing or helping things that you do in -- >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Commentator: journalism today. >>Belva Davis: Well I think they're two different worlds and I'm glad that one has one name and it's not called journalism. [laughs] >>Commentator: Okay. [laughs] >>Belva Davis: [laughs] On the other one, I think it is, it's a spreading of the word and that's traditional going back to the earliest of time when people beated on a drum. ? >>Commentator: Um. >>Belva Davis: It's the way we communicate one on one with each other. What we journalists have to do is educate people to the fact that if you're reading an article by a person who calls themself a 'journalist', you should expect more from that person than just the eyewitness account -- >>Commentator: Um-hum. >>Belva Davis: that often would end up in our reports. It got wrapped into what we did. It authenticated what we were doing. That you should expect more. You should expect content. You should expect some explanation from authority figures as to what happened. Even if you know what their words are, you still should be patient enough to find out why they were spoken and the context in which. And that's how I view journalism versus the sharing of an experience or an incident. I think we've always done that. It's just that we do it now by the millions instead [laughs] >>Commentator: [chuckles] >>Belva Davis: [laughs] instead of the few people who are in our neighborhood. And it certainly has been helpful in getting the word out. But I don't think the Tweet in any way describes what a good journalist can pull from a person in authority say -- >>Commentator: Hum. >>Belva Davis: in terms of questioning them about the action of the moment. And that's where I see the division. I, I hope indeed that we will both find a comfortable position, that people who, who want to share information instantly certainly should be able to do that and journalists should be able to learn to use that information in a constructive way. >>Commentator: So I'm gonna ask you one more question on this ? >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Commentator: very topic. But people start thinking about your own questions and just line up right here at the mic in the center. You said you don't think it defines what a good journalist can do. >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Commentator: A lot of people here were aspiring writers. Some day -- >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Commentator: we may write a book. Maybe we've written books and we may wanna be on TV -- >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Commentator: and get our 15 minutes or 1500 hours maybe -- >>Belva Davis: [laughs] >>Commentator: of fame. What advice do you have for those of us who want to be writers or journalists someday? What does make a good journalist or a good content? We call them 'content creators' here 'cause we're so technical -- >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Commentator: with everything but 'content creators'. >>Belva Davis: Well there's something that no technology can replace and that is the gnawing in the heart, the stomach to produce information that has value. You've gotta have that plus the mechanics of having it done. So therefore if you wanna be a journalist you've gotta really in today's world, competitive world, you've really got to wanna do it. And I like to always tell the story that I don't even know when I started to get paid to write. >>Commentator: Hum. >>Belva Davis: When I got my first payment from Jet Magazine it used to be 'payments' -- they were five dollars a week. They were supposed to cover my gas [laughs] from San Francisco to Oakland to do stories and my postage to mail the things off and my bridge tolls. They calculated in Chicago that should cost me five dollars a week. When I got my job in television I didn't even ask what the salary was. So it was a year later almost before I discovered I was being paid half [chuckles] the salary of the men in my unit all because -- >>Commentator: [unintelligible] >>Belva Davis: of my union thank God. [laughs] But that's what happened and of course I didn't have to take any action because once that fact was uncovered, they just automatically increased me to what they were paying the other guys. So you've got to really want to do this work to stay in it. That is if you wanna do -- I like -- to me journalism is politics. [laughs] It is an understanding of the environment in which we live. It is adding to that base of knowledge that's shared widely. And the other is whatever it is too and that means entertainment news or who's fallen out or broken up a relationship this week and [laughs] -- >>Commentator: [laughs] >>Belva Davis: [laughs] I mean that's what headlines address. But I can only give the advice is to, is to practice to use your skills that you've gotten, to submit material, to have a life's plan. I mean mine was never to do that for free all of my life. But it was a learning experience. And today's world changes so fast I can't even tell people which direction to move in order to get to the New York Times, say, today. You don't even know if there's gonna be a New York Times [laughs] -- >>Commentator: Um-hum. >>Belva Davis: in the future. But you will if you use your art, you -- [pause] use every opportunity you can to learn. You'll be ready for when your opportunity arrives. [chuckles] >>Commentator: Thank you. Question? [pause] >>Female Audience Member#1: Hi I just, when you were describing before about two different Americas especially for blacks -- what it was before and how it is now. And granted blacks have been, have had the opportunity to have many more options and just have been granted more opportunities overall now. But it seems as though maybe there's even a bigger gap now between African Americans for those who have and maybe for those who are disenfranchised. And it seems maybe the disenfranchised have somewhat given up. So what do you do and what did you do just through your whole journey just to keep pushing and keep fighting and just never to give up? >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. That's my word. Never give up. [laughs] I think the only people, the only individual who can defeat you is the internal one who tells you you can't do. And the reason I use the dream analogy because going back to slavery times even, the dream was a one thing that you owned that no one could take from you. So if you can dream it for yourself, you can envision yourself, you can see yourself doing that, you wanna do it that bad you usually, unless there's some flaw, and there are plenty of flaws, you'll get there or close to it. But I don't think that anyone can give you a road map today to how to get, if your goal is to be a columnist for the New York Times or even a reporter for the Times or the Wall Street Journal, they can't give you a road map because we don't quite know what it is that'll get you there. Probably many of you with your, with your knowledge of technology today are far more desirable for a company to hire than someone who writes about politics 'cause everyone's written a book somewhere along the lines I mean about politics. But you still in a mystery world for many people. And so it's, it's, it's using what you learn from wherever you are to apply it to where you wanna go. And that's sort of the way I made it by writing a little bit, talking a little bit, putting them together, convincing somebody that it would work if we, if we did it. I love working with our interns at, at KQED because I go through an airport and somebody'll stop me and say, "Do you remember in 1987 I was the intern?" [laughs] And blankety blank and, "Oh I'm workin' in London now for blankety blank." [laughs] And it gives me joy. So I think that [pause] that relying on yourself, preparing yourself, and knowing where you wanna go is about the only thing I can say. [chuckles], >>Female Audience Member #1: Thank you. >>Belva Davis: [chuckles] [pause] >>Justin Houser: Hi, Ms. Davis, My name is Justin Houser and I just started here at Google in September. I'm a recent graduate of Morehouse College. I work in People Operations our HR Department. And the question I have for you is you talked about some of your notable interviews so with Muhammad Ali, Frank Sinatra. Did you have a favorite moment or a favorite interview that you just can't forget that you want to share? >>Belva Davis: Oh my goodness, yeah. I have many favorite [laughs] interviews, I can't forget and people that I met. I like to remind myself of this because I have this list of people. Somebody in introducing me one day read off a list of the people that I had interviewed, people with some name and note. And I realized I'd left Bob Hope's name off. Now how could you leave off Bob Hope's name? I don't know but I managed to do that -- >>Commentator: [chuckles] >>Belva Davis: because there were so many people accessible before the media sort of got mad the way it is today. [chuckles] I call it that because there's this gaggle of folks pulling at you that it was, it was possible to do that. I think I'm fortunate to have had the access to Presidents and other high ranking political figures from other countries to talk with. I can't argue against the fact that I was fascinated by Fidel Castro. I had a chance to meet him over a couple of times. I've always thought that, and said it to him to his face, but I doubt if he would have been as, would have been able to do the things that he's done, that Jimmy Carter was one of the most -- >>Commentator: Hum. >>Belva Davis: thoughtful Presidents in terms of the have nots that I've ever met. I admired greatly Robert Kennedy because of the change he made in his life and had a chance to talk with him about it which was a wonderful, wonderful experience. I met with and talked with, in awe every moment, Martin Luther King and he was a great man. He took the time to try to 'suade me in my feelings of guilt by not doing more during the Civil Rights era. Even meeting Lena Horne who said to a group of us who were visiting her one afternoon -- >>Commentator: Hum. >>Belva Davis: "No matter what happens take your naps at this age." [laughs] [laughter] And she was right. She was entertaining at the Fairmont Hotel. And every afternoon at two o'clock, she took a nap because she knew she needed to be her best. Things, strange little things that people say to you. >>Commentator: Yeah. >>Belva Davis: I would not have made the greatest decision, the luckiest one of my life, were it not for Nancy Wilson who convinced me to marry my husband. We've only been together for 47 years so she sure didn't know what she's talkin' about. [laughs] [laughter] There are many people that I can talk of as individuals. The story that lives with me today and I still am trying to beat the drum about it is I went on a trip to Kenya to Tanzania after the bombing of the American Embassies there. Five thousand people injured, 240 dead, all but 11 of them Africans, 150 people blind today because of that. So far as I know still when my last communication with the woman who introduced me to that story many of these were still waiting to be compensated for those burns and injuries. >>Commentator: Hum. >>Belva Davis: It was, as you know, the act of Al-Quada and [pause] our government at that time I guess was mystified as to how they were gonna fight the war on terror. So they were not helpful in those beginning months to the Africans. And I went with a woman to take medical supplies to the injured. Glad I could go but felt bad as an American that we, as volunteers, had to come and bring bandages and prostheses and other things to aid these people. So, for a number of years, I've always beat the drum whenever I could for the people particularly of Nairobi because that's where the major injuries were. Businesses lost. Families totally destroyed. And I still feel the pride of the African psychiatrists and psychologists who went on the radio to tell the people they shouldn't blame anyone in, at that time. What they needed to do more was to talk about helping each other which they did. So that's my soap box that I, I've stood on for a very long time because it touched me so deeply to, to have had the chance to be there and to do something. [pause] I'd better stop. [laughs] >>Commentator: Thank you. >>Belva Davis: [chuckles] [pause] >>Male Audience Member #2: Thanks so much for coming and sharing your wisdom with us. I just wonder what is your earliest recollection of someone or something that gave you the idea of never giving up? >>Belva Davis: Well that's a truly long story and I talk about my childhood of --. Born to a teen mom. Given away as a baby to a relative who died soon after about when I was three to four years old. She had died of tuberculosis. Being transferred around a lot between relatives always but living, by the time I was 12, I'd lived in seven different households. I'm talking about this so you could see that life was not a bed of roses. Finally realizing at some point by the time I was, by the time my mother left home, that I had to be responsible for me and I would only be giving up on myself if I gave up. So before it was 'Don't be afraid', it was 'Never give up, never give up'. And my dream at that time was to make someone care about me. So to do that, I had all kinds of ways of doing it from getting baptized in the Ouachita River which I hope will not flood the town of Monroe again. I was born during what was called 'The Flood of the Century' back then when Louisiana was being inundated with water. So it, it was a tough life but it wasn't so tough that it defeated me and it was because I was using whatever tools I had to survive and to be useful. And I think when I started hitting these other bumps, they seem minor compared to [chuckles] what I had been living through. I love it in the book. There's a number of pictures in the center and there's one that looks sort of middle class 'til you look at it really closely. It's me standing around a table with a group of people in formal attire. And I always like to tell the under story. That dining room table we're standing around is the table which I slept under for three years on the floor there [chuckles] in my aunt's dining room as I finished high school. So I think there are ways that you just take life and turn it around. >>Male Audience Member #2: So would you say you're a natural optimist then? >>Belva Davis: Oh of course. >>Male Audience Member #2: Yeah. >>Belva Davis: Yeah, I mean I of course I'm not -- >>Commentator: [unintelligible] >>Male Audience Member #2: It could just as easily -- >>Belva Davis: No, but I know I could have become a pessimist. >>Male Audience Member #2: [unintelligible] [laughs] >>Belva Davis: No. No. No. I'm always expecting the best from circumstances and people and always saying to my husband, "It's gonna work out. It's gonna work out." [laughs] I know it is. I'm usually the one fretting the most about it, but I'm also the one that feels it's gonna work out. [laughs] >>Male Audience Member #2: Thanks. [pause] >>Female Audience Member #2: Hi, Ms.Davis. >>Belva Davis: [chuckles] >>Female Audience Member #2: It's an honor to have you here. This is a little high. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the late 60s and early 70s. Here in particular another Davis professor, Angela Davis, sort of that experience and sort of how you were involved with that, her trial, ? >>Belva Davis: Um-hum, um-hum. >>Female Audience Member #2: et cetera. Thank you. >>Belva Davis: Well other than being given the Berkeley beat which I was given as my first major assignment in -- of course you know what went on in Berkeley during the late 60s. That meant that, that I got used to being regularly tear gassed. That was it. But I did have my own gas mask so I was better off than the students. [laughter] But that I covered lots of those kinds of situations. And then, there was the Patty Hearst kidnapping which I also reported, reported on which led to an incident in our lives that were as close to making me think hard about whether I belonged in the business or not. Angela Davis was suspected of aiding [pause] an attempted break out at San Quentin and she was pursued across the country and finally arrested. And every day on the noon news at KPIX, we did some story relating to that incident. And then one day, we lived in El Cerrito, an El Cerrito police officer came to our door and I thought it was for a news tip. [chuckles] Why else would a police officer come? So he told us that he had heard or they had heard that there was a plot to kidnap our daughter in reprisal for the Patty Hearst kidnapping. >>Commentator: Hum. >>Belva Davis: And they thought, these Hells Angels, non-thinkers, thought that I was Angela Davis' sister. So therefore if "my people" as they said, which really were not my people, [chuckles] who really did all of the work around that whole thing, the SLA, but that they were gonna kidnap my daughter. And so we decided to move. We couldn't convince them. How could I? Couldn't go on the air and say, 'You're makin' a mistake'. So the police encouraged us to move which we did. We moved two blocks from where we worked, where I worked, where I'd have access to my daughter. We never proved whether it was going to happen. My daughter was given police protection. She never knew it and we didn't tell her about it for a very long time. But at that point I, I wondered -- >>Commentator: Hum. >>Belva Davis: indeed if this was the business that we should be in. And my son didn't escape his turn. [chuckles] I did another series of stories, not to do with Angela Davis, but about racial profiling that I ended up on the list of the not very welcome list at the Oakland Police Department. And it was, it was a good series of stories. They never proved that I said anything that was inaccurate. But that was not the point. But what did happen is that my son was arrested for making an illegal right hand turn and held for hours. Never charged basically, but I got the message and that was the other time that both my husband and I had to serious talk as to how far do we go. Our decision was not to leave the business but it was for me anyway to stop being the face of that story because now it wasn't me. It was my kid. So Angela Davis. Incidentally, and I have remained in touch with one another over the years. >>Commentator: Hum. >>Belva Davis: She's a lovely, intelligent woman and has continued her work with prison reform all of these years and stayed true to that. So I have to say that. [chuckle] [pause] >>Commentator: We still have a few more minutes so if there's other questions. I still have a list here too -- >>Belva Davis: [chuckles] >>Commentator: but I don't wanna hog all the time. Please go ahead. >>Belva Davis: [chuckles] >>Commentator: I've got two people standing up so go for it. >>Belva Davis: [laughs] [pause] >>Female Audience Member #3: Hi Ms. Davis. >>Belva Davis: Um-hum. >>Female Audience Member #3: Thanks for coming. As a woman and an African American woman, did you find when you started out reporting, that they gave you different sorts of stories to report on? And what were those stories like? And another question. Are there any unsolved cases that you covered that you still wonder about? >>Belva Davis: Hum, well my daughter's kidnapping is one. [laughs] [laughter] That was different [laughs] and so we never, we never got the real story on that one. Well with me, it was that they were -- the whole thing was to see how long I could last. And I love telling the story in the book about a camera man, in particular whose job it was to make sure that I would get out of the business as quickly as possible. In fact, he didn't think I'd last two weeks even. And that was the famous robber chase story that I tell about a couple of weeks in I don't even think I'd even been on the air by then. But anyway, there was a live shoot out. Got robbers in a car shooting. A cop car following it. I was assigned to go out with him. We get in his car. It's an old Peugeot, hardly runs. But he is really a darling of the police department. So in this chase, he moves in front of the police car which they didn't like at all. The robbers are shooting in our direction. He decides to pick up his Bell and Howell silent camera because he wants to get the action. And the car is speeding and he tells me to hold onto the steering wheel. [laughs] So eventually, he was convinced by whatever means, the radio was squeaking like crazy, for us to get some sensibility about this and so we got out of that. And then after that, there were other tests like that. So I can't complain that I got all the soft stories, although some did come my way. I did ask for tough assignments because I wanted to play the game and to see, and to see, to show them that I could do it, [chuckles] whatever 'that' was. And by the time the next woman got hired, was -- a woman named Christine Lund was hired. It's Channel 7. To show you what high esteem all my good work had done, the news director there said, "If they told me to hire a puppy dog to keep my broadcast license, I would," when asked why he hired her. [laughs] So it made -- neither of us felt very proud [laughs] of that moment. Yeah. Um-hum. [pause] >>Female Audience Member #4: Hi Mrs. Davis. My name is Charlay. I'm in the Marketing Department here at Google. A couple weeks ago, we had the opportunity to watch a screening of a documentary called 'Miss Representation' that talked about how women are portrayed and perceived in the media. And one of the things that stood out is that a lot of female reporters and anchorwomen today are made out to be very like kind of sexified and objectified with like low cut tops, a lot of makeup, hair. And there aren't very many women anchors who are considered to be serious reporters. So I was wondering, in your heyday, were you ever pressured to kind of play up your feminine traits and be more about the physical or the pretty, over emphasizing rather the work you were doing? So was that ever a factor that came into play? >>Belva Davis: I've led a lucky life. I came along when feminism was really just getting on the ground. We were trying [chuckles] to get women to wear less makeup, to do less in terms of grammar, glamour. I have to tell you now one trip to Los Angeles and to see the anchor teams and you worry as about what has happened? But, on the other hand, if you listen to the reports coming out of Egypt, Libya, wherever there are the worst conditions ever, almost always now it's a woman who's there. Now this is not true with every woman who's there. But some of it is because women who want to do this work, as I told you, have put themselves in places in countries where there's news to report. And they've, so I'm told, they call the news operations and say, "I'm in blankety, blank, blank. Would you like a report from here?" And it's launched a number of careers. >>Commentator: Hum. >>Belva Davis: And again, it's following my own philosophy I have to say that's a good thing. But on the other hand, the networks have closed their bureaus. And when they had them they were guys. Now the women are proving that they can handle the toughest assignments. So we have that group of women who are, some of who are suffering greatly in some of these countries 'cause they aren't protected enough. And the other women who really wanna be in show business and that's why they're sitting at those anchor desks. [chuckles] [pause] >>Commentator: I think we have time for one more question. I'm happy to ask the last question, but if there's someone in the audience who wants to ask the last question you can. [pause] >>Belva Davis: Okay >>Commentator: I'll do it. >>Belva Davis: Okay. >>Commentator: So after listening and talking with you and just sharing with you over the last couple of hours, last 45 minutes in this part of the session, it's no secret everyone can all agree that you've had a tremendous career and you've taken the road less traveled on behalf all of us in this room. But whet our appetites. What should we watch for next? What topics are you passionate about? Who would you like to sit across from and interview? So when we're following you for the next many, many years in your career, what can we be looking for? >>Belva Davis: Well, there's one serious answer and one answer because I dream it and therefore it's gonna happen. >>Commentator: Okay. >>Belva Davis: One is that my interest right now lies with the three strikes law. I, I feel there's a lot of unfairness in, it's in the way it's written, in the way it's been applied, and it's been applied mostly that it falls on black males who carry that burden. There's a project here at Stanford where they're doing all the research to, to prove what I'm thinking and I'm following that and reporting on it. I've had the privilege of going into Soledad Prison and sitting for an afternoon in the prison yard with as many three strikers as would come forward and listen to their stories and they're interesting stories. We know the hysteria around why it happened. But I understand now that there, at least, are conferences being held to talk about this. And the other of course has to do with our charming President. [chuckles] My dream is and it's I said it's gonna happen -- >>Commentator: [laughs] >>Belva Davis: I have not had an opportunity to speak with Barack Obama and I hope I do before I hang up my spurs [laughs] as the old westerns used to say. It would be a shame to have been around through all of these Presidents and talk to so many of them and then the hero of the moment, our century escape. But I'll keep saying this in public long enough 'til somebody -- >>Commentator: [laughs] >>Belva Davis: one of these days will say, "Hey Barack, remember that old lady out in [laughs] >>Commentator: [laughs] >>Belva Davis: And it will come true because ? >>Commentator: Yeah. >>Belva Davis: one of the reasons, ways you get what you want is you gotta ask for it. [laughs] >>Commentator: That's right. >>Belva Davis: [laughs] >>Commentator: That's right. And this will be on YouTube. >>Belva Davis: Oh boy! >>Commentator: So then if -- >>Belva Davis: Yeah -- [laughter] >>Commentator: and if -- >>Belva Davis: Yeah. >>Commentator: he watches it -- >>Belva Davis: Alright you hear me. [laughs] >>Commentator: he'll be able to see this exact quote. >>Belva Davis: Right. [laughs] >>Commentator: [laughs] >>Commentator: Well, thank you so much for being here. For those who are interested, you can stay after. She's gonna do a book signing and we just are honored to have you in our presence and for sharing your story. Thank you for coming. >>Belva Davis: Your hospitality couldn't have been greater. [applause] Thank you so much. [applause]


Early life

Belvagene Melton was born on October 13, 1932, to John and Florence Melton in Monroe, Louisiana. She is the oldest of four children.[1][2] Her mother was 14 years old at Belva's birth, and Belva spent her early years living with various relatives.[3] When she was eight years old, Belva and her family, including aunts and cousins, moved to a two-bedroom apartment in the West Oakland neighborhood of Oakland, California. Eleven people lived in the apartment.[1] Davis later said about her youth, "I learned to survive. And, as I moved from place to place, I learned to adapt. When I got older, I just figured I could become whatever it was that I needed to become."[3]

By the late 1940s, her parents were able to afford a house in Berkeley, California. Davis graduated from Berkeley High School in 1951, becoming the first member of her family to graduate from high school. She applied and got accepted into San Francisco State University but couldn't afford to attend college.[4] She went to work as a typist at the Oakland Naval Supply Depot, earning $2,000 a year.[1]

Journalism career

Davis accepted a freelance assignment in 1957 for Jet, a magazine focusing on African American issues, and became a stringer for the publication. She received $5 per piece with no byline. Over the next few years, she began writing for other African American publications, including the Sun Reporter and Bay Area Independent.[1] Davis edited the Sun Reporter from 1961 through 1968.[5]

In 1961, Davis became an on-air interviewer for KSAN, an AM radio station broadcasting in San Francisco. She made her television debut in 1963 for KTVU, a Bay Area television station, covering an African American beauty pageant.[1] She worked as a disc jockey for KDIA, a soul-gospel radio station based in Oakland, California, when the 1964 Republican National Convention, located at the Cow Palace in nearby Daly City, California, inspired her to become a reporter. According to Davis' account, while she was covering the convention with Louis Freeman, the two were chased out of the Cow Palace by convention attendees throwing food at them and yelling racial slurs.[6][7] It would not be the last time she encountered racism on the job: In 1987 she covered a march during the Civil Rights Movement in Forsythe County, Georgia, and attempted to interview a white woman who spat in her face.[3]

Davis worked for KNEW, an AM radio station located in Oakland, as an announcer in 1966.[5] She became the first female African American television journalist on the West Coast when she was hired by KPIX-TV in 1966.[3] She spent the next three decades working for KPIX, becoming an anchorwoman in 1970,[5] and KRON-TV.[1] Stories she covered include the Berkeley riots of the Free Speech Movement, the Black Panthers, the mass suicide-murder at Jonestown, the Moscone–Milk assassinations, the AIDS and crack epidemics, and the 1998 United States embassy bombing in Tanzania.[1][6]

Davis was highly regarded for her coverage of politics and issues of race and gender,[6] as well as her calm demeanor. Rita Williams, a reporter for KTVU, said "Belva knew instinctively how to keep everyone in check. Amid all these prima donnas, she had so much class, so much presence, so much intuition. Belva has always been the grande dame."[1]

Her autobiography, entitled Never in My Wildest Dreams: A Black Woman's Life in Journalism, was published in 2010. In the foreword he contributed for her 2010 autobiography, Bill Cosby wrote she also had symbolic value to the African American television audience, as "someone who sustained us, who made us proud." He wrote that "We looked forward to seeing her prove the stereotypical ugliness of those days to be wrong."[3]

Davis hosted "This Week in Northern California" on KQED, starting in the 1990s. She retired in November 2012.[6] Her final broadcast included a taped interview with Maya Angelou, a personal friend, as she wanted the theme of her final show to be friendship.[3]


Belva married Frank Davis on January 1, 1952. The couple had two children, and a granddaughter. Davis met her second husband, Bill Moore, in 1967 while working at KPIX-TV.[1][8] Davis and Moore used to live in the San Francisco neighborhood of Presidio Heights, but now live in Petaluma, California.[9] Belva Davis, a private person, for most of her journalistic life separated her personal life from her professional life. In 1975, Davis allowed an African American woman and American Women in Radio and TV member, Kathleen H. Arnold (today anthropologist Kathleen Rand Reed), to produce Belva Davis – This is Your Life. Davis mentored Reed for decades.[10]

Davis serves on the boards of Museum of the African Diaspora, the Institute on Aging, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.[1] Davis raised $5 million for the Museum of the African Diaspora in one year.[11]


  • “Don't be afraid of the space between your dreams and reality. If you can dream it, you can make it so.” [12]


Davis won eight Emmy Awards from the San Francisco / Northern California chapter.[6] She is an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha.[13] She has received lifetime achievement awards from the American Women in Radio and Television and National Association of Black Journalists.[1]


  • Davis, Belva; Haddock, Vicki (2011). Never in My Wildest Dreams: A Black Woman's Life in Journalism. Polipoint Press. ISBN 1936227061.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Jones, Carolyn (May 9, 2010). "Belva Davis, grande dame of Bay Area journalism". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  2. ^ Guthrie, Julian (January 20, 2011). "Newswoman Belva Davis reflects on her life". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved January 7, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Barney, Chuck (November 6, 2012). "Belva Davis, acclaimed journalist, ready to step away from anchor chair". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  4. ^ Harris, Janelle (July 30, 2014). "SO WHAT DO YOU, DO BELVA DAVIS, PIONEERING BROADCAST JOURNALIST, TV HOST AND AUTHOR?". Mediabistro. Retrieved October 15, 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Mantell, Jim (July 17, 1976). "Moving Up In The Media". Baltimore Afro-American. p. 7. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d e Asimov, Nanette (February 23, 2012). "Groundbreaking journalist Belva Davis to retire". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  7. ^ Rutland, Ginger (February 19, 2012). "The Reading Rack". Sacramento Bee. p. E3. Archived from the original on February 1, 2013. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  8. ^ De La O, Jessie (May 15, 2012). "Bay Area Journalist gives inspiring lecture". The Oak Leaf. Santa Rosa, California. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
  9. ^ Holman Parmer, Janet (December 8, 1999). "Finding a Personal Side to the Homeless Story: Journalists Find a Cause in Petaluma". The Press Democrat. Santa Rosa, California. Retrieved January 7, 2013. (subscription required)
  10. ^ Jet Magazine, January 22, 1976 Vol. 49, No 17,"Frisco Woman Honored for Broadcast Work"
  11. ^ Parmer, Janet (April 21, 2006). "$5 Million Mission: Veteran Journalist Belva Davis Faced Challenge When Asked To Raise Enough Money to Finance SF's Museum of the African Diaspora in Just One Year". The Press Democrat. Santa Rosa, California. Retrieved January 7, 2013. (subscription required)
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Membership: Honorary Members". Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved October 12, 2007.

External links

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