Significant departures in 2012 (39622)
Remembering Gil Noble:

Gil Noble stood, literally and figuratively, head and shoulders above yesterday and today’s Black television journalists. Blessed with unimpeachable integrity and journalistic instincts, Noble hosted for more than forty years the phenomenally popular “Like It Is” on WABC-TV, a public affairs show he virtually created. Noble, 80, made his transition to the ancestors last Thursday, April 5, at a hospital in Wayne, New Jersey.

Since suffering a major stroke last summer Noble had struggled to recover.

“Gil Noble’s life and work had a profound effect on our community and culture,” said Dave Davis, President and General Manager of WABC-TV. “His contributions are a part of history and will be remembered for years to come.”

Davis went on to thank Gil’s wife, Jean and their children, “for so lovingly sharing him with the world all these years.”

And it was the world that has responded upon hearing of his departure. The emails and phone calls have inundated the station and word of his passing has gone viral on the Internet.

At the beginning of his impressive legacy, Noble believed that his place in history would have never come about without the righteous indignation of the Black community, a community in the sixties, particularly in Harlem where he was born and raised, that was tired of police brutality, price gouging, oppressive landlords, and a city government that ignored its litany of complaints.

“My presence in television is the direct result of the Black struggle,” he recounted in his memoir, Black Is the Color of My TV Tube (Lyle Stuart, 1981). “But for the social upheaval of the fifties and the sixties in America, I believe that I would not now be working in television as a news correspondent…

“I have learned,” he continued, “that one of the most important traits a human can develop is the ability to face facts and measure things as they really are. One can then understand one’s surroundings and one’s place in the world and learn to function intelligently and without self-delusion.”

Clearly, these were traits that characterized Noble’s public persona and professional demeanor, traits embellished by his gentlemanly comportment and eloquent delivery.

Born on February 22, 1932, Gilbert Edward Noble was the son of Jamaican parents who owned and operated an auto repair shop. After a brief stint at City College, he was drafted into the Army during the Korean War.

Upon his return to civilian life there was a succession of unfulfilling jobs at Chase Manhattan Bank, playing piano part-time at nightclubs and bars, doing voice-overs and modeling, before enrolling in announcing school. His first attempts to land a radio job at the major stations were unsuccessful.

But, thanks to his lifelong friend, Bill McCreary, in 1962 he was able to secure a position at WLIB, which was then white-owned. During these days he, like his colleagues, dreamed of bigger and better opportunities, especially in television, and that dream came true with the advent of the civil rights movement and urban disturbances that rocked the nation.

Hired on a probationary basis at WABC-TV, Noble’s big break came when he was assigned to cover a disturbance in Newark, New Jersey. He did such a fantastic job that he was given a full-time job at the station.

“Now I could at last earn enough money to give my wife and family a better standard of living,” he recalled in his memoir. “I had quit my job at Chase…a year earlier at the request of my dying mother. She had left me a few thousand dollars that I had been drawing on steadily to supplement my meager salary at WLIB. When my audition week at WABC-TV began, less than a hundred dollars was left in the account.”

Then came Dr. King’s assassination.

The station, taking its cue from the Kerner Commission and the FCC, decided they needed a minority advancement program. At first the idea of for such a show was under the direction of a white writer and producer with actor Robert Hooks as the host and interviewer. Noble was to add the news component. The original title of the show was “The Way It Is.” But Noble and Hooks argued for a name the show eventually became.

This was in April 1968 and within a few months Hooks was gone and he insisted that Noble replace him as the host. At first Noble felt he wasn’t qualified but after a few shows he settled into the position, and the rest, as they say is history.

And what an illustrious history it was with a parade of luminaries that touched every niche and sinecure of the world of politics, the arts and entertainment, including award-winning documentaries of Malcolm X (the first one on him), Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte, and Paul Robeson.

“During his numerous decades hosting his iconic television program,” said Congressman Charles Rangel, “Gil acquainted the country with the story and the culture of Black America. The show was truly groundbreaking. It engaged black leaders from Nelson Mandela to Bill Cosby in profound discussions of the country’s most important issues. I was greatly honored to appear on Like It Is, debating Reverend Calvin O. Butts, III, of the Abyssinian Baptist Church…. Perhaps most importantly, it provided an intelligent and progressive forum for Black Americans that changed the way the nation viewed its Black citizens.”

From his detractors Noble was chastised for not being objective and presenting the other side of the story. “My show was the other side of the story,” was often his response. And those shows represent a precious archive of footage that could be a trove for educational and commercial purposes.

Providing a forum for such controversial activists as the late Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), H. Rap Brown (Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin), Minister Louis Farrakhan and Dr. Leonard Jeffries may have unnerved his critics but it further endeared him to the Black community.

It was an aroused community, led by CEMOTAP (Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive to African People) and its co-chairs Betty Dopson and Dr. James McIntosh that often came to the rescue when the show was threatened with cancellation.

Noble was particularly overjoyed to have the musicians on his show, and there is a memorable photo in his book in which he shares the stage with Dizzy Gillespie, Bobbi Humphrey, Reggie Workman and Gil Scott Heron. Of course, his childhood friend Jackie McLean was given more than one appearance as was Billy Taylor and Max Roach. There were also the international guests such as Jamaica’s great leader Michael Manley, and a host of African and Caribbean dignitaries, appearances often facilitated by two of Gil’s former aides attorney Robert Van Lierop and the stricken Elombe Brath.

Among the regulars toward the end of his tenure were educators Dr. Joy DeGruy and Adelaide Sanford. Councilmember Charles Barron, entrepreneur Sikhulu Shange, and reporters Les Payne and Milton Allimadi were welcomed and shared their views and opinions of current events, especially those of importance to Harlem and Brooklyn.

“The Village of Harlem and black communities across this nation mourn the loss of our award winning, veteran broadcast journalist, Gil Noble,” said Councilmember Inez E. Dickens, the Assistant Deputy Majority Leader. “A proud, elegant black American, Gil Noble was our undefeated centurion who took great care in guarding our history. He struck down false myths and told the truth about black life in America and beyond. Ever vigilant, he remained on the front lines of the civil rights movement and never stopped advocating for justice for all.”

Dickens’s encomium echoed the words and commitment Noble wrote at the end of his memoir.

“Many in this business say I am too serious,” he wrote. “I believe I am not serious enough. The condition of Black people today is serious to me, and that condition requires serious action.

“I will be preoccupied with the question of race until racism is dead,” he concluded.

Noble is survived his wife, Jean, his children; their four daughters, Lisa, Lynn, Leslie, and Jennifer; a son, Chris, and eight grandchildren.

On Thursday, April 12, a wake will be held from 7-10pm at Abyssinian Baptist Church, where the funeral services will commence on Friday at 10am. He will be buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery in upstate New York.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that donations be sent to National

Black Archives of Film and Broadcasting Inc, P.O. Box 43138, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043. Moreover, an invitation is extended for the interested to visit the website, which is under construction.