As a pioneering television journalist, Belva Davis overcame racism and sexism in the workplace and society while reporting on politics and racial and gender issues. In the news industry, she is considered “the Walter Cronkite” of northern California.
An office worker at a naval supply center, Davis unexpectedly fell into journalism when she tried getting charity events mentioned in Black-owned newspapers and wound up freelancing for Jet and Ebony magazines. Her move into radio led to covering the 1964 Republican National Convention, where she was verbally and physically assaulted. By 1967, Davis joined the CBS affiliate in San Francisco as the first Black female TV reporter in the western United States.
Davis eventually anchored the news there and for affiliates of two other networks. She has covered Vietnam War protests, the rise of the Black Panthers and the assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.
The winner of eight local Emmys, Davis has been inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.
Davis currently hosts “This Week in Northern California,” a political affairs program on public station KQED. Her husband, Bill Moore, was one of the first Blacks to work as a TV news cameraman in this country and now teaches digital video at Ohlone College.
DI: Why do you think your memoir, Never in my Wildest Dreams: A Black Woman’s Life in Journalism, has startled many of your colleagues?
BD: They hadn’t known about my day-to-day work difficulties. In the early years, I was often asked to leave press conferences because I was Black. There were also cameramen who didn’t want to work with women or Blacks and certainly not someone like myself.
But I had already learned at my integrated high school the importance of holding my ground. It was the early 1950s, and my bowling club sponsor found out the nearby bowling alley refused me service. She and the principal threatened to pull every school activity from the bowling alley unless all students were welcomed at all times, and that was the end of my problem. I tell young people these stories so they learn to take a direct approach to problem-solving.
DI: Why did you become a leader in the national broadcast union where you have advocated for women, minorities and the disabled in the TV industry?
BD: I was the first Black woman in many aspects at work and didn’t want to be the last.
DI: What challenges do TV reporters face today in launching careers?
BD: They have to define how they will fit into an employer’s operation. I couldn’t afford a college education but became a political reporter anyway by working and learning simultaneously. These days, you have to practically train yourself for a specialty, say business or health reporting, before an employer gives you a shot.
The Internet and new technologies offer us more opportunities to tell stories, but not necessarily to do journalism. There isn’t research time anymore. TV stations continue to eliminate fact-checkers when they cut staff. It worries me.
DI: Once you retire from KQED in November, what will you do?
BD: I want to see if any college library is interested in personal items Bill and I have, like his old photos, or items I saved from my reporting jobs. Maybe our things have historical value. By following our lives, you can see the evolution of race relations and how TV stations integrated their staffs.
The station also wants me to do occasional special programs. Journalism teaches me something new constantly. That’s what makes the news business fun.