The media, the Black world, and the nation have lost one of our most powerful and fearless voices. Gil Noble passed away on April 5th at the age of 80. While his name may not be known by all, Noble's programming was nothing short of genre redefining and revolutionary. His path through journalism and the mark that he left on media are indelible. With his passing we have lost more than a man, we have lost a cultural institution.
Noble became a national media figure by hosting “Like It Is.” The show, appropriately titled, engaged pressing social issues within the Black world and spoke truth to power in a public intellectual tradition. Each week, Noble would feature a guest or panel of guests with expertise on the condition of people of African descent or issues facing communities of color. While other shows remained committed to only bringing on trained academics and vetted spokespeople, Noble boldly hosted guests who were high school drop outs with the same respect for their voices that he showed to folks with PhDs. His program was not based on the prestige of the guest or their accomplishments, but instead on their commitment to the issues facing Black people. No one received a pass from Noble, all who sat across from him were critically engaged and challenged. Noble’s loving critiques and ability to keep his finger on the pulse of issues facing the Black world is not easily duplicated.
“Like It Is” emerged on the eve of urban uprisings that engulfed many cities like Watts, Detroit, and Newark from 1965-1967. With the convening of and the report of the Kerner Commission, American media scrambled to more responsibly engage communities of color. As a result, more outlets began to look for Black journalists. This opening in White-controlled media for Black voices and Noble’s excellent coverage of the Newark uprising provided the synergy for the television host to change the complexion of the news we watched and the programs from which we learned.
Noble’s programming was unapologetically African-centered and celebrated the ways that African people thrived, struggled, and influenced global culture. For many, "Like It Is" was a classroom and Noble the master teacher who carefully crafted a curriculum that reflected the diversity and complexity of Black life. Recently when Noble fell ill and was unable to host his show, community groups like CEMOTAP (Committee to Elimination Media Offensive to African People) sprung into action demanding programming that continued the legacy of Noble. His legacy is not just that of a Black journalist, but revolutionary Black journalism with a care for the community, an understanding of its history, and the capacity to tell the truth even when some listeners would take objection.
If the proverb, “When an elder dies, a library burns to the ground” is true, the transition of Gil Noble must mean we have lost a proverbial university. While there may never be another Gil Noble, the media now, possibly more than ever, needs someone to continue his work. May his accomplishments not be forgotten and his radical intellectual tradition be continued for generations to come.
Dr. R. L'Heureux Lewis-McCoy is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York – CUNY. His work concentrates on race, education and gender. You can follow him on twitter at @dumilewis or on the web at www.professorlewis.com