The Paley Center for Media in New York City paid tribute to African-American achievements in television on Wednesday, saluting seven decades of groundbreaking accomplishments across a diverse group of genres including drama, comedy, news, talk, sports, music and variety. Special guests and presenters included Mara Brock Akil, Anthony Anderson, Diahann Carroll, Lee Daniels, Julius Erving, Gwen Ifill, Wynton Marsalis, Phylicia Rashad, Michael Strahan, Cicely Tyson, Larry Wilmore and Oprah Winfrey, among others.

The tribute—held at Cipriani Wall Street in downtown Manhattan—featured influential industry pioneers sharing pivotal television moments that have made a lasting impact on American culture. With milestones in 2015 like the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (where media played a profound role in galvanizing public support for its passage) and the 35th anniversary of Black Entertainment Television (BET), the Paley Center event also showcased how the small screen has both engendered and reflected the strides made towards social change.

“Television, more than any other medium, has paved the way for social change, and this momentous African-American tribute is a great expression of the Paley Center’s mission to highlight the critical role of media within our society,” said Maureen J. Reidy, president and CEO of the Paley Center for Media. “The renowned Paley archive will come to life during our salute with an expanded African-American media collection of iconic trailblazers and critically acclaimed programs of historical importance spanning seven decades.”

“I am honored to participate in the Paley Center for Media’s remarkable tribute to African-American achievements in television to showcase the rich diversity of expression and creativity over seventy years,” said professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., attendee and special advisor of the Paley Center tribute. “The evening will be historic in spotlighting television’s important cultural impact.”  

Proceeds from the evening benefited the Paley Center’s programs and its ongoing efforts to expand and preserve African-American programming in Paley’s collection, the nation’s largest publicly accessible archive of television, radio, and new media programming from over 70 countries, spanning almost 100 years. These programs continue to increase the public’s understanding of media and its significance in today’s society through public, industry, international, and education programs for students, teachers, and the general public.