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Basic Black; 30th Anniversary


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Basic Black
30th Anniversary
Program Number


Series Description

THe series was formerly known as Say Brother. Series title change as of 1/8/1998. This series is black produced and is one of public television's longest-running series that is rooted in and reflects the culture, concerns, achievements and history of people of African descent. Also includes controversial issues, African American artists, and events of special interest to the African American community.

Series release date: 1/8/1998

Program Description

In June 1968, America was reeling from the Vietnam War. Cities and campuses rocked with unrest. The nation mourned the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Out of this time of change came the weekly television series SAY BROTHER, launched by Boston public television station WGBH to provide a window into the stories and lives of Boston’s African Americans. Former series producers, community activists, and WGBH station executives discuss the program’s history, illustrated by archival footage of some of the most memorable programs from the past 30 years. "We have an incredible history and legacy with SAY BROTHER and now BASIC BLACK," says BASIC BLACK series producer Cynthia Johnson. "Imagine—thirty years of strong, consistent programming! In this Retrospective program, we’ll remind our viewers how the series has reflected the changes in the lives of African Americans since 1968."

BASIC BLACK is the longest-running minority program on public television, and one of the longest running series with an African American focus anywhere on television nationwide. "I think it’s very important for public broadcasting to reflect the diversity of our audience, to provide a sense of inclusion and to help us understand each other and our backgrounds and experiences," says WGBH President and General Manager Henry P. Becton, Jr. "The program has become an important part of how we define our community, both the African American community and the broader Boston area community."

Retrospective weaves interviews with former producers with archival footage of some of the series’ landmark programs. In its early days, SAY BROTHER won praise from Boston’s Black community by reporting on issues like segregation, busing, and riots, but controversial language led to a brief suspension of the program by the Federal Communications Commission. SAY BROTHER "tested public television and WGBH’s willingness to take some risk and provide a broader range of voices and perspectives than the mainstream commercial media was providing," Becton recalls. Out of that controversy arose the SAY BROTHER Community Committee, which has served as a significant link between Boston’s Black community and WGBH.

Marita Rivero, currently WGBH vice president and radio station manager, talks about how she brought SAY BROTHER to a national PBS audience during her tenure as producer in the early 1970s. "SAY BROTHER performed the same function that Black colleges and Black churches performed a century ago—it was where you went to hear debate, lecture, cultural events," says Rivero.

Barbara Barrow Murray, producer from 1976–1984, brought her experience as a dancer to the program, producing some of the series’ most memorable performance programs, including the dramas Something About the Blues and The Black Dyad as well as dance programs like Blues and Gone and Impressions: The Gospel According to…. The Black Dyad, written by the husband-wife team of Evelyn and Mel Moore, earned the series its first Emmy.

By the late 1980s, producer Juanita Anderson had focused SAY BROTHER’s lens on national events so the Boston African American community could share what "people of African descent were experiencing throughout the nation," she says. Calvin Lindsay, series producer from 1993–1997, broadened the series’ scope even farther, taking SAY BROTHER on its only trip to the African continent for the Emmy Award-winning South Africa: The Homecoming. "For better or for worse…SAY BROTHER is the place where a lot of people come to get their information about what the Black community is thinking," Lindsay reflects. "We always understood that we had a tremendous responsibility in what we put forth over the air waves."

Veteran television producer Cynthia Johnson became SAY BROTHER producer in 1997, and in January 1998 she changed the series’ name to BASIC BLACK. "My feeling was that we needed to make sure that this program had continued to be consistent with contemporary times," says Johnson. "I wanted to pull us up to a more contemporary feel, look, just a whole attitude. ‘Basic black’ is about class, about reverence, respect, and I’m hoping that’s what this program brings into your home."

Other featured programs in BASIC BLACK’s 30th Anniversary Season include The Making of Africans in America (November 12), a behind-the-scenes look at public television’s ground-breaking documentary; A Conversation with Lani Guinier (January 7), featuring the new Harvard Law School professor in an intimate interview with BASIC BLACK’s Darren Duarte; a 60-minute special featuring one of the last interviews between former Black Panther Eldredge Cleaver and Harvard University’s Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a FRONTLINE co-production (January 28); and an in-studio performance special celebrating Duke Ellington’s 100th birthday (April 29).



Asset Type

Broadcast program

Media Type


Social Issues
Race and Ethnicity
Chicago: “Basic Black; 30th Anniversary,” 11/05/1998, GBH Archives, accessed December 3, 2023,
MLA: “Basic Black; 30th Anniversary.” 11/05/1998. GBH Archives. Web. December 3, 2023. <>.
APA: Basic Black; 30th Anniversary. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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