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Jennifer Lawson

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Information about Jennifer Lawson

Profile image of Jennifer Lawson

Profession

Category:
MediaMakers
Occupation(s):
Television Producer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
None
Favorite Food:
Paella
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Barcelona, Spain
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
6/8/1946
Birth Location:
Fairfield, Alabama

Profession

Category:
MediaMakers
Occupation(s):
Television Producer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
None
Favorite Food:
Paella
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Barcelona, Spain
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
6/8/1946
Birth Location:
Fairfield
See how Jennifer Lawson is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Senior vice president, producer and general manager, Jennifer Karen Lawson was born on June 8, 1946 in Fairfield, Alabama. Her father Willie D. Lawson was the owner of a repair shop and her mother Velma Lawson, was a retired school teacher. She is the second of five children, Willie Dee, Frankie and James and Schuyler. Lawson attended Tuskegee University briefly before dropping out and dedicating her time to the civil rights movement. She has worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC) and the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) where she has worked on self-empowerment programs for rural women. She has also worked as deputy director for an adult education program in Mississippi’s Quitman County. Lawson eventually relocated to Washington, D.C. where she worked as art director for, Drum and Spear, a bookstore and publishing company. In 1970, Lawson moved to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania as coordinator of a joint publishing project, it was here that she decided to study film.

In 1974, Lawson graduated with her M.F.A degree from Columbia University in New York City. After graduation, Lawson worked as publicity director on a fundraising campaign for the United Church of Christ. She also worked as assistant editor for a small film company, William Greaves Productions. Lawson taught film at Brooklyn College for three years and worked as the executive director for the Film Fund, a grant making organization. In 1980, she worked as program fund coordinator for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in Washington, D.C. and attended Harvard University for an executive management program. She later became director of the Television Program Fund at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In 1989, Lawson was hired by PBS as their first chief programming executive, making her the highest ranking black woman to have served in public television. During her time at PBS she was responsible for the scheduling and promotional strategies that resulted in PBS’ most successful series, Ken Burns’, “The Civil War” and “Baseball”. Lawson also developed children’s series, “Barney and Friends”, “Lamb Chop’s Play-Along”, and “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”

In 1995, Lawson resigned from PBS and founded Magic Box Mediaworks. Her company produced the eight part series “Africa”, in partnership with National Geographic and WNET, which was aired on PBS in 2001. In 2004, Lawson was hired by WHUT-TV at Howard University as general manager and co-produced, “Security vs. Liberty: The Other War”, for a PBS series, “American at the Crossroads”. She has been named one of “101 Most Influential People in Entertainment Today,” Entertainment Weekly, and was named to the Power 50 List by, Hollywood Reporter. Among her other awards are ones from the International Film and Video Festival, a Gold Camera Award and Cine Golden Eagle, for episodes of the “Africa” series. Lawson is married to Anthony Gittens, an arts administrator and film festival director. They have two sons, together Kai and Zac Gittens.

Jennifer Lawson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 1, 2012.

See how Jennifer Lawson is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Jennifer Lawson's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Jennifer Lawson lists her favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her mother's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Jennifer Lawson talks about where her mother grew up
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her father's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her paternal grandparents' memories of slavery
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her father's family home
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her father's childhood
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her father's work in coal mines and his entrepreneurial spirit
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her father's repair shop and his experiments
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Jennifer Lawson remembers the fire at her father's repair shop and learning how to build a motor
  • Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her parents' civic activities
  • Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the company towns in Alabama
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Jennifer Lawson talks about Phenix City and its criminal element in the 1950s
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her likeness to her parents
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her family's first television
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the demographics and segregation of her childhood communities
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her siblings
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Jennifer Lawson talks about naming conventions in the South
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her siblings and family trips
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her siblings and traveling as an African American in the 1950s
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Jennifer Lawson describes the sights, sounds, and smells of growing up
  • Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Jennifer Lawson describes the role of church in her childhood, pt. 1
  • Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Jennifer Lawson describes the role of church in her childhood, pt. 2
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the reading material in her childhood home
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Jennifer Lawson talks about how the Emmett Till case affected her childhood
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the ethnic make-up of Birmingham, Alabama
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Jennifer Lawson talks about starting elementary school
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Jennifer Lawson talks about learning to read from her parents and her precociousness in school
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Jennifer Lawson discusses her favorite subjects in school
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her teachers in high school and her father's eccentricity
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her father's eccentricity and creativity
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her father's influence
  • Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her popularity and activities in high school
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her decision to go to college
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Jennifer Lawson talks about winning a scholarship to Tuskegee University
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the Civil Rights Movement demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Jennifer Lawson discusses her first connections to the Civil Rights Movement
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Jennifer Lawson remembers first seeing the Imitation of Life and the dialogues about race that it triggered
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Jennifer Lawson discusses why she chose Tuskegee for college and the 1963 events in the Civil Rights Movement
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Jennifer Lawson talks about becoming involved with a student activist group at Tuskegee
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Jennifer Lawson talks about some of her teachers at Tuskegee
  • Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Jennifer Lawson talks about balancing college and her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement
  • Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement
  • Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the murder of one of her classmates at Tuskegee, Sammy Young, Jr.
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Jennifer Lawson discusses discontinuing her scholarship at Tuskegee and dedicating to the Civil Rights Movement
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her late father's endorsement of her decision to leave college and join the Movement
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Jennifer Lawson talks about becoming a member of SNCC and working in Gee's Bend, Alabama
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Jennifer Lawson talks about encouraging voter registration as a member of SNCC
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her promotion within SNCC and her move to Lowndes County
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Jennifer Lawson talks about working in Lowndes County
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Jennifer Lawson talks about designing billboards for SNCC and tension between North and South movements
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Jennifer Lawson talks about being jailed for demonstrating and a near confrontation with the Ku Klux Klan
  • Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Jennifer Lawson talks about Montgomery, Alabama and her promotion to the SNCC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia
  • Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Jennifer Lawson talks about working at the SNCC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Jennifer Lawson talks about being arrested in Atlanta, Georgia
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Jennifer Lawson discusses the role of women in SNCC
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Jennifer Lawson talks about Ella Baker and Bob Moses
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her departure from SNCC and her work in literacy and adult education
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Jennifer Lawson talks about working in Washington, D.C. and her trip to West Africa
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the Hebrew Israelites and traveling in West Africa
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Jennifer Lawson talks about returning to the United States from West Africa and moving to Washington, D.C.
  • Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Jennifer Lawson talks about lecturing at the Museum of African Art
  • Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Jennifer Lawson talks about Drum and Spear Bookstore, their Press, and working in radio
  • Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Jennifer Lawson talks about Drum and Spear Press' books
  • Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Jennifer Lawson discusses independent black presses, Ralph Featherstone's death, and being investigated by the FBI
  • Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Slating of session two of Jennifer Lawson's interview
  • Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Jennifer Lawson discusses the FBI's investigation of SNCC and being considered a subversive
  • Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Jennifer Lawson talks about whether she considered herself a subversive
  • Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Jennifer Lawson discusses the demand for African American history and the founding of Drum and Spear Press
  • Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the publications of Drum and Spear Press
  • Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her invitation to go to Tanzania and the Sixth Pan African Congress
  • Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Jennifer Lawson talks about Tanzania in the 1970s
  • Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the historian, Walter Rodney
  • Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the cultural figures in Tanzania in the 1970s
  • Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Jennifer Lawson talks about how her experience in Tanzania inspired her to produce audiovisual media
  • Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her return to the United States from Tanzania in 1972
  • Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Jennifer Lawson talks about earning her MFA in Film at Columbia University, New York
  • Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Jennifer Lawson talks about working as a film editor and at Brooklyn College
  • Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the filmmakers that she met in New York
  • Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Jennifer Lawson talks about working with the United Church of Christ
  • Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Jennifer Lawson talks about working at the Public Television Station, New York
  • Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the performance artists, filmmakers, and television hosts in New York
  • Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the emergence of Blaxploitation and her fiction writing
  • Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Jennifer Lawson talks about writing a script for a "B" movie, "Teammates"
  • Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Jennifer Lawson talks about leaving "B" movies to work as the executive director of the Film Fund
  • Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Jennifer Lawson discusses her accomplishments as executive director of the Film Fund
  • Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her job offer from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1980
  • Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Jennifer Lawson talks about organizations around the country that supported independent filmmaking, pt. 1
  • Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Jennifer Lawson talks about organizations around the country that supported independent filmmaking, pt. 2
  • Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her colleagues at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
  • Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Jennifer Lawson talks about "Matter of Life and Death," "Crisis-to-Crisis," and other series she worked on
  • Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her favorite projects in her nine years at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
  • Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Jennifer Lawson talks about CPB shows that were produced at Howard University
  • Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Jennifer Lawson talks about becoming vice president for International Public Television
  • Tape: 9 Story: 9 - Jennifer Lawson talks about TV production in Africa
  • Tape: 9 Story: 10 - Jennifer Lawson talks about attending International Public Television conferences around the globe
  • Tape: 9 Story: 11 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the distinctions between public television and state television internationally
  • Tape: 9 Story: 12 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the success of Sesame Street
  • Tape: 9 Story: 13 - Jennifer Lawson talks about news restrictions in some countries and the restructuring of PBS in 1989
  • Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the restructuring of PBS and how it led to her job as its Chief Program Executive
  • Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Jennifer Lawson discusses the difference between CPB and PBS
  • Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the reception of her appointment as Chief Program Executive of PBS
  • Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Jennifer Lawson discusses PBS's decision to discontinue voting and to appoint a sole executive, pt. 1
  • Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Jennifer Lawson discusses PBS's decision to discontinue voting and to appoint a sole executive, pt. 2
  • Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Jennifer Lawson talks about Ken Burns and the "The Civil War"
  • Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Jennifer Lawson talks about "Lamb Chop's Play Along," Sherry Lewis, and children's programming
  • Tape: 10 Story: 8 - Jennifer Lawson talks about Fred Rogers
  • Tape: 10 Story: 9 - Jennifer Lawson talks about "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" and "Reading Rainbow"
  • Tape: 10 Story: 10 - Jennifer Lawson talks about being one of the fifty most influential women in entertainment by the "Hollywood Reporter"
  • Tape: 10 Story: 11 - Jennifer Lawson talks about Bill Moyers
  • Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Jennifer Lawson talks about Bill Moyers' interview with Joseph Campbell
  • Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Jennifer Lawson discusses her controversial decision to air "Tongues Untied" by Marlon Riggs
  • Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Jennifer Lawson talks about content regulation on television in the 1990s
  • Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Jennifer Lawson talks about why, as a social activist, she chose to air "Tongues Untied"
  • Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Jennifer Lawson discusses her decision to leave PBS
  • Tape: 11 Story: 6 - Jennifer Lawson discusses leaving PBS to work on her documentary, "Africa"
  • Tape: 11 Story: 7 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the research and preparation for her documentary, "Africa"
  • Tape: 11 Story: 8 - Jennifer Lawson talks about securing partnerships to make the documentary, "Africa," pt. 1
  • Tape: 11 Story: 9 - Jennifer Lawson talks about securing partnerships to make the documentary, "Africa," pt. 2
  • Tape: 11 Story: 10 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the reception of the documentary, "Africa"
  • Tape: 11 Story: 11 - Jennifer Lawson talks about being in New York on September 11, 2001 for the "Africa" media tour
  • Tape: 12 Story: 1 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the success of "Africa" despite 9/11
  • Tape: 12 Story: 2 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the narration and the music for "Africa"
  • Tape: 12 Story: 3 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her favorite moment from "Africa"
  • Tape: 12 Story: 4 - Jennifer Lawson talks about other series on Africa and other projects from Magic Box
  • Tape: 12 Story: 5 - Jennifer Lawson talks about transitioning WHUT of Howard University to digital, pt. 1
  • Tape: 12 Story: 6 - Jennifer Lawson talks about transitioning WHUT to digital, pt. 2
  • Tape: 12 Story: 7 - Jennifer Lawson talks about the programming changes she made at WHUT
  • Tape: 12 Story: 8 - Jennifer Lawson talks about community support for WHUT
  • Tape: 12 Story: 9 - Jennifer Lawson talks about WHUT's support of student work and leaving WHUT in 2010
  • Tape: 12 Story: 10 - Jennifer Lawson talks about going back to work for CPB
  • Tape: 12 Story: 11 - Jennifer Lawson talks about "Nature" and the successful "Downton Abbey"
  • Tape: 12 Story: 12 - Jennifer Lawson discusses the future of CPB
  • Tape: 13 Story: 1 - Jennifer Lawson talks about how she personally read all the viewer mail for WHUT
  • Tape: 13 Story: 2 - Jennifer Lawson discusses Henry Hampton and Blackside Productions
  • Tape: 13 Story: 3 - Jennifer Lawson describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community
  • Tape: 13 Story: 4 - Jennifer Lawson reflects upon her legacy
  • Tape: 13 Story: 5 - Jennifer Lawson talks about what she might do differently
  • Tape: 13 Story: 6 - Jennifer Lawson talks about her family
  • Tape: 13 Story: 7 - Jennifer Lawson talks about how she would like to be remembered