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Samuel Yette

Samuel F. Yette, the author of The Choice: The Issue of Black Survival in America, was born on July 2, 1929, in Harriman, Tennessee, to Frank Mack Yette and his wife Cora Lee Rector Yette (the family name is pronounced “yet”). Growing up in segregated Tennessee during the Great Depression, Yette attended Jamieson Elementary School in Harriman and Campbell High School in nearby Rockwood, Tennessee. Campbell High School principal John Brown Olinger mentored Yette, who graduated in 1947. After a brief interlude at Morristown College in 1947, he finished his studies at Tennessee State University from 1948 to 1951.

After joining the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War and serving from 1951 to 1953, Yette returned to teach and coach at Campbell High School from 1953 to 1954 and at Howard High School in Chattanooga from 1954 to 1955. Between 1954 and 1956, Yette worked as a sports writer for The Chattanooga Times and as a sports caster for WMFS radio. Yette completed his B.S. in English from Indiana University in 1956 and his M.A. in journalism and government in 1959. Also in 1956, Yette was teamed with photographer Gordon Parks as a special correspondent for a four part series on civil rights that appeared in LIFE Magazine. In 1956 he became a reporter for the Afro-American Newspapers in Baltimore and Washington, before serving as associate editor of Ebony from 1957 to 1959. That year, Yette was named director of information for Tuskegee University, where he remained until 1962. Yette covered City Hall for the Dayton Journal Herald as their first black reporter in 1962. Yette became the Peace Corps’ press liaison for Sargent Shriver’s visit to Africa in 1963 and was made the executive secretary of the Peace Corps in 1964. He was then appointed special assistant for civil rights to the director of the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity, a position he held until 1967.

Becoming the first black Washington correspondent for Newsweek in 1968, Yette covered urban violence and began writing The Choice: The Issue of Black Survival In America. The Choice, published in 1971, was an African American insider’s view of the relationship between the Vietnam War, the War On Poverty and African American survival. For The Choice, Yette garnered a Special Book Award from the Capitol Press Club in 1971, and the Top Non-Fiction Work of Distinction from the Black Academy of Arts and Letters in 1972. Featured on PBS’s Black Journal, Yette lectured widely.

In 1972, Yette accepted a position as professor of journalism at Howard University while continuing to write columns and commentary for the Miami Times, Tennessee Tribune, Philadelphia Tribune, Richmond Free Press, Nashville Banner and the Afro-American Newspapers and for magazines like Black World, Black Scholar, Black Collegian and Black Books Bulletin. He founded Cottage Books, Inc., and republished The Choice in 1982. In addition, Yette was a political commentator for BET in 1987 and 1988 and hosted Talk TV Politics on WHMM-TV (now WHUT) from 1991-1992.

Yette was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on June 7, 2004.

Yette passed away on January 21, 2011, leaving behind two grown sons.

Accession Number

A2004.065

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/7/2004

Last Name

Yette

Maker Category
Marital Status

Widower

Middle Name

F.

Schools

Campbell High School

Jamieson Elementary School

Morristown College

Tennessee State University

Indiana University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Samuel

Birth City, State, Country

Harriman

HM ID

YET01

Favorite Season

Fall, Spring

State

South Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Egypt

Favorite Quote

139th Psalms

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

7/2/1929

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken, Salad (Tuna)

Death Date

1/21/2011

Short Description

Newspaper columnist, author, and book publishing chief executive Samuel Yette (1929 - 2011 ) is the author of, "The Choice: The Issue of Black Survival in America," which has won several awards. A professor of journalism at Howard University and founder of Cottage Books, Inc., Yette has had a wide and influential career, and is still an active photojournalist and author.

Employment

United States Air Force

Campbell High School

Chattanooga Times

WMFS Radio

Afro-American Newspapers

Ebony Magazine

Tuskegee University

Dayton Journal Herald

United States Peace Corps

United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Newsweek Magazine

Howard University

BET

WHMM TV

Cottage Books

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Samuel Yette's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Samuel Yette lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Samuel Yette talks about his mother and describes her personality

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Samuel Yette describes his maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Samuel Yette talks about his mother's education

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Samuel Yette talks about his father

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Samuel Yette shares a story about his paternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Samuel Yette recalls growing up in Harriman, Tennessee

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Samuel Yette lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Samuel Yette describes where his family lived when he was growing up in Harriman, Tennessee

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Samuel Yette describes local personalities from his childhood in Harriman, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Samuel Yette remembers the cruelty he experienced growing up in Harriman, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Samuel Yette recalls his time at Jamieson Elementary School in Harriman, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Samuel Yette lists his teachers at Jamieson Elementary School in Harriman, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Samuel Yette recalls a childhood crush at Jamieson Elementary School in Harriman, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Samuel Yette explains how his family became involved in the effort to integrate schools in Harriman, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Samuel Yette recalls his mentor John Brown Olinger

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Samuel Yette explains the tragic circumstances that led to John Brown Olinger becoming principal of Campbell High School in Rockwood, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Samuel Yette recalls teachers at Rockwood Colored High School in Rockwood, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Samuel Yette recalls the extracurricular activities that helped him gain admittance to Morristown College in Morristown, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Samuel Yette explains how he transitioned to being a sports announcer at Tennessee State Agricultural & Industrial University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Samuel Yette recalls founding The Meter student newspaper at Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State College in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Samuel Yette describes lessons learned through founding and running The Meter student newspaper at Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State College

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Samuel Yette explains how Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State College fostered his interest and career in journalism

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Samuel Yette recalls the courses he did poorly in at Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State College in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Samuel Yette describes his experience in the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Samuel Yette recalls the racism he encountered while in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Samuel Yette explains how he was able to address the racism he encountered while in the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Samuel Yette recalls discrimination he encountered from professors at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Samuel Yette talks about the Negro minority seat on the student council at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Samuel Yette recalls inviting Carl Rowan to speak at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Samuel Yette recalls returning to teach high school in Rockwood, Tennessee and being the first black person to be given a library card in his hometown

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Samuel Yette talks about beginning his journalism career at Ebony in 1957

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Samuel Yette recalls meeting his wife and marrying her in 1958

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Samuel Yette explains how he became director of information for Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Samuel Yette recalls how he persuaded the Montgomery Advertiser to publish him during his time at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Samuel Yette explains how he got an interview for a job with the Journal-Herald of Dayton, Ohio

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Samuel Yette recalls his trip to New Orleans, Louisiana to interview for a job with the Journal-Herald of Dayton, Ohio

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Samuel Yette describes the racist encounters he had at the Journal-Herald of Dayton, Ohio

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Samuel Yette recalls encounters with Glenn Thompson, the editor of the Journal-Herald of Dayton, Ohio

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Samuel Yette recalls being sexually harassed by a coworker at the Journal-Herald in Dayton, Ohio, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Samuel Yette recalls being sexually harassed by a coworker at the Journal-Herald in Dayton, Ohio, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Samuel Yette talks about traveling to Africa with Peace Corps director R. Sargent Shriver

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Samuel Yette recalls his promotion to executive secretary from public information officer in the Peace Corps

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Samuel Yette explains why he left the position of special assistant to the director of U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Samuel Yette recalls moving to New York, New York and being hired by Newsweek in 1968

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Samuel Yette recalls the events that led to his firing from Newsweek

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Samuel Yette explains the impetus for publishing his book 'The Choice: The Issue of Black Survival in America' in 1971

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Samuel Yette talks about an excerpt from 'The Choice: The Issue of Black Survival in America' that discusses rice exportation in the U.S. in the 1960s

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Samuel Yette discusses the financial motives of top government officials named in his book 'The Choice: The Issue of Black Survival in America'

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Samuel Yette recalls interviewing Secretary of Labor George Shultz on Meet the Press

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Samuel Yette talks about the reception and legacy of 'The Choice: The Issue of Black Survival in America'

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Samuel Yette recounts teaching the importance of attributable sources to his journalism students at Howard University in Washington D.C.

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Samuel Yette talks about the issue of journalists working in the intelligence community

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Samuel Yette talks about the publications produced by his company, Cottage Books

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Samuel Yette lists the journalists he admires

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Samuel Yette describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Samuel Yette shares advice for aspiring black journalists

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Samuel Yette reflects upon his legacy, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Samuel Yette reflects upon his legacy, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Samuel Yette considers what he would have done differently

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Samuel Yette talks about his plans for another book

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Samuel Yette recalls sharing his career success with his mother during Harriman Tennessee's Golden Anniversary celebration

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Samuel Yette narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Samuel Yette narrates his photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$6

DAStory

7$6

DATitle
Samuel Yette talks about traveling to Africa with Peace Corps director R. Sargent Shriver
Samuel Yette talks about an excerpt from 'The Choice: The Issue of Black Survival in America' that discusses rice exportation in the U.S. in the 1960s
Transcript
So, now, Peace Corps, next--$$Well, I left there, and went--Carl Rowan called me. And I came to the Peace Corps, and went to Africa for the first time with [R.] Sargent Shriver. Douglas Kiker, who later worked for NBC News, was the head of the information bureau of public information [director of information] at the Peace Corps. And Sargent Shriver was, frankly, a very difficult person for whom to work, very difficult, very demanding. And, in fact, Kiker's job was on the line, because the most recent guy who had traveled with Shriver to South America, Shriver sent him back mid-trip--said, get out of here, go, go back, and get fired, or whatever, you know. So, Kiker's job was on the line. So, he sent Shriver a note saying, "I'm sure [HistoryMaker] Sam [Samuel] Yette can handle what your demands are--take him to Africa." So, we went. And one of two things, I think, really caused him--once we got to Ghana to--we were visiting Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ghana. But he sent Kiker a letter when we got to Ghana, saying, Sam Yette is doing an excellent job. And what that meant was your job is saved for the moment. Now, I think two things especially turned him around. I was interviewing the, President [William] Tubman, who was very proud of the fact that he had descended from slaves in Georgia (laughter). But anyway, while I was interviewing him, then I went--Shriver was getting an honorary degree from the University of Liberia [Monrovia, Liberia]. And I went, not to--you know, I didn't care that much about the reception. I went to the office and ran off copies of my story telling about his honorary. And in the story, I had used the initials for the degree, and whatever. And the [U.S.] State Department guy, who later became a state department executive, who was the in-country person in charge--the next morning, was looking at it. And he says, "Oh, Sarg," he says, "No, he's, he's made a mistake here." And I said, "Beg your pardon?" And he said, "No, I, I, I don't think that's--." And I said, "No, no, no, you're thinking--I checked it" (laughter), "So it is correct" (laughter). So, oh, oh, he says, "Oh, oh, okay." So, those two things caused Shriver to think that--hey, he needed somebody in his office who could take care of things like that. Number one, I knew what I was doing and, secondly, I had gone on, and done it--the work instead of going to the reception.$What I discovered was--a couple of things. One, I'm going to read from page 130 [of 'The Choice: The Issue of Black Survival in America,' HistoryMaker Samuel Yette], okay. "When the decisive decade, the 1960s began, the United States was not a leader among the world's rice growers, exporters, or consumers. At the close of the decade, the United States still was not a big rice consumer, nor even a major rice grower. But as an exporter, the United States was number one despite a green revolution that dramatically increased rice yields in the Philippines, India, Pakistan, and South Vietnam--all customers for U.S. rice. As the decade closed, the United States still produced less than 1 percent of the world's rice, but was incredibly the world's leading rice exporter, consuming only 35 percent of its rice produced, selling the other 65 percent abroad to a hundred countries, but mainly to South Korea and South Vietnam." Now, what I discovered was there are only five rice-producing countries, uh, states in the United States, only five--California, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and what's the other--$$It should be Mississippi, wouldn't it?$$--Mississippi. And the people who were chairmen of these committees were all from these states. For example, just let me give you an idea. The congressional chairmanships in the 91st [U.S.] Congress and these rice-cut representatives are in bold type. Their allies in italics. In the [U.S.] Senate, the Agricultural [sic. Agriculture, Nutrition] & Forestry Committee, [Senator] Allen J. Ellender, and his third in command, [Senator] James O. Eastland of Mississippi; the appropriations committee, Allen J. Ellender of Louisiana; [Senator] John [Little] McClellan of Arkansas; [U.S. Senate Committee on] Armed Services, [Senator] John C. Stennis of Mississippi--$$He was almost 100 years old then (laughter).$$--[Senator] Russell B. Long in charge of [U.S. Senate Committee on] Finance; [Senator] J. William Fulbright of Arkansas was in charge of [U.S. Senate Committee on] Foreign Relations; John McClellan of Arkansas, in charge of [U.S. Senate Committee on] Government Operations [later U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs]; James O. Eastland and John McClellan--Eastland from Mississippi, McClellan from Arkansas--both in charge of [U.S. Senate Committee on] Judiciary; [U.S. Senate Committee on Education] Labor and Public Welfare[later, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP)], [Senator] Ralph Yarborough of Texas; and so forth. Well, they can control anything, including the fact that the President [Lyndon Baines Johnson] of the United States was from Texas, one of the rice-producing states. It was about food and the manipulation of the ability of those people in the Far East to feed themselves. That's what it's about.$$So the dynamic of that, as I remember the book, is that, as the U.S. bombed South Vietnam and the rice paddies were destroyed, then rice would have to be exported from the United States to--$$Absolutely.$$--at the taxpayers' expense?$$Absolutely, absolutely. And when they were talking about burning off the vegetation, the brush, defoliation, as they would call--as it was called, defoliation of the jungles. What they were doing, they were destroying the people's rice (laughter). That's what the defoliation was.$$They were telling us that the Viet Cong were hiding in the foliage, so we need to get rid of the foliage to (laughter)--$$Yes. And so, now, what we're faced with, we're faced with a situation--not unlike the '60s [1960s], but we--it's just changed places. Now, it's oil--still about oil.