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Jefferi Lee

Television executive Jefferi Keith Lee was born on January 24, 1957 in South Boston, Virginia to General and Nannie Lee. He attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School and Robert E. Lee Elementary School, and then graduated from T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia. Lee studied radio, television and film at Missouri Valley College and at the University of Maryland in College Park.

In 1979, after working as an intern at the CBS affiliate WDVM-TV in Washington, D.C., Lee was hired as a production assistant for Morning Break and Harambee. Subsequently, he joined the production staff of television's first weekly newsmagazine show, PM Magazine, and became the show's associate producer in 1981. Then, in 1982, Lee was hired as the network operations manager for Black Entertainment Television. He was promoted to executive vice president of network operations in 1992, which expanded his responsibilities to oversee the development of two new BET networks including BET On Jazz: The Cable Jazz Channel, and BET International. Lee left BET as executive vice president in 1998 and founded Lee Productions, a communications consulting firm. Then, from 2005 until 2008, he served as executive director and president of the Bio-Defense Research Group. Lee was named general manager of Howard University's PBS outlet, WHUT-TV, in 2011.

Lee has also been involved in various non-profit organizations where he served on the boards of Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Easter Seals, and as a member of the Georgia Tech Presidents Advisory Board. Lee was also an elder member of the Olive Branch’s Elder Board. He serves as the chief executive officer of the Brandon Carrington Lee Foundation with his wife, Tina Mance-Lee, who serves as chief operating officer. Lee has also lectured at Howard University and taught as a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Lee and his wife live in Silver Spring, Maryland. They have two sons: Brandon Lee (deceased) and Jefferi Lee, a web developer.

Jefferi Lee was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 24, 2013.

Accession Number




Interview Date

10/24/2013 |and| 2/1/2014



Last Name


Maker Category
Marital Status


Middle Name



St. Joseph's Catholic School

University of Maryland

Missouri Valley College

T.C. Williams High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name


Birth City, State, Country

South Boston



Favorite Season




Favorite Vacation Destination

Lake Louise, Canada

Favorite Quote

Even if I die it doesn't mean that God didn't heal me.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City




Short Description

Television executive Jefferi Lee (1957 - ) , general manager of Howard University’s WHUT-TV, founded Lee Productions and served as the executive vice president of Black Entertainment Television from 1992 to 1998.



Bio-Defense Research Group



Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Jefferi Lee's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Jefferi Lee lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Jefferi Lee describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Jefferi Lee talks about his mother, Nannie Jane Carrington, her involvement in her community, and her employment

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Jefferi Lee describes his father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Jefferi Lee describes his father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Jefferi Lee talks about his father's growing up in South Boston, Virginia, and his service in the U.S. Army in the Korean War

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Jefferi Lee talks about his parents' different family backgrounds

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Jefferi Lee talks about his parents' move to Alexandria, Virginia, and his father's employment

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Jefferi Lee talks about his likeness to his father, his mother's last months, and his parents' emphasis on education

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Jefferi Lee talks about his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Jefferi Lee describes his favorite childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Jefferi Lee talks about the neighborhood where his family lived in Alexandria, Virginia, and his childhood there

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Jefferi Lee talks about the demographics of Alexandria, Virginia in the 1960s and 1970s

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Jefferi Lee talks about attending elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Jefferi Lee talks about his role models in school

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Jefferi Lee talks about his favorite subject in school

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Jefferi Lee talks about his interest in baseball as a young boy

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Jefferi Lee talks about his mother's death in 1971 and his family's life afterwards

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Jefferi Lee describes his experience in high school

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Jefferi Lee talks about the teachers who influenced him in high school

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Jefferi Lee talks about his cross-country trip after graduating from high school, and his trip to Canada with his father and siblings

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Jefferi Lee talks about his sister's role in his family, and his initial hesitation towards attending college

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Jefferi Lee discusses his decision to attend Missouri Valley College

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Jefferi Lee describes his experience at Missouri Valley College

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Jefferi Lee talks about having his own radio show at Missouri Valley College

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Jefferi Lee talks about transferring to the University of Maryland, College Park, and interning at WDVM, Channel 9 in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Jefferi Lee talks about his job in the mailroom at WDVM in Washington, D.C., and his opportunity to join the management trainee program

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Jefferi Lee talks about his production experience at WDVM in Washington, D.C., and his mentors there

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Jefferi Lee talks about leaving WDVM station to join Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 1982, during its early days

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Jefferi Lee talks about his experience at Black Entertainment Television (BET) in the 1980s

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Jefferi Lee talks about "Petey" Greene

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Jefferi Lee talks about the growth of Black Entertainment Television (BET)

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Jefferi Lee talks about Black Entertainment Television (BET)'s increased programming, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Jefferi Lee talks about Black Entertainment Television (BET)'s increased programming, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Jefferi Lee talks about brand loyalty for Black Entertainment Television (BET)

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Jefferi Lee talks about Black Entertainment Television (BET)'s jazz programming and news and public affairs programming

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Jefferi Lee describes his photographs







Jefferi Lee talks about brand loyalty for Black Entertainment Television (BET)
Jefferi Lee talks about his job in the mailroom at WDVM in Washington, D.C., and his opportunity to join the management trainee program
I know Lewis Carr was telling us that when he went to advertisers, he would often talk about how the community, the black community was more loyal to BET [Black Entertainment Television] than say, you know, the community watching some other stations.$$Right, right. We had a lot of brand loyalty, and it displayed itself in many ways, I mean just in terms of, just viewers, one, but I mean I recall several times, one time in particular, I was in San Francisco [California]. And I was checking into a hotel late one night. And I was at the counter, and I was checking in. And I gave the lady my credit card, and it had BET on the credit card. And she just went berserk. She said, "Are you with BET?" She said, wow, we love BET at my house. We, and it was that kind of feeling that you would get traveling all over the country when we would meet black people who'd seen BET. It was a sense of, we were caretakers of a, you know, a national monument to some extent, that BET was ours. And the public felt like that. I remember another time when we went public. This was back in '91 [1991], I think it was when we first went, New York Stock Exchange, when BET went public. The night before we went public, Bob [Robert Johnson] wanted all the senior staff to go up to New York and spend the night and be there for in the morning. Well, Curtis Simmons and I, our kids had games that night. So we wanted to be here for our kids' games. So we told Bob, we'll get there first thing in the morning. So we stayed, went to the game, that morning, got up, rushed up to New York. And we got in a cab from the airport and we told the guy we wanted to go to the Stock Exchange on Wall Street. And he said, what's the address? I'm like, you don't know where Wall Street is? Anyway, we finally get there. The traffic was so bad. We were running late. So we jumped out of the cab, Curtis and I, and went running up the street. And we got to the building, it was the employee entrance to the Stock Exchange. And we went in the building, and this, the guy said, I'm sorry, you have to go out and go around and go in the main entrance. And there were two gentlemen back behind the desk that were in the maintenance crew. They were African Americans. And they said, they spoke up and said, are you with BET, 'cause everybody at the New York Stock Exchange knew that BET was going public, everybody black anyway, knew that BET was going public today. They said, are you with BET? And we said, yes. They said, come on. We'll take you in there. We'll take you in. And they marshaled us in. I mean they escorted us in all the way up to the chairman's office. And the pride that was in these guys' faces and in their voice, of something that they had nothing to do with. They weren't stockholders in BET, weren't going to be stockholders in BET. But the pride on their face, the excitement that they had, just by, it was like, it's still ours. This is ours going public today. And I always remember that about BET and my time at BET in that, it made me feel like I was the caretaker of some real property that black America said was ours. And that was really touching.$$This was almost like being an ambassador for a country.$$In a lot of ways, in a lot of ways. I remember traveling in, I was in South Africa once, and I was at a reception. And a guy came up to me, he said, well, first of all, he said, how does it feel from being--being from the greatest country in the world? I said, ah, (laughter), "Don't believe the hype all the time." (Laughter) And I said, it's not all paved in gold. I said, that's not really what it's like. And he said, well, how does it feel, you know, BET, being this great entity? And I told him, I said, you know, it's hard work. I mean I told him, because for so long, I was just at work. I didn't have the idea or the sense of how the rest of the--not just the country, but the world saw us. And it was really eye opening several times to go to different places and see that the brand itself had gone beyond just a television channel. It spoke to something of black America.$$So this is the first black television cable network, first black company to go to the New York--(simultaneous)--$$Public, yeah.$$--Stock Exchange, go public. So this is, you know, people felt like it was theirs, right?$$That's right.$$Which sets us up for (laughter)--$$Yeah.$$No, we won't get there yet. We're--$$(Laughter) (whew).$$We move along, you know--$$Okay.$Now, was it, did you, did somebody at the University of Maryland [College Park] like, you know, help you get that job (unclear) (simultaneous)--$$Well, you know, I had an internship at Channel 9 when I first came there, working at 'Morning Break' first. And I did the internship there, and after the first, I think it was after my first internship ended, I got home, and I got a phone call from the production manager, and told me that there was a job open at the station and to get my behind back to the station and apply for that job that was in the mailroom. And I said, mailroom, I wanna be in TV production. And I was told, no, you wanna job in the station. You get where you wanna be later, but right now, you want a job in the station. So I came back and applied, and I got a job in the mailroom. So I was working in there. So, once again, I got great advice from people around me. The guys in the mailroom, I would sit and talk with them, and they'd say, then they would tell me, we know everything that's going on in the station before anybody else. He said, so, understand that we know everybody. And I got to know from the people in the mailroom to the general manager's cook, all the people who were behind the scenes, but heard everything that was going on in the station and knew how things worked in the station. So that was a great education for me to be in that environment, right, didn't have to be sitting in the executive suite all the time. These are the people (laughter) who really under--who knew what was going on, really, whether they understood or not was another issue. But they knew what was going on. And so after I spent some time in the mailroom, there was another job open, film--I forget the actual title of the, the name of the job, but it was the person who put breaks in film. The station ran movies in the afternoon, and somebody had to look at the movies and decide where the breaks went in the movie. Now, because of union restrictions, I couldn't actually do the film editing, but I could look at the film, but the marks in the film where the breaks would be and everything. So I did that for a while. Also, in the station doing that and doing other kinds of things whatever I could find, the people who needed something done, I would volunteer to do that to be that person, to be with them. And then the management trainee position opened up, and I was asked if I--I was, I'll never forget. I was at a function one night. The sales department was having a function at an ad agency somewhere downtown, and the general manager of the station was there. And one of the people introduced me, one of the station employees introduced me to the general manager. And he said to me, he said, what--so, after we were talking, he said, so what do you wanna do? And I said, I want your job. And he said, oh, really (laughter)? He said, okay, we'll see about that. And so from that day forward, so then I got into the management, the training--management trainee program. And I got to go around the station and see all the different areas of the station, and how they worked from the programming side to the sales side to the news side, to the operations side, technical side, all of the different things that help put the station together and make it work. So that was, again, a very good learning experience.