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Michaela Angela Davis

Magazine editor, activist, and writer Michaela Angela Davis was born in 1964 in Germany. When she was young, Davis and her family moved to Washington, D.C., where she attended the Duke Ellington School for the Arts. Upon graduation, Davis enrolled in New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts before being accepted to the Stella Adler Acting Conservatory in 1983. She gained fashion experience by apprenticing with her aunt, a former stylist for Harper’s Bazaar, and photographer Richard Avedon.

In 1991, Davis was hired as an associate fashion editor for Essence magazine. She then became the founding fashion director for Vibe magazine in 1993. In 2002, Davis worked as a stylist for the film Paid in Full, before becoming editor-in-chief of Honey magazine in 2003. Davis also published an essay titled “The Beautiful Ones” for the anthology Everything but the Burden: What White People are Taking from Black Culture in 2003.

In 2004, Davis returned to Essence as the executive Fashion and Beauty editor while simultaneously directing the Culture section. She launched the “Take Back the Music” campaign along with Essence in 2005 and appeared on VH1 News Presents: Hip Hop Videos – Sexploitation on the Set. That same year, Davis authored a gift book entitled Beloved Baby: A Baby’s Scrapbook and Journal. In 2008, she was featured in the documentary The Souls of Black Girls, as well as the BET special, Hip Hop vs. America II: Where Did the Love Go? Davis went on to become the chief creative consultant and editorial brand manager for the rebranding of BET. She appeared in Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness in 2011 with an essay titled “Resistance.” Also that year, she launched a community conversation project called MAD Free: Liberating Conversations About Our Image, Beauty and Power as well as “BuryTheRatchet: The Revolutionary Pro Sisterhood Campaign” the following year.

The New York Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People recognized Davis as a “Phenomenal Woman” in 2011, and the President of the Borough of Manhattan presented her with a “Trailblazer Award.” In 2013, she was honored with two separate “Empowerment” awards from BLACK STREET and the Feminist Press.

Davis lives in Brooklyn and has one daughter, Elenni Davis-Knight.

Michaela Angela Davis was interviewed by the The HistoryMakers on August 15, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.219

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/15/2014

Last Name

Davis

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Middle Name

Angela

Schools

Takoma Education Campus

Duke Ellington School Of The Arts

New York University

The New School for Social Research

Stella Adler Studio of Acting

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Michaela

Birth City, State, Country

Landstuhl

HM ID

DAV35

Favorite Season

Spring

Favorite Vacation Destination

North Africa

Favorite Quote

This Is The Day The Lord Had Made, Let Us Rejoice And Be Glad In It.$

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

3/31/1964

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

Germany

Favorite Food

Okra

Short Description

Magazine editor, activist, and writer Michaela Angela Davis (1964 - ) was the founding fashion director of Vibe magazine and a former editor of Honey and Essence magazines.

Employment

BET/Centric

Freelance

Essence Magazine

Honey Magazine

Vibe Magazine

CNN/Time Warner

Favorite Color

Black

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Michaela Angela Davis' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Michaela Angela Davis lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Michaela Angela Davis describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Michaela Angela Davis talks about her father's acceptance into the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Michaela Angela Davis describes her mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Michaela Angela Davis talks about her parents' marriage

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Michaela Angela Davis describes her upbringing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Michaela Angela Davis recalls her experiences of racial discrimination in Woodbury, New Jersey

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Michaela Angela Davis describes her mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Michaela Angela Davis talks about her early awareness of skin color, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Michaela Angela Davis talks about her early awareness of skin color, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Michaela Angela Davis describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Michaela Angela Davis remembers her neighborhood in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Michaela Angela Davis remembers her neighborhood friends in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Michaela Angela Davis describes the smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Michaela Angela Davis talks about her childhood best friend

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Michaela Angela Davis remembers the music of her youth

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Michaela Angela Davis describes her early experiences of religion

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Michaela Angela Davis remembers the death of her brother, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Michaela Angela Davis remembers the death of her brother, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Michaela Angela Davis talks about her acting experiences at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Michaela Angela Davis describes her experiences at the Stella Adler Conservatory in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Michaela Angela Davis describes her role as an assistant stylist

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Michaela Angela Davis describes the start of her career in fashion

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Michaela Angela Davis remembers the New York City club scene of the 1980s

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Michaela Angela Davis describes her fashion career in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Michaela Angela Davis describes how she came to work for Essence magazine

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Michaela Angela Davis describes how she came to work for Vibe magazine

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Michaela Angela Davis talks about the influence of hip hop culture

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Michaela Angela Davis talks about the early covers of Vibe magazine

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Michaela Angela Davis talks about the evolution of hip hop culture

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Michaela Angela Davis describes her reasons for leaving Vibe magazine

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Michaela Angela Davis remembers meeting Polly Allen Mellen

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Michaela Angela Davis recalls the founding of Honey magazine

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Michaela Angela Davis talks about the founders of Vanguarde Media

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Michaela Angela Davis describes how she came to be editor in chief of Honey magazine

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Michaela Angela Davis describes her role as editor in chief of Honey magazine

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Michaela Angela Davis remembers her return to Essence magazine

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Michaela Angela Davis talks about Essence's Take Back the Music campaign

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Michaela Angela Davis remembers her early speaking engagements

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Michaela Angela Davis describes how she became a commentator on CNN

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Michaela Angela Davis remembers how she became a commentator for 'Anderson Cooper 360'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Michaela Angela Davis talks about the next generation of black fashion activists

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Michaela Angela Davis describes the MAD Free project

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Michaela Angela Davis describes her role in the rebranding of BET, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Michaela Angela Davis describes her role in the rebranding of BET, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Michaela Angela Davis talks about her current projects

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Michaela Angela Davis reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Michaela Angela Davis describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Michaela Angela Davis reflects upon her life

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Michaela Angela Davis narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$6

DAStory

1$4

DATitle
Michaela Angela Davis talks about the evolution of hip hop culture
Michaela Angela Davis remembers how she became a commentator for 'Anderson Cooper 360'
Transcript
How long did you work at Vibe?$$Just a year. So I worked the first year cycle and this is when my activism began. I challenged--something very scary started happening in hip hop, 'cause again, we're so excited by this culture, by being a part of hip hop, being a part of defining, this defining culture was very powerful. But by the time we got to '92 [1992], '93 [1993], you started to see this very disturbing wave of--$$That's okay.$$They were talking upstairs. Wave of, the plethora of voices because we had all kinds of hip hop. Whether it was you know Biggie [Biggie Smalls; The Notorious B.I.G.] who was this like so talented but kind of nasty and talking about, you know, shooting people and all kinds of crazy sex, but his lyricism was amazing. To you know Wu-Tang [Wu-Tang Clan] to Pharcyde [The Pharcyde] to sort of what people consider conscious rap. And all these, you know Monie Love and Queen Latifah and MC Lyte, you had all these different voices. And then what you started to see happen was the voices were beginning--very narrow very, very quick, very, very quickly. And you saw women's voices just dropping off and the, the men's voices--and this is in mainstream and the records that they were selling and promoting were getting hyper violent. And what, I don't--what some people called gangsta rap, we never, we never called it that in, internally, inside. But it was, it was a very disturbing, disturbing quick trend of hyper violent images with hypersexual images of women. And then all these women's voices going, falling away and the only ones left standing were Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown, Lauryn [Lauryn Hill] came later. And they were really playing on the hypersexuality, which we didn't mind before when they were all these other voices too. Like that's, that's a voice, that's real, but we saw that what was happening to the music, or the music that we were being asked to cover and sell and promote, was so narrow and it was--it's like that's that kind of the opposite of what we came here to do, right? So, I got into very clear philosophical--I resigned because I remember one of the older white executives from Time Warner [Time Warner, Inc.] coming in and, at the photo editing, was like going, "Yeah, like show the picture of him peeing on the wall." And like, "Yeah that's like, you wanna see the dirty shit, let's see the dirty shit," and I was just like, who are you that--you old man in a suit like. I was like this is it--we came here to tell our story, right, like if this is--and, and it was something very significant. I saw--our editor in chief was a very smart, white gay man, right? I remember this same executive was at Martha Stewart [Martha Stewart Living] and I heard Martha Stewart in the hallway like letting him have it. She was like--'cause what had happened is both these magazines were hot, right? No one was paying attention to us 'til we got hot. Then it's like. "Ooh, I'm gonna come down and play with the hot magazines from my little office." I heard Martha Stewart saying, "The day that you know how to cook and," and blah, blah, blah. She's like, "This is my culture, either you give me this magazine or you get out." Like she defended her--she's like, "You don't live in Connecticut, you don't know about--," like she was like (makes sound), she defended her, her brand. But he's, I don't know what he was telling her to do, but she was literally out in the hallway. And I was like nobody's defending us, nobody's going, "Why are you--what's happening to this magazine [Vibe] that was supposed to be about this big bright culture, or breadth of the culture?" Not to say that those rappers didn't exist, but to silence the others was problematic.$Wait before you get there, I just wanna point out that you started being honored for your activism.$$Yes.$$Like people started noticing you (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yes.$$--and--$$Yes.$$--just, just to make a point, you know the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] acknowledged your work in 2011 with the phenomenal woman award. And then you, you were featured in a number of anthologies--$$Right (simultaneous).$$--(simultaneous) so Rebecca Walker's ['Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness,' ed. Rebecca Walker] was another--$$And this is all after--so this point is critical 'cause all that came after, and there's very interesting (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Really? Came after what?$$The--what I'm about to tell you why, how I got to 'Anderson Cooper' ['Anderson Cooper 360'].$$Okay.$$How I got to 'Anderson Cooper' was I challenged Essence, that--$$I didn't realize it came after, okay.$$And I was, I was being recognized, I wasn't being honored, but I was being, I was becoming a voice particularly on these campuses, right? I was talking about image, image activism and, and being empowered and challenging images and, and being, having media literacy, particularly as it came to women and how they perceive themselves and how the world perceives them. Because they were being treated based on these music videos, and that's what we were finding when talking to girls that traveled, people thought--would solicit them for sex when they're in Italy as a scholar, because they think that their video--so we understood something was happening in the culture, and I was helping to facilitate those conversations and giving us tools to deal with them. When--and this--at this critical moment too, I discovered the power of Facebook. So Essence magazine had a new editor in chief for a while, who had hired a white fashion director. And I had had that, this job and I knew what a fashion director was. A fashion director was someone that didn't just pick out dresses, for Essence particularly because it was the only magazine for black women, the fashion director was in the community. The fashion director spoke on behalf of the community; the fashion director would be you know if H&M [H and M Hennes and Mauritz A.B.] opened in Harlem [New York, New York], or a MAC store [MAC Cosmetics] opened in downtown Detroit [Michigan], the fashion director of Essence was supposed to be there. The fashion director at Essence sits at the front row at the fashion shows with all the other fashion directors. So when a white woman was chosen for that one spot, I, I was appalled, but I didn't act until a group of young women--I had started, I started to have mentees by this point, right? Young women that I was nurturing and were talking to me and I was talking to them, I started to host salons in my home with young women, mentoring them. And a group of young women called me and they were crying, they, they said to me, "What does this mean to us?" And they were, they were all fashion professionals, one just finished fashion history at NYU [New York University, New York, New York], blah, blah, blah. And they're like, "So if Essence doesn't think that we can do this, where do we go, what does this mean to us?" And they were crying and I was talking to--and that's--I didn't act until I felt the hurt and I wrote on my Facebook page, "Essence magazine has hired a white fashion director. I feel like I lost my best girlfriend," right, something to that effect. Hundreds of comments later, in an hour or two Clutch magazine had written a blog.$$Which is an online (unclear) (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) An online magazine, a popular mag- online website for this audience. So be clear that the first people that covered this story were the young women who were being most affected. So Clutch did it first, then, then New York Magazine picked it up from Clutch. Then from New York Magazine it went viral. Twenty-four hours later, I was on 'Anderson Cooper,' right? I had no idea Facebook was like that, I was really naive, I was really new, I was having like these conversations that I thought were very contained with like couple thousand friends and, I was talking to young women, most I would ask ques- and what I realized that my Facebook page was, was the open for some news stories I was like OMG. So I learned a lot by then, but so what hap- so it's very challenging and very interesting and very full circle to be in this moment where you are challenging home, 'cause Essence was home to me. But I, I had gotten the blessings from my mentor like this--'cause I called, I guess it's okay to say now--$$Um-hm.$$--in public. I called Susan [HistoryMaker Susan Taylor] before I accepted that interview, and I said, "Look, I'm getting calls from the media, and what do you think?" Because I knew I was gonna--this was basically going to war with Essence. I didn't know how big it was gonna be, I didn't know it was gonna be this thing. And I got, I got, she told me, she said, "Michaela [HistoryMaker Michaela Angela Davis] you're my hero," and that's, I said that's all. So if my mentor says that it was something--and I had all these young women, and, and they were like nobody stands up for us. And I didn't have anything to lose; I wasn't trying to get that job--like, so I felt like they couldn't do it, because they might want that job one day. They're new in their career, I understood that, so I felt like I could speak for them, and I wasn't afraid.

Sheila Gregory Thomas

Writer, producer and consultant Sheila Gregory Thomas was born on November 11, 1938 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Her mother was Hugh Ella Hancock-Gregory, and her father was Thomas Montgomery Gregory, a well-known educator and dramatist. Thomas graduated from Howard University with her B.A. degree in Spanish in 1961.

Upon graduation, Thomas was hired as a Spanish teacher in the Washington D.C. public school system, where she taught until 1969. Thomas then created, produced and began hosting the educational children’s television program The Magic Door on WMAL-TV in Washington D.C. The show aired from 1969 until 1973. In 1974, while working as an independent writer and consultant, she was engaged as media coordinator for the vice chairman of the D.C. city council. In 1976, Thomas was hired as a public affairs specialist for the National Park Service. She then accepted the position of cultural education specialist in 1977, remaining in that position until 1979, when she worked as an independent writer and consultant. In 1988, Thomas was appointed director of public relations for Diversified Engineering and Architecture. Then, in 1996, she was featured on PBS’s Frontline, in her interview of producer and writer, June Cross. That same year, Thomas began serving as vice president of Diversified Environmental, Inc.

Thomas has published a number of articles relating to her family’s history. In 1984, she wrote an article about her great-grandmother entitled “Margaret Mahammitt of Maryland,” which was published by the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. Thomas also authored an article in 2002 about her father, Thomas Montgomery Gregory. In 2008, three family biographies she wrote for the African American National Biography project were published by Oxford University Press. Thomas has received the MAMM Award from the American Association of University Women, the Action for Children’s Television Award, the Capital Press Club Award, and the Ohio State Award.

Sheila Gregory Thomas was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 25, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.270

Sex

Female

Interview Date

10/25/2013 |and| 10/26/2013

Last Name

Thomas

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

Gregory

Schools

Atlantic City High School

Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Sheila

Birth City, State, Country

Atlantic City

HM ID

THO20

Favorite Season

Fall

State

New Jersey

Favorite Vacation Destination

Oceans, Beaches

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

11/11/1938

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Scallops

Short Description

Television producer and writer Sheila Gregory Thomas (1938 - ) created, produced and hosted the television program The Magic Door. She also wrote about her family history for the African American National Biography project.

Employment

Diversified Environmental, LLC

Diversified Engineering & Architecture P.C.

WGBH TV

Delete

Universal Studios

National Park Service

WMAL TV

District of Columbia Public Schools

Favorite Color

Turquoise

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Sheila Gregory Thomas' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Sheila Gregory Thomas lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Sheila Gregory Thomas describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about her mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Sheila Gregory Thomas describes how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Sheila Gregory Thomas describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about her paternal family's origins in Madagascar

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about her paternal great-grandmother, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about her paternal great-grandmother, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Sheila Gregory Thomas describes her paternal grandfather, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Sheila Gregory Thomas describes her paternal grandfather, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about her father's upbringing

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about her father's time at Harvard University

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about her father's career, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about her father's career, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about the Howard Players

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Sheila Gregory Thomas describes how her parents met

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about the Fort Des Moines Provisional Army Officer Training School

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Sheila Gregory Thomas describes her parent's personalities and who she takes after

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Sheila Gregory Thomas lists her siblings

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Sheila Gregory Thomas remembers her sister, Yvonne Gregory

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about her siblings' careers, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about her siblings' careers, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Sheila Gregory Thomas describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about her family's move to Atlantic City, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Sheila Gregory Thomas describes her community in Atlantic City, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Sheila Gregory Thomas remembers Atlantic City High School in Atlantic City, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about the nightclubs in Atlantic City, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about segregation in Atlantic City, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about the home front of World War II

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Sheila Gregory Thomas recalls her influential teachers

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Sheila Gregory Thomas remembers her early love of camping

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Sheila Gregory Thomas remembers Rosalind Cash

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Sheila Gregory Thomas remembers June Cross

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about her decision to attend Howard University

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Sheila Gregory Thomas describes her experiences at Howard University

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Sheila Gregory Thomas recalls her foreign language courses at Howard University

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Sheila Gregory Thomas remembers her honeymoon tour of Europe

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Sheila Gregory Thomas reflects upon her time at Howard University

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about her husband

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Sheila Gregory Thomas remembers teaching immersive Spanish courses

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about segregation in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Sheila Gregory Thomas reflects upon her teaching experiences

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Sheila Gregory Thomas remembers developing 'The Magic Door'

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about the contributors on 'The Magic Door'

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about the availability of children's television programming

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Sheila Gregory Thomas recalls working with the District of Columbia Public Schools

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Sheila Gregory Thomas remembers the cancellation of 'The Magic Door'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about the public television industry

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Sheila Gregory Thomas recalls the political opposition to 'The Magic Door'

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about her paternal ancestors, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about her paternal ancestors, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Sheila Gregory Thomas remembers the documentary film 'Spanish Spoken Here'

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Sheila Gregory Thomas describes the aftermath of the cancellation of 'The Magic Door'

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Sheila Gregory Thomas remembers working for Sterling Tucker

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Sheila Gregory Thomas describes her career with the National Park Service

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Sheila Gregory Thomas recalls publishing 'Margaret Mahammitt of Maryland'

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Sheila Gregory Thomas recalls appearing in 'Jaws: the Revenge'

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Sheila Gregory Thomas recalls teaching Spanish at the Nathan Mayhew Seminars

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Sheila Gregory Thomas remembers interviewing June Cross

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about 'Secret Daughter'

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about her son's environmental contracting firm

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Sheila Gregory Thomas describes her family history projects

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Sheila Gregory Thomas reflects upon her family's legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Sheila Gregory Thomas reflects upon her life

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Sheila Gregory Thomas describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Sheila Gregory Thomas reflects upon her work with the District of Columbia Public Schools

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about children's television programming

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Sheila Gregory Thomas reflects upon her professional legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about her children

Tape: 8 Story: 11 - Sheila Gregory Thomas describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Sheila Gregory Thomas narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Sheila Gregory Thomas narrates her photographs, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Sheila Gregory Thomas narrates her photographs, pt. 3

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$6

DAStory

8$1

DATitle
Sheila Gregory Thomas talks about her paternal great-grandmother, pt. 1
Sheila Gregory Thomas remembers developing 'The Magic Door'
Transcript
You've written an article about Margaret Mahammitt [Gregory Thomas' paternal great-grandmother, Margaret Mahammitt Hagan].$$Yes.$$And she did some special things, right?$$She was a fan- fascinating woman. Quite a character. My father [Thomas Gregory, Sr.] stayed with her for a period of time--he--with her in her home in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, because she eventually left Frederick, Maryland. And there's even a story about her departure. She left at a time--I'd forgotten there were certain laws, black laws I didn't know in Virginia. But evidently, she felt that it was wise to get out even though she was a free person--she was born free--and just decided that she should not remain there, and certainly she would have been stymied and not able to do what she ended up doing later on. So she left Frederick, Maryland, on a train. And it said that she hid underneath the skirts of some white ladies who were traveling so that she wouldn't be seen. The threat, even for free blacks at that time, was such that she evidently felt if they saw her, they might try to claim that she was not a free person and make her remain there in that area, in Frederick. That's all I know. So she went to Pennsylvania, and she operated a laundry there. But she also tried to enter a school there, I remember. She wanted to get some training there, and she was turned down. And so she demanded to have her money back. She was a strong willed, feisty person. And they--she insisted, because she had already paid, evidently, that they give her her money back, so they did. She opened a laundry employing about forty people in Pennsylvania. I think that was in Williamsport. She eventually settled in Williamsport, but I know she spent some time in Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]. And she also ended up in Washington, D.C. Now, at that time, her grandson, my father, was in Washington, D.C. Margaret was born in about 1825, do believe, okay. So she came to Washington, D.C., and again, through research, I discovered that she opened a shop, downtown Washington on F Street, in which she said, "You must come and visit the--see the magic scale, the dressmaker's magic scale." And she had a dressmaking business. And also, while in Washington, she attended the school, and this is really fascinating, of a Dr. Hosford [ph.] in medical electricity.$I guess it's the time to talk about 'The Magic Door.'$$Okay. Well, after I stopped teaching at that time to give birth to my second child [Joel Thomas], another little boy, I decided that I wanted to do something different and thought I would look for something else to do where I could use the language. That was the first thing I thought of, using Spanish. And then a friend called me and told me about auditions at a television station for a program. And so I said, "Ha, well, might as well try that. Why not." And so, I called. That was Channel Seven, WMAL [WMAL-TV], it was known at that time. Now it's WJLA-TV [Washington, D.C.]. But then it was WMAL. So I called and I spoke to the program director, and he told me that auditions were closed. He was very sorry, and then he must have asked me a question or two, and we went on talking and talking and talking. And so, finally, he said, "Well, look," he said, "I'd like to have you come and do an audition." So even though he had considered the auditions closed, after talking with me, he asked me to come in and audition and I did. I was the one who got the job. So I started out with a talk show being a producer or co-producer, I can't remember, on a talk show. And then they told me that they really wanted me to develop a children's program. So then I knew, well, that was actually why they had hired me, because they had a children's program then that was quite different from the one I went on to develop. But I said, of course. I went ahead and put together some ideas, and my mother [Hugh Hancock Gregory] actually thought of the name 'The Magic Door,' and so I started the children's program called 'The Magic Door.' And I was--$$Now, what is the magic door? It may seem obvious to people, but what did you intend the name, 'Magic Door' (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) 'The Magic Door' is to open a door onto all kinds of experiences and exposures for children, and also it was because--really what we did was to make the door look magic. I can remember there was sort of special effects that were used in the beginning (gesture) (laughter). It really made it look magic. And I was by myself for some time and eventually got a Muppet-like character we named Jellybean. In fact, I had a contest so children in the D.C. area [Washington, D.C.] could submit names, and we chose Jellybean. He was a green Muppet-like character. I used him--I integrated Spanish into the program. It was an hour live show, Monday through Friday. And--$$That's--that would be--that sounds like something that would really be daunting to a lot of people today, to think of doing an hour live show--$$But--$$--five days a week.$$--it was done. And--$$Was it interactive?$$Um-hm.$$Did people call in?$$Um-hm.$$No, it wasn't like that?$$No. I was just me (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) What was the format? What was the format of the show?$$You know 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood'? Okay. I had the pleasure of meeting him eventually, but it was more like 'Mister Rogers.' Me talking to the child--the children through the television and introducing them to things as, just as I'm speaking to you. And I had certain things--I did certain kinds of projects, science projects, simple science projects; reading stories; I had the Muppet; I taught Spanish. I was about to say, I incorporated that into the program. Two brief segments and then the first half hour another one. I mean, one in the first half hour, another in the second half hour. And Jellybean helped with that. I would teach Jellybean Spanish. And also, I, at one point, decided it would be a good idea to have the children learn about different cultures; ways of not only speaking, like, Spanish, but different ways of eating, different ways of dressing, different customs; and so I did a program on India. And I used--was able to make use of--people at the University of India [sic.] were very supportive. And I had someone come on, and I wore a sari and there was a lady who came on and she wore a sari, and we talked about the foods and all kinds of things just on the level that children from three to six could appreciate and understand; not anything too complicated. And I was asked to do one for Japan. Someone, after they'd seen India, a woman who was associated with the embassy of Japan, contacted me and asked me if we would please think of doing something on Japan. And an African embassy, I've forgotten which one now. But I was going in that direction at a certain point.