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Paula Madison

Television executive and journalist Paula Williams Madison was born in Harlem, New York in 1952 to Elrick Williams and Nell Lowe Williams. She attended Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx. Initially, Madison wanted to become an educator and spent her summers teaching inner-city youth about African American history. After high school, she received a scholarship to Vassar College and graduated with her B.A. degree in 1974.

Madison then moved to Syracuse, New York, where she became a graduate student at Syracuse University Newhouse School of Public Communications and was hired as a reporter at the Syracuse Herald Journal. Her early career was spent as a newspaper reporter in New York and Texas, and as a television news manager and executive in Dallas, Tulsa, and Houston. Madison then returned to New York City as assistant news director at NBC4, and became the station’s vice president and news director in March of 1996. Shortly after, she took on a second role as senior vice president of diversity for NBC. In 2000, Madison was promoted to president and general manager of KNBC, making her the first African American woman to become a general manager of a top news network. She then stepped down from the diversity leadership role. When NBC purchased Telemundo, a Spanish-language network, Madison assumed responsibility for the newly acquired Telemundo stations in Los Angeles, California. In 2007, Madison was appointed executive vice president and chief diversity officer of NBC Universal. The parent company, GE, named her a company officer and vice president.

Madison has served in many organizations during her career. In addition to being named chairman and CEO of the Los Angeles Sparks, she also became a member of the WNBA Board of Governors. Madison is a board member of Greater Los Angeles United Way, a past chairman of the California Science Center Foundation, vice chair of National Medical Fellowships and the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, and chair of The Nell Williams Family Foundation. In 2013, Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed her a commissioner of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Madison has received many awards, including the Ida B. Wells award from the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) in 1998, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor from the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations in 1999, and the First Amendment Service Award from the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation in 2000. In 2005, Madison was named one of the “75 Most Powerful African Americans in Corporate America” by Black Enterprise magazine and was included in the Hollywood Reporter’s “Power 100.” In 2010, she received the NABJ Legacy Award, was named to Ebony magazine’s 2013 Power 100 List, and received the Pinnacle Award from the Houston Association of Black Journalists.

Madison and her husband, Roosevelt Madison, live in Los Angeles, California.

Paula Williams Madison was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 19, 2013 and July 21, 2017.

Accession Number

A2013.327

Sex

Female

Interview Date

11/19/2013 |and| 07/21/2017

Last Name

Madison

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Schools

Vassar College

Cardinal Spellman High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Paula

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

MAD05

Favorite Season

Summer

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

China, Africa

Favorite Quote

Mules work hard, race horses work smartly

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

8/24/1952

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Country

United States

Favorite Food

French Fries

Short Description

Television executive and journalist Paula Madison (1952 - ) was named vice president and news director of WNBC in 1996 and named president and general manager of KNBC in 2000, making her the first African American woman to become a general manager of a network-owned station in a Top 5 market. Madison also serves as partner in Williams Group Holdings LLC, and as chairman and CEO of the Los Angeles Sparks.

Employment

Los Angeles Sparks

Williams Capital Group, LLC

NBC

KNBC

Favorite Color

White

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Paula Madison's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Paula Madison lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Paula Madison describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Paula Madison discusses her mother's Chinese ancestry and her search for her Chinese relatives, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Paula Madison talks about her search for her Chinese relatives, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Paula Madison describes the culture of her Chinese ancestors

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Paula Madison describes her Chinese heritage

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Paula Madison talks about visiting the museum in her ancestral Chinese village and her family's educational philosophy

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Paula Madison talks about well known individuals of Chinese descent

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Paula Madison describes class hierarchy and race mixing in twentieth century Jamaica

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Paula Madison talks about how the marriage of Michael Manley, former Jamaican prime minister, influenced her pride in her race

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Paula Madison describes the origins of Jamaica's Maroon culture, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Paula Madison describes the origins of Jamaica's Maroon culture, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Paula Madison compares Rastafarian religion and Maroon culture

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Paula Madison discusses her mother's upbringing and immigration to the United States in the 1940s

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Paula Madison talks about her paternal grandfather's occupation

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Paula Madison discusses her father's background, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Paula Madison discusses her father's background, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Paula Madison talks about her father's occupation and his influence on her

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Paula Madison talks about her father's relationship with his stepmother

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Paula Madison describes how Jamaican culture influenced her to build wealth

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Paula Madison describes how her parents met in Jamaica

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Paula Madison talks about her parents' marriage and separation

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Pala Madison describes growing up with parents who were separated

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Paula Madison talks about her parents' personalities and her childhood memories

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Paula Madison talks about her father

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Paula Madison remembers the year she traveled to Jamaica with her father

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Paula Madison talks about visiting Jamaica with her father

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Paula Madison recalls challenging her father's colonialist mentality, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Paula Madison recalls challenging her father's colonialist mentality, pt.2

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Paula Madison describes early childhood memories

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Paula Madison describes how her daughter influenced her natural hairstyle

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Paula Madison shares a few details about her brother Elrick Mortimer Williams, Jr.

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Paula Madison talks about her brother Howard Courtney Williams

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Paula Madison discusses her schooling and learning to read at an early age

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Paula Madison talks about her mother's protective nature

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Paula Madison describes what type of student she was in grammar school

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Paula Madison discusses how school shaped her leadership abilities

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Paula Madison remembers the assassination of Malcom X

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Paula Madison talks about high school in detail

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Paula Madison discusses how her background shaped her views toward school

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Paula Madison describes experiences with class and race issues pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Paula Madison Paula Madison describes experiences with class and race issues, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Paula Madison discusses how her mother's love of news media shaped her career path

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

6$8

DATitle
Paula Madison describes how her daughter influenced her natural hairstyle
Paula Madison describes experiences with class and race issues pt. 1
Transcript
But there was, I know, there was a movement in New York in the late '50s [1950s] they had the grand (unclear) models and other things in Harlem [New York City]. I mean, other groups of--some of the I think largely West Indians and Africans--(simultaneous) (unclear).$$They'd wear their hair natural but they didn't--what we today--I find it so, it's a political word, it's politically charged. I said to a young woman a few weeks ago--I talked about my fro, my afro and she said no it's a natural and I said no it's not. I said it is not. Maybe for you it's a natural; for me it's an afro and I'm not going to start flipping the word to something else that is, what? More palatable? My hair is in the fashion of an afro and that's how it will be until forever. But that's not how it always was. And my mother didn't know what to do with my hair and as I said hair for me was always like--it wasn't the--boy, I wished I had my mother's [Nell Williams] hair which draped down her back. I came at it from a different way. Like why won't you even learn how to do my hair? So eventually she did when it was long enough for her to be able to manipulate. But when my daughter [Imani] was born my daughter had short hair. And one day, she was about three or four years old, my daughter was--I had just washed my hair and I had twisted it and then I just let it drape down and my daughter was patting my hair and my mother was living with us at the time and my daughter was patting my hair. And she--mommy when is my hair going to be like yours? And I said your hair is like mine. No it's not, I want my hair like yours and I said your hair is like mine. No it's not; I said it is I promise you it is and then the next day I went out cut it all off and I had short hair.$$Cut yours?$$I cut my hair off and I had short hair that in absent being washed and conditioned and twisted which helped it stay straight. My hair texture was similar to my daughter's and when she saw my hair she was beaming, she was beaming which is an experience that I never had with my mother and my hair and her hair. When my mother was there, my mother looked at me and she said what have you done? Now this was not the first time I cut all my hair off, I did it when I was seventeen and got a fro; but my hair at that point had been kept so straight naturally that I had to put vinegar in it to--that's what they used to do back then. They'd put vinegar in it which actually kind of destroys and splits the ends and all but it got bushy. My mother was appalled, mortified, so mad at me when I did it when I was sixteen. When I did it again when my daughter was about four that would have made me like twenty six. She thought I had lost my mind, told me I looked like a pick-ninny, which is the Jamaican pronunciation for pickaninny, and that's when my mother and I had a really tough conversation. I don't know if it was a conversation. It was probably one sided with me saying to her that my daughter was not going to grow up with you making comments about her hair the way you made comments about mine. My daughter hair is beautiful and she's going to believe her hair is beautiful. My mother just kissed her teeth and walked away. And today my daughter completely shaves her head; she started shaving her head when she was in college. We--my husband and I encouraged her to do it; she continued through medical school. When I suggested to her that when you are working with cadavers and you have to--that smell might stay but I wanted my daughter to shave her head. She's got a beautiful head and a stunning long neck. So she's probably been shaving her head now for I don't know, fifteen years maybe.$But there was a period, I believe it was 1966 or '67 [1967] when the then mayor of New York [City], John Lindsay in order to balance the budget decided that he was going to cut library, public library hours. So instead of library being open seven days a week, I think it went to maybe five and a half days a week. And I used to live in the library. I mean I lived in the library. In order to keep myself interested and I--let's say I was a little more advanced than the kids who were in my grammar school [St. Rosa of Lima Roman Catholic School], I spent forever in the library. So I was crushed, you know that library hours are truncated. By this time we lived on 110th Street [New York City, New York], we'd moved from-in my freshman year in high school we moved from 164th Street, Amsterdam Avenue between 163rd and 164th. We moved to 110th Street between Manhattan and Columbus, and it was a whole different library and it just felt weird. So I didn't spend that much time in the library anymore. But we were having a current events class, history, Sister William Mary and on a particular day it was history class but same day every week it would be current events days. So you had to bring stuff out of the newspaper. Things we were going to discuss and one kid brought--one girl brought this business with the library hours and it started this entire discussion around how unfair it was that the library hours were cut and the mayor could have cut something else and he should have cut something else and it went on and on and on and of course, okay. And then the topic of people who are on welfare came up, you know and those people on welfare he should have cut those people from welfare. The people on welfare we all know the people have cars, you know they have--they're taking money from us and they have Cadillacs and they blah, blah, blah. And it just went on and on and on. And now I'm just kind of sitting there, listening. Usually I am a participant in class discussions but I really just wanted to listen to this. So in that class that had maybe twenty five students, all girls there might have been three or four of us who were Black, maybe one Latina. The difficulty in engaging in that conversation would be that you know it was welfare code word for Black people. So I just listened and when it was all over and the bordering on disgusting things that were being said about people on welfare, I let it all happen and then I raised my hand. Yes Paula, Sister I just have a question, does anybody in here know anyone on welfare? No, it's like recoiling, us no. Sister, yes, I'm on welfare. And I just let it hang in the air and I said so I want to tell you what it's like at least for me and I went on to explain how social worker would show up, case worker would show up. Pick a time; I want to see if my mother's got a man in her apartment, looking for men's clothes, men's toiletries, men's something, evidence of a man; no man. I told them how, yeah I go to midnight mass at Christmas that's right after we've gone to get the bedraggled, scrawny Christmas tree because we can't afford to buy one. That's how I grew up not buying a Christmas tree. Now the sobbing starts, now oh my God I--but we didn't know and it just--now it's like--and I said there is something about Christianity and charitable people that I think is missing here. And I'm looking at the nun because I'm thinking why didn't you say something? But it was a piling on. By the time current events was over, they're sobbing (unclear); it's like, you know what side eye. Sister William Mary asked me to stay after class for a moment and she asked me if I would be willing--would you please come back this afternoon for my class this afternoon, we'll discuss this in current events and I'd like for you to tell them your story. Sister God didn't put me on this planet to teach white people what it's like to be poor and Black, I said you didn't stop any portion of that conversation and you want me to come to your class this afternoon to help your students, right? She didn't say anything; I said who is going to take my biology class for me when I'm here teaching your kids, your white students about my life. I said no I'm not coming back, no and I'm not here as an experiment for you. Turned around and walked out. I won't even begin to tell you that all of high school was like that because it wasn't but oh boy there were instances, there absolutely were.