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Callie Crossley

Radio talk show host Callie Crossley was born in Memphis, Tennessee. After graduating from Memphis’ Central High school, she earned her B.A. in English in 1973 from Wellesley College. Crossley was also awarded two fellowships at Harvard University – a Nieman fellowship from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism and a fellowship from the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. She also served as a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow at The Council of Independent Colleges.

Crossley began her career in media and journalism in 1974 as a local news reporter for WREC in Memphis. She then moved to WTHR-TV in Indianapolis, Indiana where she specialized in health reporting, and later was a general assignment reporter for WGBH’s The Ten O’clock News – Boston’s only live, daily, public news program. She returned to WGBH as a news reporter being awarded a Nieman Fellowship in 1982. In 1987, Crossley joined Blackside, Inc. where she worked on the six-hour documentary series “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years: 1954-1965,” which aired on PBS. While there, she partnered with producer Jim DeVinney to produce, write, and direct two hours of the “Eyes on the Prize” series: “No Easy Walk: 1961-1963” and “Bridge to Freedom: 1965.” Crossley was then brought on as a producer for ABC Television Network’s “20/20” news magazine where her stories focused on health and medicine. In 1989, Crossley became a senior producer for the ABC News primetime special “Black in White America” (1989) and began appearing on WGBH-TV’s media criticism program, “Beat the Press.”

Returning to Blackside, Inc. in 2000, Crossley was made the senior producer for the PBS series, “This Far By Faith: African American Spiritual Journeys.” She joined WGBH Radio in 2010 and began hosting “The Callie Crossley Show,” a one-hour, live, call-in program. On July 9, 2012, she debuted as the host and moderator of the two-hour live “Boston Public Radio;” and, in early 2013, she began hosting “Under the Radar with Callie Crossley.” Crossley has served as host of WGBH-TV’s “Basic Black” and as a television and radio commentator on other local, as well as national programs. She also appeared as a contributor on “The Takeaway,” which aired on National Public Radio (NPR); Fox Television Station’s “Fox 25 Morning News”; “Reliable Sources” on CNN; and “News Hour,” which aired on PBS.

Crossley has received multiple journalism and film awards, most notably for her work on the acclaimed documentary series “Eyes on the Prize,” which earned her an Oscar nomination, a National Emmy, a Peabody Award, an Edward R. Murrow Award, and the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Award (Gold Baton). In 2012, the Ford Hall Forum honored her with its George W. Coleman Award; and, in 2013, she received the Wellesley Alumnae Achievement Award. Crossley has an Honorary Doctorate of Arts degree from Pine Manor College and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Cambridge College.

Callie Crossley was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 23, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.118

Sex

Female

Interview Date

4/23/2013

Last Name

Crossley

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Occupation
Schools

Wellesley College

Harvard University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Callie

Birth City, State, Country

Memphis

HM ID

CRO09

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Tennessee

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean

Favorite Quote

He who tells the stories rules the world.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Interview Description
Birth Date

11/21/1951

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Boston

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Louisiana Food, Memphis Barbecue

Short Description

Radio host Callie Crossley (1951 - ) earned an Oscar® nomination, a National Emmy and the Alfred I. Dupont-Columbia Award (Gold Baton) for her role producing “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965.” She is a former producer for ABC Television Networks’ “20/20” news magazine program and the primetime special “Black in White America.”

Employment

WGBH Radio

Boston Public Radio

WREC-Memphis

Blackside, Inc.

ABC News.

Favorite Color

Chartreuse, Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Callie Crossley's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Callie Crossley lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Callie Crossley shares her maternal family history, remembering a great aunt born in slavery

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Callie Crossley describes her maternal grandparents and her mother's school experience

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Callie Crossley remembers the family her mother stayed with to attend high school

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Callie Crossley details her mother's college education and experience

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Callie Crossley recounts a story of her mother experiencing racism

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Callie Crossley describes her father's family history and the land they owned in Mississippi

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Callie Crossley describes her father's upbringing and education

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Callie Crossley describes her parents' marriage and move to Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Callie Crossley describes her parents' move to Memphis, Tennessee after their graduation from Southern University, Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Callie Crossley describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Callie Crossley describes in more detail her parents' personality and their relationship

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Callie Crossley talks about her sister, Fayre, and her personality

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Callie Crossley remembers growing up in South Memphis, Tennessee, while describing her neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Callie Crossley describes her religious upbringing

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Callie Crossley describes how her church was not particularly involved in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Callie Crossley shares her early childhood memories of her neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Callie Crossley describes her elementary school education

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Callie Crossley describes her mother as open-minded

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Callie Crossley describes herself as a student

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Callie Crossley shares her experiences in junior high school

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Callie Crossley discusses the 1968 NAACP case that led to her attending Central High School in Memphis

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Callie Crossley shares her memories of the days leading up to Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination in Memphis

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Callie Crossley remembers what happened the day of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination in Memphis

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Callie Crossley describes her experience being one of the first black students at Central High School in Memphis

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Callie Crossley recalls some of her favorite books on black history

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Callie Crossley recounts the lack of social life at Central High School, Memphis

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Callie Crossley recounts her parents' advice during high school

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Callie Crossley describes her acceptance into Wellesley College, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Callie Crossley talks about her positive experience at Wellesley College, Massachusetts

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Callie Crossley remembers people who influenced her at Wellesley College, Massachusetts

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Callie Crossley remembers the shift from 'Negro' to 'black' during the 1960's

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Callie Crossley recalls her interest in broadcast journalism at Wellesley College, Massachusetts

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Callie Crossley recounts being hired by WREC in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Callie Crossley describes being a black woman in the 1970's newsroom

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Callie Crossley recalls moving to WTHR in Indianapolis, Indiana and honing her skills

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Callie Crossley describes changes in the 1970s with black journalists

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Callie Crossley recalls going to her first NABJ Convention

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Callie Crossley describes her move to public broadcasting at WGBH Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Callie Crossley shares her experiences at WGBH in Boston in the 1980s

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Callie Crossley describes WBGH's focus on children's and artistic programming

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Callie Crossley shares memorable stories she produced while at WGBH in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Callie Crossley talks about her Harvard University Neiman Fellowship and Henry Hampton's 'Eyes on the Prize' documentary

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Callie Crossley shares her experience working on 'Eyes on the Prize' with Henry Hampton, part 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Callie Crossley continues to share her memories of working on 'Eyes on the Prize', part 2

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Callie Crossley discusses Hampton's choice of Julian Bond as the narrator of 'Eyes on the Prize'

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Callie Crossley recalls the challenges of working on an independent production of 'Eyes on the Prize'

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Callie Crossley shares her favorite part of working on 'Eyes on the Prize'

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Callie Crossley remembers 'Eyes on the Prize' being nominated for an Academy Award

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Callie Crossley recalls joining ABC TV

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Callie Crossley shares a story of her work at ABC TV's '20/20'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Callie Crossley recalls working on 'Black in White America'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Callie Crossley describes leaving ABC T.V. after its purchase by Disney in 2001

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Callie Crossley discusses her work on the project 'This Far By Faith' in 2003

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Callie Crossley talks about her radio show 'The Callie Crossley Show', part 1

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Callie Crossley talks about 'The Callie Crossley Show', part 2

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Callie Crossley discusses her additional media prospects

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Callie Crossley describes the end of 'The Callie Crossley Show'

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Callie Crossley discusses some of the memorable guests she had on her radio show

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Callie Crossley describes her awards

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Callie Crossley talks about her show, 'Under the Radar with Callie Crossley'

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Callie Crossley shares her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Callie Crossley talks about what she wishes to work on in the future

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Callie Crossley talks post-racial America

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Callie Crossley regrets some missed opportunities in her career

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Callie Crossley reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Callie Crossley talks about her family

Tape: 7 Story: 12 - Callie Crossley discusses her journalistic philosophy as inclusion and accuracy

Tape: 7 Story: 13 - Callie Crossley describers how she would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$5

DAStory

1$5

DATitle
Callie Crossley shares her experiences at WGBH in Boston in the 1980s
Callie Crossley shares her experience working on 'Eyes on the Prize' with Henry Hampton, part 1
Transcript
Okay. So WGBH [Public Broadcasting Service member station Boston, Massachusetts] 1980, you're doing the news, long news casting. Is it similar to the 'PBS Hourly', I mean the nightly news?$$I suppose, except it was a very much a local--it was a local show. I mean it was focused on local news. What's interesting now is a lot of that reporting that we did back in the day is archived and many other places, local places here, around the country and network, have tapped into it, because we were covering some events that have--of course, so much that happens in Boston [Massachusetts] has a national impact, and we were doing a lot of that coverage. So we did some of the first stories on, you know, HIV, on, you know, a lot of the bussing stories, I mean, just name it-$$Is the bussing issue still real hot here?$$It was hot and--so there was, you know, a lot of the stuff that we covered just as a matter of fact is now in our archives and is accessed by many scholars and other reporters and whatever. So when you ask is it like the 'PBS News Hour', it is to some degree in that there was a long look at many stories. We rarely went out to say there's a bad smell in the neighborhood. That piece would end up being, here's where the smell is emanating from, the policy is that created it has allowed these people to dump this in here and here's what this means and here's who created the policy and here--they're connected to this, and there was just much more layers and texture, which of course, was comfortable to me because I was--for me, because I was coming from Indianapolis [Indiana] having done short pieces really well. I was very on top of my production skills. So it was just a matter of understanding how to do a piece that had two or three moments in them as opposed to one. And that took a minute, but it turned out to be something I needed to know for the work that I was going to do later in my career. But that was my first experience with long form of any sort.$$Now, it seems to me, as I reflect back on it, 1979, '80' [1980] period was a time when public radio and television were feeling their cheerios in some ways. They were--reporting was in depth and a lot of public officials were calling out on the carpet because of things which ended, you know, shortly, a couple of years later Ronald Reagan was sliced a funding for public radio-$$Right.$$--And public T.V.[television] -$$Right.$$--As much as he possibly could. He tried to eliminate--he eliminated like 80 percent employees public radio?$$Well, you know, it's always been a ready target for folks. When I think, well to some degree, always be a ready target. I think what actually has saved public--particularly public radio in the last few years are those folks, those representatives from areas where this is the communication, where this is the communication link for a lot of their communities, particularly in the rural areas, or hard-to-reach areas and it offers a variety that people want. So, they've been able to stand up and say, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute, you know, this is something that my community very much enjoys and appreciates and we're not just going to do away with it at some"--or do away with the funding as some would like to have happen. So that's really been the mainstay I think in the last years when public media has come under attack. But I think you're right during that time, there were so much variety and there was--I think anything you could have picked would have been ticking off somebody in some way {laughs). But there was a lot of variety, I think, got more independent filmmakers had accessibility though not as many persons of color as filmmakers, but certainly they're just, from a topic perspective, from subject matter perspective, from--there was a lot of diversity. And they were definitely for many topics that other folks just wouldn't touch, either because they didn't have the resources to touch them or didn't think of them as important or just didn't think something the audience would watch. So to that extent there was a real intellectual diversity about what the offerings were and it allowed for the folks that did have the opportunities to create to have much more leeway in their creations which was a good thing. I mean whoever heard of--I mean, now it seems crazy, a live daily (laughs) non-commercial newscast, it happened here.$'Eyes on the Prize' [by Henry Hampton, 1987] was such a revelation. When Civil Rights are done on television it's not always done right-$$Tell me about it.$$--But this was just something that-$$And how could it not be. The way in which we did the series was so carefully done. Henry [Hampton] borrowed from a system that had started to become typical here at WGBH [Boston, Massachusetts]. Again, you know, this is a place where innovation is happening all the time. And Judith [Vecchione] had just finished working on the Vietnam ['Vietnam: A Television History', 1983] series which was many, many hours across three countries, very detailed. This was a monumental, and still remains, a monumental series trying to unravel how we got into the war, what it meant, the impact on all these countries and people and all of that. So she'd come from that. She was primed to start what was going to be a six-hour series. Henry [Hampton] had not done a series. He'd done individual hours, he'd done a lot industry work, but he'd not done--and so PBS [Public Broadcasting Service], which is where it was going to air was a little nervous. It was going to be an independent production, so he would govern it, but whether or not they aired it, depend on many things, and they felt more comfortable if he had somebody coming from quote the system, and that was Judith [Vecchione]. So she brought all of that experience and she instituted something we call "Civil Rights school'. So after he had hired all of us, we spent a week, very intense week, in school, eight hours a day or longer with historians, musicians, not all people that agreed with each other, but all manner of folk who could bring scholarship to the period and put them before us, they'd speak, we'd ask questions, and we'd, you know, take copious notes. And at the end of that, and only at the end of that, Henry [Hampton] told us which were our hours, because we knew--each team knew that we'd do two hours, but he wouldn't tell us before, and he said, "I'm not telling you before, because I want you pay attention to every piece of this, you know, if you know just what your hours are, you'll dismiss everything else. And this has to be so integral in the way that the hours stand alone, but also interact with each other, and you need to know the breadth and the depth of all the other information. Now after the week and after you're assigned, of course, you can focus on your own area, but you'll come away with having a strong foundation of where it fits in the whole context," which was a brilliant move, of course. So my head was full of everything at the end of that week then he assigned the hours and the fourth hour, the sixth hour were my hours, that's the fourth hour was Albany, Georgia, and Birmingham [Alabama], March on Washington [1963] and the sixth hour was Selma [Alabama, voting rights march, 1965] and the voting rights campaign. But as a result of having been there through "Civil Rights school" and of course working so intimately together and working really collaboratively, as it turned out, I ended up doing some interviews for other people's shows. So I did the Rosa Parks [activist, 1913-2005] interview, but she was not in my show, and I couldn't have done that without having some real understanding of what happened. But before the interviews, we did treatments that were detailed, revamped several times under both Judith's guidance and also John Else who was our director of photography, but also teaches documentary at [University of California] Berkeley and has many Oscar winning documentaries on his credits. And he had just come from working on the Harvey Milk documentary [The Times of Harvey Milk, 1984] and knowing about that, interacting with those folks who did it. So we had all of this talent of people, and again, none of these people would I have met. There were in a completely different world from me. I was in a daily newscast world and they were in the documentary--independent documentary world. It was mind-blowing for me. And just exactly the experience I was looking for without being able to articulate it coming out of the Nieman [Foundation] Fellowship [Harvard University, Massachusetts]. I wanted to be able to do something that was lasting. I didn't realize how lasting it was going to be, but this was going to be important for me, plus coming from Memphis, Tennessee, having that interest in Civil Rights, having that history interest, this all came together for me. Having worked then even in my last newsroom in a place where longer pieces were--what was valued was important to me, good writing learning that from the last two sessions all came together in a way that was perfect for this experience. And we--because it was, you know, very low budget, we worked together closely. And Henry [Hampton]'s idea was that he was going to get as much feedback as we were putting it together. So, before we went out in the field, and after the treatments, we did about six months, I would say, of nothing but research, paper research, working with our academic advisors. That was intense. We really knew that material. We knew that material, which turned out to be incredibly important. When people would mention something in passing, and because we knew our materials so well, we could understand what its importance was and pick up on it. We were able also, because we knew the material so well, to convince people who had never spoken before, and in fact, had refused to speak because they had seen these bad attempts at telling the story and were insulted and embarrassed by it and they didn't want anything to do with it. So people would literally be--about to hang up on us and we'd say, well, what about the day that you. . . they'd say, "Oh, wait a minute, you know about that." And then we'd have a conversation then they would feel more confident in talking with us. As I think about it now that was--even with that, that was still a leap of faith. 'Blackside Incorporated' [production company] was not a known entity. I think I'm calling these people these icons of the Civil Rights movements. Who the heck were we to call these people, they didn't know us. So we really had to get to a point of trust that we were going to tell this story right and well.