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John E. Davis

Broadcast journalist and media executive John E. Davis was born on November 3, 1947 in Wichita Falls, Texas to Tommy Christian and Myrtle Donaldson. Davis was raised in Wichita Falls and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1966. He went on to attend Henderson County Junior College in Athens, Texas before transferring to Washington State University, where he received his B.S. degree in broadcast communications in 1970.

Upon graduation, Davis was hired as a news reporter for Fresno, California’s KMJ-TV. In 1977, Davis moved to KGW-TV in Portland, Oregon, where he served as a news reporter and anchor until 1982. Then, for the next twenty years, he worked as a general assignment reporter and later as a weekend anchor for Chicago, Illinois’ WBBM-TV. During his time at WBBM, Davis became the first United States news reporter to interview Nelson Mandela after he was released from prison in 1990. In addition to his work on television, Davis served as a news director and anchor for WVAZ Radio, and has hosted a real estate show on WLS-AM Radio and WIND-AM Radio.

In 2003, Davis founded and served as president of John E. Davis Media, a firm that serves politicians, corporate executives, celebrities and athletes by providing them high-end political consulting, media crisis management and public speaking coaching. Through his media company, Davis has worked on numerous political campaigns, including Scott Lee Cohen for Governor of Illinois; the Terrence J. O’Brien Campaign for Cook County Board President; Howard B. Brookins, Jr.’s Campaign for Cook County State’s Attorney; and Dorothy Brown’s Campaign for Mayor of Chicago.

Davis has earned many honors throughout his career, including a 1988 local Emmy Award for his coverage of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington’s death; an Ada S. McKinley Youth Services Mentor of the Year Award; the Better Communicator Award from the League of Black Women; and a Monarch Award for Outstanding Communicator. He has served as a board member of the Harold Washington Library and of the Greek-American Rehabilitation and Care Centre, and as a charter member of the Saltpond Redevelopment Institute and member of the We Care model program of the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Police Department.

John E. Davis was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 21, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.259

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/21/2014

Last Name

Davis

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Edward

Schools

Booker T. Washington Elementary School

Booker T. Washington Junior High School

Booker T. Washington High School

Henderson County Junior College

Washington State University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

John

Birth City, State, Country

Wichita Falls

HM ID

DAV36

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Thessaloniki, Greece

Favorite Quote

Can't Nobody Hurt You Like Them that Supposed to Love You.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

11/3/1947

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Beans and Rice

Short Description

Broadcast journalist and media executive John E. Davis (1947 - ) , founder and president of John E. Davis Media, is best known for his Emmy-winning twenty-year career as a reporter and anchor for Chicago’s WBBM-TV.

Employment

John E. Davis Media

WVAZ Radio

WBBM-TV News

KGW-TV News

KMJ-TV News

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of John E. Davis' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - John E. Davis lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - John E. Davis talks about his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - John E. Davis describes visiting his maternal great-grandmother in Cooper, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - John E. Davis talks about his maternal great-grandmother's spirituality and the segregation in Cooper, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - John E. Davis talks about his father

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - John E. Davis describes living with his maternal grandparents as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - John E. Davis describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - John E. Davis describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - John E. Davis talks about his stepfather

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - John E. Davis describes his two childhood homes in Wichita Falls, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - John E. Davis talks about his school experience in Wichita Falls, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - John E. Davis talks about his decision to attend Washington State University on a football scholarship

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - John E. Davis talks about racial dynamics at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington during the late 1960s

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - John E. Davis recalls conversations with black student union members at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - John E. Davis describes studying broadcast journalism at Washington State University during the late 1960s

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - John E. Davis talks about reuniting with his father in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - John E. Davis describes his and his father's disparate aspirations for a professional football career

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - John E. Davis talks about the broadcast communications department at Washington State University in the late 1960s

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - John E. Davis recalls the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - John E. Davis talks about joining the broadcast team at KMJ-TV in Fresno, California

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - John E. Davis talks about working at KMJ-TV in Fresno, California from 1970 through 1977

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - John E. Davis describes reporting on the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - John E. Davis describes reporting on the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - John E. Davis describes interviewing for CBS in Chicago, Illinois in 1982

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - John E. Davis talks about his wife

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - John E. Davis details his wife's family history

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - John E. Davis talks about the early years of his marriage

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - John E. Davis describes the cross-cultural interaction in his home in Evanston, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - John E. Davis talks about working as a reporter for CBS in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - John E. Davis recalls one black cameraman's positive reaction to his hiring by CBS in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - John E. Davis describes covering Harold Washington's 1983 mayoral campaign

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - John E. Davis talks about Harold Washington's relationship with black journalists and the media

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - John E. Davis talks about the death of Harold Washington and winning an Emmy

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - John E. Davis describes traveling to South Africa to report on the end of apartheid in 1990

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - John E. Davis describes reporting on a February 1990 incident of police violence in South Africa

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - John E. Davis recalls meeting Nelson Mandela the day he was released from prison in 1990

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - John E. Davis describes a series of interviews in South Africa after Nelson Mandela's release from prison

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - John E. Davis recalls the end of his career for CBS in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - John E. Davis talks about working as a media consultant for Chicago politicians

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - John E. Davis talks about the election of HistoryMaker Barack Obama as president of the United States in 2008

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - John E. Davis talks about his radio work in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - John E. Davis reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - John E. Davis talks about lessons he has taught his children and the regrets in his life

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - John E. Davis talks about how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - John E. Davis talks about his annual visit to Greece

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - John E. Davis narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - John E. Davis narrates his photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

5$2

DATitle
John E. Davis talks about joining the broadcast team at KMJ-TV in Fresno, California
John E. Davis describes reporting on a February 1990 incident of police violence in South Africa
Transcript
So, in 1968, which is the same year that [Reverend] Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] is assassinated, President [Lyndon Baines] Johnson created the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders [Kerner Commission], which was really indicting the broadcast community for not having, for excluding African Americans in the newsroom and not covering black life. So, this is at the same, so this indictment comes down in the midst of all the other things that are happening in our country while you were in school [at Washington State University, Pullman, Washington] preparing to, to move into broadcast. Were you aware of that and--$$Not at the time no.$$And when it comes time for you to graduate what are the opportunities available to a young black male graduating in broadcast journalism?$$I really didn't think that there was any opportunity. I never even sought it. I was, I had a little group in, in college and we were singing. We had a good time, didn't make much money of course. When I graduated, I went over to Seattle [Washington] in the summer, and I was pursuing a singing career. And we went over to American Recording and we slapped egg cartons against the wall for acoustics and we sang and we sang and we sang and we sang and nothing happened, so I was, was visiting Washington State, the campus, and this guy, [Eugene] Pat Patterson, who was a real mover and shaker in the legislature in Washington state. He asked me to, if I would give a call to a guy in Fresno, California. They were looking to hire an African American their first, but give them a call. This is something that, that you may be interested in. So I did and they agreed to fly me down to Fresno, California, on the hottest day of the world. I was picked up at the airport by a wonderful brother who was the only black cameraman at the time in all of central California named Earl Bradley. Earl Bradley picked me up in a station wagon with no air conditioning, took me to KMJ-TV, channel 24 [later KSEE] in Fresno, and I was interviewed there, went through all the departments, and I was interviewed and came back to the general manager's office after the interviews with the news director and others and his name was John Edwards, a diminutive little man, wonderful human being, knew Chet Huntley, Tippy Huntley, Chet's wife at NBC, and he said to me, "What do you think?" I said, "I like it, I like the place and I like the people. They seem nice." He says, "Well would you take the job?" I said, "Well I don't, I don't know." "Here's what I'mma promise you, said I'mma promise you that we will not embarrass you, ourselves, or the black community if you take this job. We will train you and you will be ever as professional as anybody else. Would you take the job?" I said, "Yeah, oh yeah I'm taking this job," (laughter).$And we, we took off and we went to, to South Africa and we get there and on the very first day that we're in Johannes- arrived in Johannesburg [South Africa], went over to the Carlton Hotel, checked in, went to over to the CBS bureau, got to meet the people there Larry Doyle who was a bu- bureau chief, great guy, and he says, "You guys wanna go out on the streets at all or?" "Well sure." So we, we went out, and he says, "There's a little celebration going on at St. Mary's Church [St. Mary's Anglican Cathedral] in downtown Johannesburg. It's an announcement that they're, they're celebrating the unbanning of the ANC [African National Congress] and other outlawed, you know, organizations." So Randall [Blakey] and I went over there and the people were coming out and they were so joyous, very peaceful, very orderly, but doing the toyi toyi, a little dance that they do--within seconds it seems there was a huge presence of South African police and one guy stepped forward and reading from this little booklet indicating that they were in violation of this particular, this particular law and you have two minutes to break up this illegal assembly, and I'm talking about less than thirty seconds he unleashed holy hell upon these people and a, we have footage of a, a young guy, tall strapping young man in South African police uniform, with the most cherubic face you've ever seen and he turned to be one of the most violent people you have ever seen. He took the barrel of his rifle upside, and he hit this man and killed him. There were three people killed that day in front of us on the first day that we were there for--(simultaneous)--$$Did you film it?$$--doing nothing more than celebrating coming out of a church to cel- celebrate peacefully.$$Did you get all that on film?$$We got it all on film, and when they came to confiscate our footage Randall popped the, the, the housing on the camera where the tape was and gave them the tape and I was incredulous. I said, "Randall why did you do that?" He says, "Just be cool, be cool," and he had actually dropped the original in the trash can and so they had a blank, and when we got back to the bureau Larry Doyle says, and [HM] Carole Simpson was there with ABC. Carole's producer had run off somewhere, but I had pinned her against the wall of the church. I pinned her--$$To protect her.$$--to protect her. She was just totally stunned. She says, "I'll never come back." Of course that mellowed after a few days, but we got back to the bureau and Randall was sitting in his chair and he was just numb and Larry Doyle says, "Well what did you guys see over there?" And we started describing you know how these people came out of the church peacefully and they were just celebrating and then all of a sudden the police came and just unleashed upon them this, this torrent of hate and Larry says and, "So that's not what you saw." And we said, "What do you mean that's not what we saw. We got it on tape." He says, "Look I'm not arguing here. I'm just saying that what you saw is the truth. What the rest of the world will either hear or be reported from the South African government as to what happened," he says, "Read this." He tore off the South African press wire and it says three police office- officers were slightly injured today by a rock and bot- a bottle-throwing mob outside of St. Mary's Church. He says, "That's what, that's the importance of what you shot today. That will negate what they are just saying here. Your footage will offset what they have been saying." No police officers were ever injured. Those people didn't throw anything. They ran. That was our introduction to South Africa and almost every day after that there was some violent occurrence, incident. There was bombings. There were bombings at, at, at bus stations. There were bombings at the ANC building, bombings every single day.$$And were you able to run that footage?$$Oh absolutely, every day.$$And each day?$$I did, I did two stories generally a day from South Africa.$$Did you fear for your life as you were do, running these counter-stories?$$I only, only one time. I made friends with--my father [Felley Donaldson] and mother [Myrtle Donaldson] as domestics always taught us to, to be nice to the people who bring the service. Oh you'll get to meet the kings and the queens, but you'll get to meet them maybe even faster if you're nice to the people who bring the service. So, when we'd had checked into, to the Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg, I met these, these bus, these bellmen and these, these, these young guys who carried our luggage up to the room and we invited them to stay and of course they couldn't stay. They were not allowed. So, but they said if you want to talk to us you know come after work and catch the jitney with us to go to Soweto [South Africa]. So, I did one day and it was a great experience. Riding on these jitneys, overcrowded, going to, to Soweto and not knowing how the heck I was gonna get back into Johannesburg at night. That was kind of frightening because I was dropped off probably about six blocks or so from the hotel and I had to walk and of course I got stopped, I got thrown against the wall, all of my belongings were taken out, and when they saw the American passport they called me kaffir and of course I scraped all my stuff and went back to my hotel.$$And you were by yourself at this point?$$By myself. That was the most fearful.