With great pride, I watched him deliver the ABC evening news. This African American man had broken through a color barrier in network TV. The television news work of journalist Max Robinson had strong significance to me when I was just starting my professional career in television. I was working in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That was the same city where I'd graduated from college. When I was growing up in Los Angeles and when I started college in Milwaukee, there were no black anchors on ABC, CBS or NBC. There were only while male journalists giving us the evening news around dinner time. I wish Max Robinson was remembered and mentioned nowadays -- especially by ABC News. It seems like he's been placed on a back shelf in the ABC News history section. He shouldn't be. Max Robinson was the first African-American journalist to anchor a network evening newscast during the week. From the late 1970s to 1983, Mr. Robinson co-anchored ABC's World News Tonight with Peter Jennings.
Max Robinson was tall, serious, and had a commanding presence. He was formidable. A serious journalist and a serious man. But not humorless. He was a gentleman, yet you could tell that he had his righteous angers. Some of those angers, notably, were over the network news images of black people. He wanted respect for black people on camera and off camera.
I'd done an interview of Mr. Robinson at the station before he got busy with taping promos. I thought it was a good interviewer. However, as the day wore on, I noticed that he gave the same exact answers to a couple of questions to other reporters that he'd given to me.
At the reception, when there was a slight lull and folks were taking advantage of the open bar, I told Mr. Robinson that I needed to talk to him again for about five minutes. This reception was in a huge private home, the home of a TV executive who graciously showed us a room we could go into, a room that would be quiet and comfortable. Max Robinson looked slightly peeved as he sat, but he sat and he answered my new questions. My new questions were more specific and asked in a way that would force him to give me fresh material. I'll give you example. "When asked about racial equality in broadcast news, you have said this several times …. " Then I'd ask something more specific to keep him from giving me a pat answer he'd also given to others.
That second interview was a lot better than our first. It was meatier. I was nervous about pushing him for that second sit-down. He knew I'd be following him for hours to do the feature for possible national airing from our ABC affiliate. Still, he had that gravity that could be intimidating. He was the first black person to anchor a network evening newscast. I was the first black person to be a weekly movie critic and entertainment contributor on Milwaukee television. I took my job seriously but his position, you have to admit, had the gravity.
When I was all done and while I unclipped the microphone from his tuxedo jacket, he complimented me on asking good questions, questions that were not all easy. "You did the work," Max Robinson said. "You did the work."
That compliment from him meant a great deal to me then -- and it still does today.
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