INT: Tell me about your experience in the Army in
GB: Yes. Ah, I was stationed in MacNeil Field,
Florida, and it had -- up to then it had been really an
experience because of finding that there were two separate,
ah -- two separate branches of service, a white and a black
branch. But, anyhow, we were put on guard duty and were
assigned night sticks, no guns. As of this time, this was a
theater of war because the German U-boats just offsh--
offshore would send spies and would surface and, ah -- and
we were walking the -- ah, we were walking the patrol on the
beaches with a night club. And, Stan, we -- we decided this
was stupid. It did not make any sense. And so, as a
result, ah, we just, ah, said -- we forgot about the guard
duty. And it so happened that particular night that
somebody, ah, stole a truck from the -- from the motor
pool, took the truck to the PX and put a wrench on it and
took the safe out of the PX ...
INT: What was wrong with carrying night sticks?
GB: Well, at that time we felt as though that we
were not -- that the government did not trust us, the black
soldiers, with -- with weapons, loaded weapons, on guard
duty. And, ah, that -- that -- that's what we saw as the
reason why. We also had an instance there that pointed up
the racism that, ah, the German prisoners of war decided
that they were not going to serve the black soldiers at the
hospital on the base, the base hospital. And as a result,
ah, they went on a strike. They would refuse to serve us.
So -- so we went on a strike, too, when we found out about
it. And, ah, so we had tied up the squadron, the black
That was quite an experience for this
young guy from -- from this area, who went in with all kind
of thoughts of winning the war for his country and went in
the first time and I got to the recruiting station, they
started dividing us air cadets, the white here and the black
there, and so forth. I wondered what the heck was goin' on.
Yes, we went in -- we went in to end the war
for the country and so forth like 'at, and we found out that
there was a black -- a black, ah, army and a white army and
that the racism was such that, ah, it seemed that we weren't
even wanted in the service. And, ah, it just got worse from
that recruiting station, ah, throughout until the time we
INT: Tell me about reading the Courier in the
GB: The Courier -- the Courier was a friend in
the service. The Courier -- we read the Courier and it was
somebody who -- it was -- it was a friend. It was a friend
who kept us, the -- let us know that they -- they were
looking out for our interests in the service and letting
people know back home just what we were doing to -- to
contribute to victory for our country.
INT: Do you remember the Double V Campaign?
GB: Double V Campaign was victory at home and
victory abroad. And that meant jobs at home for, ah -- for
the people who are here on the home front and that meant the
integration of the -- of the armed forces. Now,
incidentally, there were some of my brothers who -- who --
who did not want integration! (Laughs) They were -- they
were saying, "Hey, we're okay here and we don't want" -- if
they don't want us to fight, we don't want to go over there
and fight anyhow. So why integrate," you know.
INT: How did it feel to read the Courier?
GB: Ah, reading -- reading papers like the
Courier, it just, ah, gave us, ah, more of that spirit that
we were going to make certain we served the country, yes,
but when -- whenever we got the opportunity, we were gonna
do -- do what we could to make the country better, ah,
better. And I -- I have to say, to point this out, there
were two of my buddies, ah, who, ah, were Courier readers
and all. So we're fired-up persons who -- we had an
orientation class and the class was "Why are you, as a black
soldier, fighting?" And, ah, ah, the two stood up, one at a
time stood up saying, "We're not fighting for a doggoned
thing until you, ah, get rid of this -- this discrimination
in these armed forces. And, furthermore, if Hitler,
Hirohito and Musolini came down the streets of Tampa,
Florida, I wouldn't -- we wouldn't pick up a stick to fight
them." They were declared -- ah, they were declared -- I
think they were some of the first blacks that ever were sent
to a psychiatrist. They were sent to a psychiatrist on the
white side of the base and, ah, Flemming and Buck Williams,
whenever they went up there, ah, while they were waiting to
see the psychiatrist, they decided to take the officers
candidate test. They took the officers candidate test and
they ranked the highest. And they went for an oral
interview and they were both turned down because they were
too aggressive to become officers. So that's what we were
INT: You started reading the Courier when?
GB: Ah, when I first learned how
to read, and I guess I learned how to read around, ooh,
three or four or five or something like 'at, but it was
always a wonderful time in my country neighborhood, a
little, small town. Whenever the -- whenever the Courier --
the fella who delivered the Courier came around. And it was
good reading there about blacks who were doing things and
especially at that time I was interested in flying and they
always had something about some of the black aviators, some
of -- some -- some of the guys who were stunt fliers. And
then later, in later years, of course, the 99th Pursuit
Squadron. So it was a great time in my little neighborhood
of Oakdale, Pennsylvania when the fella who sold popcorn and
the Courier and so forth came around. It was
like -- I think it was usually a Friday of Saturday. Well,
anyhow, it was a great time, indeed.
INT: What was the difference between the Courier
and the white papers?
GB: Ah, the difference of the Courier and the
white paper? Well, at that young age I had no, ah -- ah, I
had no, ah -- how could I say it -- I wasn't that much
interested in -- in the white papers really.
GB: ... because -- because it -- it just was a
different world, ah, from the world that I lived in. Now I
kept up with what was going on, but, however, the Courier --
the Courier was my world, so to speak, with Joe Lewis and --
and Mary McCleod Bethune and -- and, ah, Charles Houston and
the civil rights fight, the NAACP and also the flashbacks to
black history. Ah, this was my paper. This was my paper.
INT: Do you remember J.A. Rogers at all?
GB: Oh, yes, yes. J.A. Rogers, he usually -- he
had, ah -- went into black history. J.A. Rogers was one of
the, ah -- one of the, ah -- the pioneers in -- ah, in black
history, so to speak. And a lot of persons would doubt J.A.
Rogers about the authenticity of, ah -- of saying that
Mozart was -- was black and that the Queen of Sheba was
black, and so forth like 'at. And also that mankind
originated in Africa, but, lo and behold, after those many,
many years a lot of those things that looked like stories
when we were growing up and people doubted have been proven
true. Like, for instance, the origin of mankind, yeah.
INT: I heard people laughed at Rogers sometimes
and thought he went too far.
GB: Well, I mean, I -- J.A. Rogers, ah,
reportedly thought that everything invented was invented by a
black man. But when you look at the origin of mankind and
when you trace the theory of evolution and the leakies(?) in
Africa, ah, anthropologists, did -- they -- they -- they
researched from East Africa ...
INT: What was the importance of the black press
to black communities in those days?
GB: The black press let us know that our -- the
country in which we lived in and love was a democracy and
that we had to fight for our rights and that the black press
was in the vanguard of fighting for our rights.
INT: Was there a more powerful institution in the
GB: Generally speaking, there was no other black
force, ah, as powerful as -- as the black press in the -- in
the black community. Ah, locally there were some churches
who were powerhouses, but, generally speaking, it was the
black press. Now the NAACP, not taking anything arn-- away
from them, they were also a powerhouse, but for specific
cases and so forth like 'at. So the black press -- the
black press, ah, was -- was -- was -- was that that spirited
INT: Talk about when you were a boy reading the
article that Van wrote about turning Lincoln's picture to
GB: Robert L. Vann, ah, told blacks to turn the
picture of Lincoln to the wall. At that time, most blacks,
ah, were Republicans and this -- and he said turn it because
we weren't going to get anything from the Republicans. As a
result, my father was one of those who were in that pioneer
movement and, ah, it was something that just swelled and
just, ah, caught on and, ah, it was just a different -- ah,
different -- it broke, ah -- it broke a mold. It broke a
mold. Most persons in the little town of Oakdale, black,
were Republicans and the surrounding areas, but in a very
short time most persons were Democrats and had turned the
picture of Lincoln to the wall and were cheering Roosevelt.
INT: Tell about your uncle's newsstand.
GB: My uncle had a newsstand in the heart of
Pittsburgh. There, I was able to read The Pittsburgh
Courier, The Amsterdam News, and The Communist Daily Worker
and other papers and to see -- to see the fascinating
people, things were really happening. These were the '30s,
'36 on, and -- and there was life and there was protest and
there were all kinds of things going on. And, ah, it was
just fascinating for this little six year-old or, ah, oh, I
was ten years at that time, in '36, to see what was going
on. And -- and as a result from that, came that fascination
of people to find out what -- what made 'em tick and just to
get to know 'em and so forth like 'at that led me into
becoming a -- a news reporter.
INT: Do you remember what happened when you told
your parents you wanted to be a newsman?
GB: When I told my parents that I wanted to
become a news reporter on a daily newspaper, my parents
said, "You're crazy." They looked at me and started
laughing, said, "Why don't you become a doctor or dentist or
a lawyer or -- or some other profession because there are no
black daily news reporters." There was only one at that
time, Ted Poston with The New York Daily News. And I said,
"No, that's what I want to be." And so they said to me,
"Well, be the best." Said, "You're gonna starve."
INT: What happened when you went to get a job on
the white papers?
GB: At the University of Pittsburgh was an
outstanding journalism school, ah, student. At three months
before graduation for the outstanding journalism students,
ah, students, they were hired by a local newspaper because
the assistant professor was the wife of the editor of the
newspaper and so, ah, ah, three months and I -- it went by
and I was not hired and all my other classmates that were
outstanding were hired. And so I said, ah, said, ah, "How
about -- how about, ah -- how about looking out for me and
getting me a job on -- on the newspaper?" And she said to
me, said, "I'll look into it." And she's been looking into
it every since that day. Ah, but it was great in the sense
that because when I got a job with the Afro-American
newspapers, I did obituaries for about one week and after
that I was given, ah, just prime assignments, whereas if I
had gone to a daily newspaper, I probably might have even
relished the rest of my life in writing obituaries.
INT: Did you try to get jobs with other white
GB: I tried, ah -- I had hopes of getting with
The New York Times, with The Washington Post, The St. Louis
Post-Dispatch and The Washington and The Oregonian and those
outstanding papers, daily newspapers. I sent applications
though the country and no response, nothing. So, as a
result, I had to work because my father said, "You're
supposed to work," and I went into the steel mill to work.
INT: Talk about how everything changed after a
while. Why didn't you stay with the black paper?
GB: I didn't story with -- I -- the reason why I
didn't stay with the black newspaper, the black press, and I
loved it -- it was a freedom that a reporter dreams of --
was because of the money, the financial situation. I had a
family I had to support and, as a result, I was offered more
money from the, ah -- from Westinghouse Broadcasting, yeah.
INT: How important was Joe Lewis to you?
GB: Joe Lewis was very important to me because he
was, indeed, a role model and -- and I was Little Joe Lewis,
so to speak, standpoint I used my brain to get ahead. I
also used my fists to get ahead. Ah, and Joe Lewis was such
a hero to me that the night that, ah, Max Schmelling(?)
knocked out Joe Lewis, I was selling newspapers in the City
of Pittsburgh and there were extras and I was reading. And
I was yelling, "Extra! Extra! Schmelling Knocks Out Joe
Lewis!" And I was crying as I was yelling the headline.
And, ah, one fella, ah, near the -- near the old hotel
there, ah, came out and said to me, ah, "Boy, how much did
you lose?" I said, "I lost a whole dollar." And, ah --
and, ah, he said, "Here's a dollar. Next time bet on the
right guy." But if I -- I told him I bet, but if my parents
had even heard of me -- thought I was sayin' the word "bet"
or thinking of betting, I would have been killed. But,
anyhow, Joe Lewis was -- was a hero, indeed. He was, ah --
we heard what Joe Lewis did on radio. The Courier
reinforced what we did -- what we heard on radio.
INT: Why did they call Teenie Harris One Shot?
GB: One Shot Harris. At that time -- at that
time, ah, lightbulbs, flash lightbulbs were expensive then.
The Courier only gave Teenie a certain amount of money
for the lightbulbs. So Teenie said he -- he wasn't going to
waste a whole lot of money on lightbulbs and he was going to
watch his budget. So he would take, make certain that one
shot, that one shot was the shot. And that name was tagged,
given to him by a former governor of Pennsylvania who was
mayor at that time, Dave Lawrence.
They also called him Teenie Little Lover,
'cause he had a way -- he had a way with the women. And
Teenie probably, ah, will laugh when he hears me say this,
but, ah, that was his name, Teenie Little Lover. He also was
one of the greatest dribblers.
INT: Why didn't you want to work for the black
GB: I guess the ... I did -- I wanted to write,
ah, work -- I wanted to work for the daily newspaper, for a
daily newspaper, ah, to get the excitement of every day, ah.
And, as a result, I wasn't thinking of working for a weekly
or a black weekly. I wanted to work for a daily newspaper.
And if it had have been a black daily newspaper, I would
have worked for it, but there wasn't. But then there was a
change, a change that took place when I got a job with The
Afro-American newspaper. And I thought at that time that,
ah -- that, ah, black businesses to a large degree were
not -- were not solid businesses. Ah, I went to The Afro-
American and I was subject to a battery of tests, ah, and I
was surprised, indeed.
INT: Tell me about Mrs. Vann as a publisher.
GB: Ah, Mrs. Vann ... Mrs. Robert L. Van was a
fine lady. She was not a business person, however, and as a
result was not able to survive, to
survive in the -- the business world. Ah, a tragedy,
indeed, 'cause Mr. Vann did not want her to be a business
woman. He wanted -- he worked to have her as his wife, to
take care of her and not to be out in the world of business.
INT: So she wasn't prepared to take over?
GB: No, she wasn't. Mrs. Vann was not a newspaper
person at all. She was -- she was a housewife and socialite
and a fine person, indeed.
INT: Talk about Prattis telling you to go cover a
story and start an NAACP chapter.
GB: Mr. Prattis was a great activist. He believed
in getting things done. There was a situation out in the
small town of Cannonsburg and -- and one of my first
reporting jobs, so Mr. Pradis said, "Go up there, cover the
story about discrimination and also establish and NAACP
chapter," which I proceeded to do and which -- is alive
INT: Talk about the ads in the paper.
GB: As a reporter, it's always good to be able to
write a story the way you see it and without it being
edited. The fact that we had to depend on -- we did not
depend on department store or other big ads, meant that we
could go out and-- had -- had a free hand to write
stories as we saw them. And this, we were able to do
without anybody editorializing or pulling a story. For
instance, there was one situation whereby a number of rich
kids came up to the Hill District and thought they could run
amuck in a -- in a tavern there and they did and they were
arrested by a black policeman. The black policeman, ah, no
sooner arrested them than they were out. And, ah, the story
wasn't reported by the other papers, but the Courier learned
about it and reported it and, ah ...
INT: Talk about the ads and how they were
GB: We had our freedom as a newspaper to report
things as we saw it, and the reason is because we did not
have any, ah, dependence on big advertiser, corporations,
what-have-you. The ads we had were -- were ads about skin
ads or hair, ah -- hair ads, if you're impotent, you ought
to increase your -- how to increase yourself as -- as a man
and so forth like that. And these were small ads. We
depending mainly on circulation, not the ads. And the ads -
- this fact allowed us to have a free -- a free hand in
INT: Explain why that gives you a free hand.
GB: Advertisers to a large degree control what
comes out in newspapers. We did not have a big advertiser.
We had the small ones. As a result, we could -- we could,
ah, report and publish just what we saw as the truth, and
that, we did.
INT: What do you see as the major reasons for the
decline of the black press?
GB: The main reasons for the decline of the black
press, in my humble opinion, is a lack of black Yankee
ingenuity. I mean being able to find a way when there's
seemingly no way, being able to compete, being able to give
a -- a newspaper that the people -- that the people -- that
appealed to the -- to the desires of the people, the wants
of the people.
INT: Do we still need black newspapers, black
GB: If ever we needed a black press, we need the
black press today, because things are so muddled when it
comes to racism. We need the black press to be able to
sharply divide, define that "This is racism, pure and
simple," that -- that -- that regardless of what form it is,
it is still racism. We do need the black press very
INT: Tell me about the importance of these black
papers back then from your heart.
GB: I'm alive today because of the -- of the
black press. If it were not for the black press, I don't
know what my fate would be today. The black press fought
discriminations on all fronts, segregation on all fronts,
bigots on all fronts. And, ah, if it weren't for the black
press, we would be in a sorry state today.
INT: Talk about turning Lincoln's picture to the
GB: Robert L. Vann saw that the -- that blacks --
the Republicans were giving the blacks nothing. And as a
result, he told blacks to turn the picture of Lincoln to the
wall and register and vote Democrat. And that led to a new
era for blacks in the country, including me in the little
town of Oakdale, in which I saw my father become involved in
politics and in that politic -- in that involvement, see the
election of a black legislator from the City of Pittsburgh.
INT: Does that show the power of the black press?
GB: When Robert L. Vann said turn the picture of
Lincoln to the wall, it dramatized the power of the black
press. It was able to galvanize the black people and to,
indeed, make the difference in the political climate not
only then, but even today.