February 25, 2014 by dontbringlulubook
Gerry Priestland who worked for the BBC, based in Washington twice, was born today February the 26th in 1927.
He was educated as a boy at Charterhouse and then at New College in Oxford.
He was one of the reporters Ron Onions was able to deploy as the first news organiser, based New York.
Gerry was also an incisive observer of American life in what has been described as the turbulent decade of the 1960’s.
While he was based in Washington on his second posting for the BBC, he wrote a book about the U.S.
He showed an early awareness of the up and coming issue of coverage of the Muslim religion. He covered a convention of the Black Muslims in Chicago in 1965. He noted in ‘America The Changing Nation’,
‘The Black Muslim himself detests integration as heartily as any white supremacists, and he yearns for a tract of land which the black American can make their own, growing their own pure food and doing their own self-sufficient business’.
He also faced naked racism during his work as reporter in the south during a march led by activist James Meredith.
Interestingly, it was during a protest march in Mississippi in the summer of 1965 when the cry of Black Power started to drown the singing of ‘We shall overcome’. Priestland and his cameraman had stopped to change film in the grounds of Tougaloo Negro College, just outside Jackson.
Priestland wrote after the obscene abuse, ‘ it had been a very unpleasant couple of minutes. But no worse, I suppose, than the two or three centuries during which …the black man has had to listen to the same sort of abuse from his white overlord’.
Priestland also addressed another burning issue of the sixties – that of the conflict in Vietnam.
He wasn’t convinced by the idea of a nation full of hippie draft dodgers and he wrote that up until the Autumn of 1967 (just as my father Ron Onions arrived to take up his new post) the majority of young Americans were not actively opposed to the war.
This is how he interpreted the average young American’s view,
‘The demonstrators were a minority, and their shaggy, unwashed image was not one to appeal to the …male who keeps his hair short, uses a spray deodorant every morning and regards himself as a virile patriot’.
However, the tide of public opinion was beginning to turn and the famous baby expert Doctor Spock was soon to lead a middle-class protest in New York against Vietnam which lasted four days in Xmas 1967.