Gil Noble: The Man Who Told It 'Like It Is'

He was dedicated to preserving black American culture as a journalist, TV host and documentarian.

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In the early '80s, several influential Jewish leaders pressured WABC-TV, demanding punishment for a discussion Noble aired on the Lebanon crisis. They argued that the panel discussion was "imbalanced" and "inaccurate." Dozens of supporters were called on to picket the station to "Keep Your Hands Off Gil Noble."

As protesters worked the streets, an ad hoc committee of black leaders worked the suites to block the station manager's threat to ban Like It Is from addressing any international issues -- including uprisings in the Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Haiti and Grenada, and the revolutions sweeping much of southern Africa at the time.

On a bleak, wintry night in Harlem, some 700 "friends of Like It Is" listened with their jaws tight at the Abyssinian Baptist Church as the Rev. Calvin O. Butts read a response from the station manager. The letter from WABC-TV Vice President William Fyffe promised the committee (novelist John O. Killens, City College professor Leonard Jeffries and others) that "In essence, the [Like It Is] format will continue as in the past."

Assured that WABC-TV had not yielded to the Jewish leaders' pressure to curtail if not altogether silence their treasured Voice of Reason, the Harlem crowd bundled up and strode defiantly out onto the boulevards, in step with that Leadbelly blues song: "Keep your hands off of him ... he don't belong to you."

Brother Gil Noble will always belong to Harlem.

Les Payne is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who appeared with Gil Noble on Like It Is many times over the years.

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Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the correct surname of Sunni Khalid.

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