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.


Noble teamed behind the camera with graphic artist and pan-Africanist Elombe Brath; Paul Robeson’s granddaughter Susan Robeson, a researcher; and historian-scholar Paul Lee, who, with his brother Sunni Khalid, played a key role in producing some of the early specials focusing on Malcolm X. On camera, Noble rotated notable co-hosts such as Carol Jenkins, Felipe Luciano and Geraldo Rivera.   

When, in the early ’80s, the local news shows began infusing chitchat and monkeyshines into the broadcasts, Noble’s anchoring duties were reduced because he refused to clown around on air. Relegated to weekends, he was finally assigned full time to produce and host Like It Is by the late ’90s. This one-hour weekly show proved to be a platinum setting for Noble’s talent as a provocative journalist, video historian and unapologetic “race man.”

During some 43 years on the air, Noble used the long-form format of Like It Is to create a treasure trove of exclusive footage on cultural and political leaders such as Paul Robeson, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Muhammad Ali, Bill Cosby, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dizzy Gillespie, Marcus Garvey, Max Roach, Harry Belafonte, Sarah Vaughn, jazz pianist Erroll Garner and educator Adelaide Sanford.

Before the invention of VCRs and DVRs, devotees of Malcolm X would reliably skip church on his birthday and assassination weekends in order to watch Noble’s updated specials on the national Harlem icon.

In addition to these tall trees and the mountaintops, Noble dared take his cameras to the gritty and desperate bowels of the city. In 1981 he produced an extraordinary exposé on the scourge of heroin addiction gripping Harlem. “An Essay on Drugs” was his stunning TV account of this scabrous netherworld, featuring up-close scenes of street addicts blistered with pus sores surveying one another’s necks, groins and underarms for a clear, remaining vein suitable for injecting a syringe of liquefied heroin.