Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bill Tatum: “I Did It My Way”

By Herb Boyd
Special to the AmNews
Published: Thursday, March 12, 2009


Whoever selected the music for the home going services for Wilbert “Bill” A. Tatum last Friday at Riverside Church was in touch with the late publisher’s spirit. Vocalist Kevin-Anthony with his version of “I Did It My Way,” in many ways captured the essence of Tatum, who died February 25, while vacationing in Croatia with his wife, Susan. He was 76 and succumbed to multiple organ failure.

“Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew,” Kevin-Anthony sang, “when I bit off more than I could chew. But through it all, when there was doubt, I ate it up and spit it out. I faced it all and I stood tall; and did it my way.”

Indeed, Tatum faced it all and stood tall once he had made up his mind, and he did it his way, which, in most cases was not the Black way or the white way, but the right way.

And each of those who stepped up to the church’s lectern drove home this point about the provocative, controversial editor. “He facilitated the work of philosophers and prophets,” the Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton said during his greetings, thereby setting the tone for the two hours of fond memories. “His cup of knowledge was filled to overflowing.”

Governor David Paterson recalled spending time with Tatum as a co-host on his breakfast show on WLIB many years ago and how Tatum would have relished taking on the New York Post for its publication of a recent racist cartoon. “Every Thursday (when the Amsterdam News hit the stands) you could expect Bill to give us the truth, and you know that truth crushed to earth will rise again.”

For those interested in gauging the pulse of the community, the Amsterdam News and Tatum’s editorials were required reading, said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “We didn’t always see eye-to-eye,” the mayor admitted, “but that didn’t stop me from liking him.”

“Because of Bill Tatum, Harlem is a better place,” said former Mayor David Dinkins. “He built many bridges in his lifetime.”

Some of those bridges reached as far away as Stockholm, Sweden where and his family often ventured. Those visitations must have resonated with special meaning for his daughter Elinor and his wife when vocalist/pianist Margareta Svensson performed “Vem Kan Segla,” a Finnish-Swedish folk song, and “Send in the Clowns.”

As he had done at Chuck Sutton’s funeral, Congressman Charles Rangel came with a plaque and brief remarks, informing the crowded sanctuary that Tatum’s name and contributions would be entered into the Congressional Record.

This was followed by warm reflections from Elinor’s goddaughter, Alyssa Kapasi and one of Tatum’s favorite poems “Around the Corner,” dramatically delivered by Roz Abrams. “Around the corner,” Abrams began, “I have a friend/in this great city that has no end,/yet the days go by and weeks rush on/and before I know it, a year is gone. And I never see my old friend's face/for life is a swift and terrible race…”

During his lifetime Tatum, who began his journalistic career as a young reporter for his father’s papers in North Carolina, ran a swift but productive race, and the lengthy obituary, that was read silently, is but a sketch of his accomplishments. He was a formidable community activist after completing his education at Lincoln University and Occidental College in California, did a stint in the military, and with such partners as Percy Sutton and H. Carl McCall purchased the Amsterdam News in 1971.

For a while he was also part owner of two radio stations and ultimately by the mid-eighties was the sole owner of the paper that would bear his indomitable vision until he ceded the operation to his daughter in 1997.

“Very few of our elders who founded institutions have provided the guidance and then turned their businesses over to their children,” Elinor said during her time at the podium. “But he did.”

President Barack Obama sent a letter expressing condolences from himself and wife Michelle. He praised Tatum’s commitment to and impact on journalism; and his brining to the forefront, issues concerning the African American community.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was unable to attend the services but sent a message in which she recalled visiting Tatum at the VA Hospital, and to discover that he was leading a protest while confined to a wheelchair. He may have been confined to a wheelchair, “but he never stopped standing up for what he believed in,” Clinton wrote.

Attorney Victor Kovner, NAACP stalwart Hazel Dukes, and author Sidney Offitt each offered praise and remembrances for a man and a friend “who was determined to defend us all,” Dukes asserted.

“If there was one word that personified Bill Tatum for me, it would be ‘faithful,’” said the Rev. Al Sharpton during his eulogy. “He was never afraid to defend the scorned, and there was nothing too controversial or remote for him. He never retreated.”

Nor can we expect Tatum’s soul to ever be completely still, despite the glorious admonitions intoned by Diana Solomon-Glover’s during her rendition of “Be Still My Soul.”

A recording of “Balm in Gilead” echoed through the church as part of the recessional, and it the voice of Paul Robeson, who like Tatum, never took a step back when stepping up to represent his people.

For those interested in supporting the Amsterdam News Educational Foundation, send donations to 34 East Third Street, New York, NY 10003.

Visit The Amsterdam News Online:

See Also On W.E. A.L.L. B.E....

‘Black Press Giant’ Wilbert ‘Bill’ Tatum Dies In Croatia:

Mumia Speaks... Wilbert 'Bill' Tatum: Black Journalist:

No comments: