Thursday, August 14, 2008

Black Moses and the King of Comedy

This was one of those weeks where those of us who were working in the black press had to take a deep breath. It was, like, "Damn. Bernie Mac. Then Isaac Hayes."

Newsrooms become like commando units, no matter what, and learn to think together and alike. This phenomenon is more intense at a black paper, I have come to understand. I don't know why. You can cue "We Are Family" and think about it.

This week, we all knew, right away, the Isaac Hayes obit had to go on the front page of the paper and the Bernie Mac obit had to go on the front page of Living It, our arts section. It's uncanny how everyone in our little newsroom tends to always agree on important placement decisions.

I also knew, immediately, that Alvin A. Reid had the Black Moses assignment, whereas Bill Beene would do the King of Comedy. When I saw those guys Monday morning, I could see that they already knew it. It's like the way the Coen Brothers are said to make movies. It's said that, after a take, they look at each other wordlessly, and then jump straight into mutual but separate activity to set up for what has to happen next, which only they know.

Alvin was walking around in a daze yesterday afternoon, fully knowing what a monster set of quotes Bernie Hayes had given him for his Isaac Hayes obit. He was humbled, and if you know Alvin, you know that doesn't happen with every story. "I hate to say I was glad to get to do anybody's obit," Alvin mumbled, "but I'll have to say I was glad to be here to do Isaac Hayes' obit."

Earlier in the week, Alvin said what a lot of us thought. "Isaac Hayes was the blackest person in America." Something like that. Ossie Davis called Malcolm X "our shining black prince." Isaac Hayes was "our shining Black Moses." Rest in peace.

Beene got his story from Cedric The Entertainer, who had worked closely with Bernie Mac and loved him. That intimacy gives a very special character to Bill's obit of Bernie Mac. He'll be missed.

While Bill had Cedric on the phone, I got a call from Richard Prince, from The Maynard Institute for Journalism. He has a very cool air on the phone, which I appreciate in a journalist (my phone manners tend to be abrupt and horribly uncool). He was pleased to see we had posted up obits on these historical figures soon after they died, rather than waiting for the print edition. He used some of what I said and gave our web editor Kenya Vaughn props in a column about the black press and its use (or neglect) of the internet.

This week, don't nobody die.

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