May 17

Ed Bradley and Visual Representation

by: Laura Kochman

On Saturday, June 16, we’re dedicating a mural in West Philadelphia that honors Ed Bradley, who started out as a local radio DJ and launched into broadcast journalism—nineteen Emmys and 26 years on 60 Minutes later, Bradley’s career and commitment to journalistic integrity is clearly inspiring. But his legacy also tells another story, about representation in public space, about why it matters and why we do what we do at Mural Arts.

When Bradley started out in the broadcast world, he was the voice on the radio. Educated at Cheyney University, a local HBCU, he worked in the Philadelphia public school system and reported on the local news for WDAS. A Philly local, he was already making a difference in his hometown, and that would have been enough.

Instead, he became a face on TV, quickly rising through the ranks at CBS in New York and traveling all over the world, reporting on the Cambodian refugee crisis and the Jimmy Carter presidential campaign, and then the Carter administration itself—in 1976, Bradley became the first black broadcast journalist to cover the White House. Harry McAlpin was the first black White House correspondent, and Alice Allison Dunnigan was the first black woman to cover the White House, and their stories are important as well, paving the way for journalists of color like Ed Bradley.

The distinction between written and TV journalism is important here, because visual representation matters. No one would dispute that Ed Bradley was an excellent journalist, full stop, but it seems important to acknowledge the particular boundary that he broke. He showed the world that the perspective of people of color is vital in American politics—in a culture that is so visual, without the mediation of a microphone or a typewriter, the simple fact of his face made a statement.

Visual arguments are made all around us every day, from advertisements on buses to the clothes that you’re wearing right now. Everything that we can see is telling us something, including who we see on TV and who we do not see on TV. This is obviously still an issue, as any person of color in media will tell you, so it is meaningful and important that Bradley became a fundamental presence in broadcast journalism.

And now, in the same West Philly neighborhood where he grew up, kids walking by will see his face and know that people who look like them can rise up and make their voices heard.

Last updated: May 17, 2018

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