Inside the WGBH Open Vault

A Pioneering African Environmentalist's Legacy Lives On

By Bob Seay   |   Thursday, October 13, 2011
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Oct. 14, 2011

Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai with Linda Harrar in 1989 in Nairobi's Karura Forest, Kenya. (Jill Singer)

BOSTON — Last week, three African women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia; a peace activist Leymah Gbowee, who helped to end Liberia's 14-year civil war, and human rights activist and journalist Tawakkul Karman of Yemen, who has been called "the Mother of the Revolution" in that country.

These three women follow in the footsteps of another pioneering African woman leader.

Making History

Last month, the world heard news of the death of Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai (pronounced wan-GAR-ee mah-THI), who in 2004 became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Maathai was the leader of the Green Belt Movement, a women-led effort to plant trees.

Using segments from an interview in WGBH's Media Archive from the 1990 series Race to Save the Planet, former Nova producer Linda Harrar offered this personal remembrance.

"The first time I met Wangari Maathai, in 1988 in Nairobi, Kenya, she was a little reluctant to be interviewed. She shook her head and said, 'I get into a lot of trouble because I have a very big mouth!' Then she burst into laughter, flashing her unforgettable smile," Harrar said.

A Vision Is Born

As a strong critic of the government, and a courageous fighter for the environment, Maathai did get into a lot of trouble over the years because of her outspokeness. During the 1980s, Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi labeled the Green Belt Movement "subversive." Maathai was arrested, beaten unconscious and thrown in jail for her protests to save parks and forests from development. But she managed to capture the attention of the world, and through her willingness to put her own life on the line, won many of her most important battles.

Maathai started her career wanting to work on preventing childhood malnutrition. In the process, she realized soil erosion was one of the root causes, and that planting trees would be key to solving it.

In the 1990 WGBH series Race to Save the Planet, Maathai said, "I know for certain that the soil is the sustainer of life. Without it, we cannot live. On this continent, we have seen too much suffering, starvation, due to degradation of the soil, and it has taken millions of years to build this topsoil. It is so important to protect it, because if we don't, we are on our way to the end."

Bringing Home The Brains

While Maathai received some of her education in the United States, afterwards she returned to live in Kenya for the rest of her life. Linda Harrar recalled why this was important to Maathai.

"Wangari hated the 'brain drain' of Africa's brightest students being lured away from home, and she believed that Africans need to develop their own leaders to solve the continent's problems," Harrar said. "But she also understood the need for foreign aid to get some promising programs started."

After earning her PhD in Kenya, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, which organized communities of poor women to plant trees and tend to them until they were strong. The women earned a small income for doing this work, in a land where jobs are very hard to find. The Green Belt Movement also taught children to grow green belts around their schools. And it taught farmers to plant trees in rows between their crops, which helps to restore nutrients to the soil.

Dr. Wangari Maathai in 2007 at a garden dedication at the Al Raby School for Community and Environment in Chicago. (via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Making The Mission Possible

Maathai wanted her movement to start with planting trees because it is something that anyone can do. The universality, she said, would help people access the movement.

"Then during the tree-planting campaign, you bring out all the other issues that are very much related: the issues of food production, firewood crisis, soil erosion. All these are part and parcel of what we are discussing, but when we first discuss, we start with the immediate problems, the local problems, the problems we can see every day," Maathai said.

Harrar says the movement planted over 30 million trees.

"Maathai would sometimes say that the healing of Africa is still only a dream. But she understood her own power to inspire people, of all ages and cultures to get behind her," Harrar said.

Maathai also had her human moments of doubt.

"Sometimes I get very discouraged because the problems are just enormous, and although the people are very willing, sometimes they really think that you can solve all these problems at once, and you can't," Maathai said. "But sometimes I also get very encouraged, especially when I see these trees growing in the nursery, or when they're so big that you see the farmers happy in their fields. It's very satisfying. So I go up and down all the time. And most of the time, I think I'm on the better side."

Crossing The 'Vale Of Tears'

What did Harrar find most striking about Wangari Maathai's work?

"Perhaps what I admired so much was Wangari's ability to keep fighting for what she believed in – and to inspire others not to lose heart. I last saw her just after 9/11, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when she was comforting us as Americans for all that we had lost when the Twin Towers fell. One of her best friends had lost a daughter. She of course knew that life can be what she called 'a vale of tears,' but she would always find a way to find strength in what she believed in," Harrar said.

Maathai reflected on why the work mattered so much to her.

"I don't really know why I care so much. I just have something inside me that tells me there is a problem and I have got to do something about it, so I'm doing something about it," Maathai said. "I think that that is what I would call the God in me. And all of us have a God in us, and that God is the spirit that unites all life, everything that is on this planet. And it must be this voice that is telling me to do something. And I'm sure it's the same voice that is speaking to everybody on this planet, at least everybody who seems to be concerned about the fate of the world, the fate of this planet!" Maathai said.

Linda Harrar said Wangari Maathai's legacy should serve as a source of inspiration for all of us.

"So here's an idea. If you're feeling sad or depressed, or cynical about the many problems of the world, think of Wangari Maathai's example: Get out and plant a tree, get your kids to plant a tree. It's something you can do for the future. And it would make Wangari smile that dazzling smile," Harrar said.

Remembering Steven Paul Jobs

By Bob Seay   |   Wednesday, October 5, 2011
2 Comments   2 comments.

Oct. 6, 2011

steve jobs

Steve Jobs in 1990. (via WGBH Open Vault)


BOSTON — With the loss of Steve Jobs, we have our own remembrance of him, in a superb WGBH interview from 1990. It's from a series called The Machine That Changed The World, a BBC-TV/WGBH Boston Co-Production. In it, Jobs talks about how that revolutionary device, the Macintosh personal computer, came to be and the particular gifts of the people who made it.

Here are some excerpts from the extended interview with Steve Jobs conducted for that series:

Steve Jobs: "I think the Macintosh was created by a group of people who felt that there wasn't a strict division between science and art. Or in other words, that mathematics is really a liberal art if you look at it from a slightly different point of view. And why can't we interject typography into computers. Why can't we have computers talking to us in English language? And looking back, five years later, this seems like a trivial observation. But at the time it was cataclysmic in its consequences. And the battles that were fought to push this point of view out the door were very large."

Jobs talked about the people on his design team and what they were like.

Steve Jobs as seen in his 1990 WGBH interview. (via WGBH Open Vault)

Jobs: "My observation is that the doers are the major thinkers. The people that really create the things that change this industry are both the 'thinker-doer' in one person. And if we really go back and we examine, did Leonardo [da Vinci] have a guy off to the side that was thinking five years out in the future what he would paint or the technology he would use to paint it? Of course not. Leonardo was the artist but he also mixed all his own paints. He also was a fairly good chemist. He knew about pigments, knew about human anatomy. And combining all of those skills together, the art and the science, the thinking and the doing, was the exceptional result."

"And there is no difference in our industry. It's very easy to say, 'oh I thought of this three years ago.' But usually when you dig a little deeper, you find that the people that really did it were also the people that really worked through the hard intellectual problems as well."

On Feb. 10, 1982, the Mac design group had a small party. Along with their cake and champagne, they each signed a large sheet of paper. Jobs had those signatures copied and engraved into the mold for the Macintosh case.

Another frame of Steve Jobs in his 1990 WGBH interview. (via WGBH Open Vault)

Jobs: "The people that worked on it consider themselves and I certainly consider them artists. These are the people that under different circumstances would be painters and poets but because of the time that we live in this new medium has appeared, in which to express one's self to one's fellow species and that's a medium of computing and so a lot of people that would have been artists and scientists have gone into this field to express their feeling, so it seemed like the right thing to do."

If you're the owner of a Mac128K, 512K, or Macintosh Plus, they signed your computer, too. When the new machine was presented at a shareholders meeting in early 1984, the design team was there.

Jobs: "The first few rows had all the people that worked on the Mac. About a 150 people that really made it happen were all seated in the first few rows and when it was introduced, after we went through it all and had the computer speak to people itself and things like that, the whole auditorium of about twenty five hundred people gave it a standing ovation and the whole first few rows of Mac folks were all just crying. All of us were. I was biting my tongue very hard because I had a little bit more to do. But it was a very, very emotional moment because it was no longer ours. From that day forward it was no longer ours. We couldn't change it. If we had a good idea the following day it was too late. It belonged to the world at that point in time."

You can view the entire unedited 45-minute Steve Jobs video interview on the WGBH Open Vault. Please be patient, the interview doesn't start immediately.

Witness to History: The 1963 March on Washington

Tuesday, August 27, 2013
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A Portrait of Elaine Noble

By Elizabeth Dean   |   Thursday, June 13, 2013
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Gay and Lesbian Pride Month is here—arriving just weeks after NBA player Jason Collins came out as gay in a widely praised Sports Illustrated essay. Next month, Delaware will become the 11th state in the country along with the District of Columbia to allow same-sex marriages. With the majority of Americans now supporting gay marriage, it’s easy to forget the barriers and battles of just a few decades ago. Our video this month takes you back to the gritty streets of 1970s Boston, an era when it was unthinkable that an openly gay politician could run for public office…and win.
Elaine Noble took her seat in the Massachusetts Legislature in 1975, representing Boston’s Fenway and Back Bay neighborhoods. It was less than five years after New York’s Stonewall Riots and three years before gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk was shot to death in City Hall. 
Noble put herself—and possibly her life—on the line when she ran, and she lived with threats and harassment that she expected would only increase when the WGBH documentary A Woman’s Place Is in the House: A Portrait of Elaine Noble aired. She was the first openly gay candidate in the country to win a state office—but as you’ll see, her focus was on helping her constituents. 
When she is asked on election night what the moment means to her, she deflects the expectation that she’ll say it’s a victory for the gay and lesbian community. “It means I have a job,” she says in the film, smiling. And the first thing she’ll do? Call her mother.
Noble was determined not to be a one-issue candidate, and you’ll see that she has a remarkable ability to connect with people on district problems large and small, and a desire to help that comes from the heart. Her trailblazing role put her in the national spotlight, and calls for help came from people—many closeted and feeling isolated—from as far away as California. There were threatening calls as well, often in the middle of the night, and Noble’s car was vandalized. 
Even within the women’s movement, she had to fight for gay rights. In the film, Noble refuses to accept a speaking invitation from the National Organization for Women unless NOW publicly apologizes to her and her gay sisters for its attempt a few years earlier to distance NOW from lesbian causes. (NOW founder Betty Friedan and others were concerned that being linked to lesbians politically would weaken their cause.)
For Noble, this was not only political; it was intensely personal. She was then living with the feminist novelist Rita Mae Brown, whom you meet in the film. Brown had resigned her job at NOW in 1970 over this issue. 
Noble and Brown parted ways in 1976. “Rita couldn’t take it [the harassment] any more,” Noble told me in a recent interview, “and I don’t blame her.” 
Noble served for two terms, but when redistricting would have forced her to run against her friend Barney Frank in 1978, she declined to enter the race. After an unsuccessful run for the US Senate, she eventually left public life. She was exhausted, she told me, and ready for a quieter time.
She’s retired now and living with her partner in the Florida panhandle—“another adventure,” she says. She is a substitute teacher (“teaching was my first love”), sells real estate, and rides her beloved horses. She’s starting to write about her experience in the movement, but insists she was just “part of the Conga line” that moved the issue forward. “You do what you can and then move on.”
As for the WGBH film, she looks back on it with pride, though threats against her escalated after its broadcast, as she feared. “[Producer] Nancy Porter and [associate producer] Rebecca Eaton made me feel comfortable,” she says. “I never felt a hidden agenda.” Thinking back on her younger self, she adds, slightly ruefully, that she’s “a little more guarded now.”
The sea changes of recent years on gay issues have brought her great happiness, as well as deep gratitude to those who supported her, including Barney Frank’s sister Ann Lewis, who encouraged her to run all those years ago. No doubt Noble would get a good laugh from Frank’s recent quip about his marriage in 2012 to his longtime partner Jim Ready: “As I left office, it struck me that my marriage to Jim was more socially acceptable than my being a congressman.” 
Elizabeth Deane is a longtime producer and writer for WGBH

Chess Records, the Chicago Blues, and the Rolling Stones

Thursday, May 9, 2013
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On their first US tour in 1964, the Rolling Stones made a pilgrimage to Chicago. “2120 South Michigan Avenue was hallowed ground,” writes Keith Richards in his 2010 autobiography. “There in the perfect sound studio, in the room where everything we’d listened to was made…we recorded fourteen tracks in two days. One of them was… ‘It’s All Over Now,’ our first number one hit.”
Brothers Phil and Leonard Chess were cigar-chomping, old-school record men who started out in the liquor business in Chicago. They produced mostly jazz, but took a chance on a rough blues singer from Mississippi called Muddy Waters. The raw country blues of Waters’s “I Can’t Be Satisfed” was the hit that put the Chess brothers and their studio on the map.

Leonard Chess died in 1969, but his son, Marshall, and Phil sat for an interview with WGBH in 1994. 
“Waters’s recording is remembered as the first masterpiece of electric Chicago blues,” says music historian Elijah Wald. Chess Records followed with records by Little Walter, Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf, as well as Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry.
These were the saints in the church of the blues, and among their most ardent admirers were two teenagers from the UK, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. They were childhood friends who reconnected in the Dartford railroad station when Richards spotted the Chess records that Jagger was carrying under his arm.
“This cat’s together and he’s got the best of Muddy Waters and ‘Rocking at The Hop’ by Chuck Berry under his arm,” says Richards, who recalls the encounter in Rock & Roll. “‘Hey man, nice to see you, but where did you get the records?’”
Long before American teenagers caught on to it, a generation of young Brits had been captured by the sound of authentic American blues. But the records were hard to come by, “coveted keys to a mysterious, faraway world,” as music historian Wald describes them. Jagger had ordered his by mail from Chicago.
With fellow blues-lovers Brian Jones, Ian Stewart and Charlie Watts, Jagger and Richards formed a band and named it after a Muddy Waters song, “Rollin’ Stone.” Rock & Roll includes the text of a letter Jones wrote to the BBC in January 1963, asking for airtime, in which he articulated the group’s philosophy: “The band’s policy is to play authentic Chicago rhythm and blues music, using outstanding exponents of the music such as Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reed, etc.”
The BBC turned them down on the basis that their singer sounded too black.
In 1964, the Stones and the Animals brought the sound of the British blues to the US, and the Stones made their pilgrimage to Chess. Marshall, then 22, had a sense of what to expect, but Phil and Leonard were baffled. 
“My brother looked at me and I looked up and said, ‘Who are they?’” Phil says. “They looked like freaks.”
Phil and Leonard were not alone. “I’ll tell you in Chicago in the heart of the Midwest, we hadn’t seen people who looked [and] acted like the Rolling Stones,” Marshall says. “Their hair, the way they looked. They…were drinking hard liquor out of the bottle. That wasn’t really happening very big in Chicago at that time.”
Still, the sessions were a success. “They wanted the Chess sound…to be exactly like the originals,” Marshall says in our video clip. “But it came out like the Rolling Stones, which was great.”
Watch the whole interview with Marshall and Phil on Open Vault. Find the Stones’ instrumental salute to Chess, “2120 Michigan Avenue,” on iTunes.

Elizabeth Deane was the creator and executive producer of the 10-part, Peabody Award–winning series “Rock & Roll.” She says about the experience, "Like many viewers, I brought a general knowledge of rock history to the project, but it’s interviews like this one, produced by Dan McCabe and Vicky Bippart, that deepened our treatment of the music and set the series apart from other rock histories. We focused on the innovators — the people who changed the music — not only artists but also producers, songwriters, studio engineers and session musicians. The series premiere in 1995 was a big event for WGBH and our partners at the BBC, who produced five of the shows; we’re proud to have this opportunity to show off this rock 'n' roll gem from the archives."

The licensing rights to the epic 10-part series (1995) have lapsed; however, WGBH Archives has a small grant from the Grammy Foundation to preserve the uncut interviews for the five programs produced by WGBH.

ABC Newsman John Scali Talks About the Cuban Missile Crisis

By Elizabeth Deane   |   Thursday, September 27, 2012
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ABC's John Scali (WGBH)
This Month from the Vault: An interview with ABC Newsman John Scali

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, and we revisit the events that brought the world to the brink of a nuclear disaster in two specials on WGBH 2 (see below). In the archives, we found a gripping interview about that fate-of-the-planet drama of October 1962. It hints at high-level espionage but unfolds amid convincingly mundane details (a baloney sandwich, the coffee shop in Washington’s Statler Hilton Hotel), and it makes you feel as if you’re in the center of the storm as President Kennedy and his advisors struggle to avert nuclear war. The story held a respected place in the annals of the missile crisis for decades. But it turned out to be a blind alley. How it unraveled gives us a glimpse inside the fog of war.
Producers from WGBH’s ambitious 13-part series War and Peace in the Nuclear Age interviewed former ABC reporter John Scali in February 1986, where Scali describes his involvement with a high-ranking Soviet Embassy contact at the height of the crisis. 
But with the help of hindsight, consider the backstory to this back-channel encounter: Desperate for information about Soviet intentions, President Kennedy and his top advisors took Scali’s story very seriously. It seemed to be the first sign that the Soviets wanted to back off, and US Secretary of State Dean Rusk devoted considerable time to drafting a reply. When the crisis ended a few days later, the deal announced by the Kremlin seemed to reflect much that Scali and his Soviet contact, Aleksandr Fomin, had discussed.
The secret story of the Scali-Fomin back-channel negotiations was revealed in 1964 in a book by Rusk’s head of intelligence, Roger Hilsman. It remained mostly unquestioned until 1989, when both Scali and Fomin (now identified by his real name, Aleksandr Feklisov) were present at a conference in Moscow. Feklisov disputed Scali’s account completely. It was Scali, he said, who floated the famous proposal; it was Scali, not he, who was fearful, and so on. Scali heatedly disputed these claims.
book cover
One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro On the Brink of Nuclear War, by Michael Dobbs
Thus began the unraveling of the Scali-Fomin myth. When scholars drilled deeper into the crisis in the ensuing decades, the significance of their secret meetings was shattered. As journalist Michael Dobbs described it in his brilliant 2008 book about the crisis, One Minute to Midnight, the Scali back-channel was “a classic example of miscommunication between Moscow and Washington at a time when a single misstep could lead to nuclear war.” The author concludes that “there is no evidence” that Scali’s message to the Soviets “played any role in Kremlin decision-making on the crisis, or was even read by Khrushchev.”
The late ambassador Richard Holbrooke, reviewing Dobbs’ book, added a layer of disdain, describing the Scali-Fomin back-channel as “a self-generated effort by an ambitious spy to send some information to his bosses in Moscow, as well as self-promotion by an ambitious journalist, who parlayed his meetings with the KGB agent into a public legend that eventually led to his becoming the American ambassador to the United Nations.” 
Holbrooke is pretty harsh, but even without his slant on it we can begin to see how dangerous this was. The demolition of the Scali story is only a small part of a revolution in thinking about the Cuban missile crisis. Confusion reigned in Moscow and Washington, and as JFK and Khrushchev searched for a way out (with Washington jumping on the Scali story), their military machines were headed for war. 
As James Blight, a leading missile crisis scholar, put it—referring not only to the Scali story but to the revelations of recent research—“the crisis [seems] far more dangerous, and its peaceful outcome far more miraculous, than ever before.”

Elizabeth Deane is a longtime producer and writer for WGBH

The Cuban missile crisis is brought to life on October 23rd with two PBS programs: 

Cuban Missile Crisis: Three Men Go to War at 8pm 

Secrets of the Dead’s The Man Who Saved the World at 9pm

About Inside the WGBH Open Vault

Open Vault is the WGBH Media Library and Archives (MLA) website of unique and historically important content produced by WGBH's public television and radio stations. It provides online access to video, audio, images, searchable transcripts, and resource management tools —available for individual and classroom learning. Learn more:

About the Authors
Bob Seay Bob Seay
Bob Seay is the host of NPR's Morning Edition on 89.7FM WGBH Radio. He got his start in radio during college at WMUH, got involved with WGBH TV while in graduate school at Boston University and formerly hosted ME at WRNI in Rhode Island.
Elizabeth Deane
Elizabeth Deane is a longtime producer and writer for WGBH Boston.


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