Bill McCreary Dies at 87; Blazed Trail for Black Journalists on TV
He was hired at what became the Fox flagship station in New York in 1967, when there were few Black faces on the air, and became an Emmy-winning anchor.,
Bill McCreary, an Emmy Award-winning reporter who was one of the first Black television journalists in New York, and whose perspective helped fill a noticeable gap in local public affairs reporting, died on April 4 in Brooklyn. He was 87.
The cause was a neurological disease he had for many years, said O’Kellon McCreary, his wife of 62 years and only immediate survivor.
His death, which had not been made public earlier by his family, was announced this week by WNYW, the flagship station of the Fox television network. He was hired in 1967 when the station, Channel 5, was owned by Metromedia and known as WNEW, and he remained a familiar on-air presence until he retired in 2000.
As a co-anchor, Mr. McCreary helped build the station’s 10 O’Clock News into a ratings powerhouse. He became the managing editor and anchor of the weekly program “Black News” in 1970 and of “The McCreary Report” in 1978, when he was also named a vice president of Fox 5 News.
As the civil rights movement exploded on television screens, a demand also grew for Black journalists to be seen and heard. Mr. McCreary, Bob Teague on WNBC, and Gil Noble and Melba Tolliver of WABC were among the few seen on local newscasts in New York at the time.
“There was no such thing as ethnic television, because none of us were on TV,” Mr. McCreary told The Daily News of New York in 1997. “So it happens that along came the inner-city thing, places like Bed-Stuy and Harlem, and the news directors suddenly realized, ‘Hey, we don’t have any connections in these Black communities.’ There were less than a handful of us on television back then.”
William McKinley McCreary was born on Aug. 8, 1933, in Blackville, S.C., to Simon and Ollie McCreary. He moved to the Lower East Side of Manhattan as an infant with his mother, who became a teacher’s assistant.
A graduate of Seward Park High School and Baruch College in Manhattan, he served in the Army from 1953 to 1955. His first broadcasting jobs were in radio, as an announcer at WWRL in Queens and a general-assignment reporter and news director at WLIB in Manhattan.
He began reporting for WNEW on March 13, 1967, the first day of the station’s nightly newscast.
He won a local Emmy for “Black News” and shared an Emmy for anchoring with John Roland on the 10 O’Clock News — a program preceded every night (as it still is) by the somber signature intonation “It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?”
Mr. McCreary and Dr. Gerald Deas of Kings County Hospital and SUNY Downstate Medical Center shared a commendation from the Food and Drug Administration for alerting the public, on “The McCreary Report” in the 1970s, to the dangers of consuming Argo brand starch. In 1987, Mr. McCreary was given the N.A.A.C.P.’s Black Heritage Award.
Among the figures he interviewed over the course of his career were Rosa Parks, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela.
“Unlike a lot of TV journalists today, Bill gave you the news, not his opinions,” his former colleague Judy Licht said by email. “Straight and to the point, you never knew where he stood on any issue.”
He was also a mentor to a generation of Black journalists. Cheryl Wills, an award-winning reporter for the news channel NY1 who met Mr. McCreary when she was a production assistant at Fox 5, said: “Black newscasters were frowned upon for telling the truth about discrimination and other societal ills in urban America. Bill McCreary told the unvarnished truth, and that’s what set him apart. He told it with tremendous dignity and integrity.”