News anchor Leon Bibb talks about growing up in Glenville and working in television news in Cleveland. As a young reporter, he dealt with such historic moments as the Tet Offensive and Kent State shooting. He said he was in the first of a wave of African Americans to work at the Plain Dealer. Bibb talks about Carl and Louis Stokes and offers thoughts about Vietnam, voting, civil rights and journalism. The interview contains memorable quotes and moments reflected on by Bibb throughout his career as a reporter in Cleveland.


Media is loading


Bibb, Leon (interviewee)


Weaver, Valerie (interviewer)


St. Clair - Superior Neighborhood



Document Type

Oral History


46 minutes


Leon Bibb [00:00:00] Gallery. Good deal.

Valerie Weaver [00:00:04] This is the testing part. Leon, welcome. This is Leon Bibb, and today is June 28, 2006. And Leon has been gracious enough to come out today to speak with me in conjunction with the Western Reserve Historical Society and the exhibit that they're putting together pertaining to Cleveland during the 1960s and most part of Carl and Lou Stokes, the history that they left their legend in Cleveland. So, Leon, again, thank you.

Leon Bibb [00:00:44] Oh, my pleasure. Thank you, Valerie. Good to be here.

Valerie Weaver [00:00:47] And I want to ask a couple questions about you. You are a native Clevelander?

Leon Bibb [00:00:53] Yeah, I grew up in Cleveland. I really wasn't born here. Everybody thinks I was born here. I was conceived here, but I was born in Alabama, which is where my mother was when I guess I decided to get born. And then we came back to Cleveland. But I was raised here. I've been here since I was 13 months old.

Valerie Weaver [00:01:15] Oh, nice. So then you went to Cleveland schools?

Leon Bibb [00:01:18] Yeah, I went to Cleveland schools.

Valerie Weaver [00:01:19] What high school did you go to?

Leon Bibb [00:01:20] Glenville High school.

Valerie Weaver [00:01:22] Glenville. What year did you graduate?

Leon Bibb [00:01:25] I graduated in '62. 1962.

Valerie Weaver [00:01:29] So for the most part, you remember Cleveland. What's one of your fondest memories of growing up in Cleveland?

Leon Bibb [00:01:39] I think playing third base at Gordon Park, where we guys played baseball. Baseball every summer. And it was part of the little league system sponsored by the city. And I was always on a team. We played every summer. And just growing up in my Glenville neighborhood, we grew up in a time when nobody worried about any kinds of problems. Nobody. I never heard a gunshot. I never heard anybody who heard a gunshot or. I never saw anybody hurt or anything like that, other than just the usual boys fighting in the playground, that kind of thing. But it was just a wonderful time. That's what I remember is growing up a very, almost a Leave It To Beaver kind of lifestyle, if you know what I mean by Leave It To Beaver, the old television show.

Valerie Weaver [00:02:37] What elementary school did you go to?

Leon Bibb [00:02:38] I went to Miles Standish Elementary School, which was right across the street from where I grew up.

Valerie Weaver [00:02:43] And did that feed into Empire?

Leon Bibb [00:02:46] Then I went to Empire Junior High. Yeah.

Valerie Weaver [00:02:49] And then you finished high school in 1962?

Leon Bibb [00:02:51] Yeah.

Valerie Weaver [00:02:52] Where is Gordon Park?

Leon Bibb [00:02:53] Gordon Park is on the lakeshore. Lakeshore Freeway at East 72nd Street.

Valerie Weaver [00:03:00] And you play baseball?

Leon Bibb [00:03:01] Yeah, yeah, there's a. Yeah, I played little league there all. God, I've been playing baseball since I was, I guess, eight years old. I still fool around with it, but since I'm about eight years old and we organized ourselves, I mean, we didn't have a lot of adult supervision in this. Not for my parents. I mean, there were adult supervisors at the park where we had our teams, but we kind of organized ourselves. And so all of us, it was a bunch of. It was about eight good, strong guys that a group of us that we all played together and worked together and we all grew up together, and I think we've all done very well. We all decided that we wanted to do good things once we grew up, and I think we are.

Valerie Weaver [00:03:45] So once you finished Glenville High School, what did you do?

Leon Bibb [00:03:51] I went to Bowling Green State University and majored in journalism.

Valerie Weaver [00:03:56] And did you go straight through or was there an interruption?

Leon Bibb [00:04:00] Went straight through. Went straight through four years, straight through, in, out, straight through.

Valerie Weaver [00:04:06] And then you went to Vietnam?

Leon Bibb [00:04:10] Once I graduated from Bowling Green, I got a job with the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I was a staff reporter, and I worked there for several months until the call came and I got drafted into the army.

Valerie Weaver [00:04:23] So you were drafted?

Leon Bibb [00:04:24] Yeah, I was drafted, and so I went off to war. You know, I spent one year in this country at Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort Sill, Oklahoma. And once I was in Oklahoma, I got orders for Vietnam. And then I spent the second year of my armed services career in Vietnam, 363 days.

Valerie Weaver [00:04:46] I mean, were you out there fighting and shooting guns and.

Leon Bibb [00:04:51] Well, yeah, I had a weapon. Yeah, yeah, we did that, too. We did a lot of different things. I did a lot of different things. I was in an artillery unit and I had a. I was. I had skills that the army decided it wanted to use. Once I got to Vietnam, I went over to do artillery, and I was assigned to an artillery unit. Once they found out I had a degree in journalism, they said, well, can you take pictures? I says, well, yes, I became somewhat of a combat photographer. I became a courts martial stenographer. We had 16 quartz marshals there. And I was the guy who kind of took the notes in courts martial and then wrote up reports on that. But I also had to do patrol. I had to go in the jungle and do patrol duty and guard duty on the perimeter in the central highlands of our base. And so I had to do. I had to do a whole bunch of different kinds of things. I really didn't have a job classification because I did everything include go on patrol and defend. Defend the perimeter and look for the enemy and try to keep from getting shot.

Valerie Weaver [00:06:00] How did you feel about that in the war, generally?

Leon Bibb [00:06:05] You get acclimated to your surroundings and that's what you do. I mean, I. People ask me, well, what did you think about the war? I said I didn't have time to think about the war. I was in the middle of it. I was just trying to stay alive, and I had political feelings. I wondered why we were in Vietnam. And people would write me all the time from the United States and say, how is the war going? Well, I don't know. I can only tell you what we're doing in a five mile perimeter. I can tell you what we're doing. I can't tell you about the strategy of the war. I'm 21 years old. I don't understand all of that. I'm just doing what they say doing. They say, take that hill. We take that hill. And that's what I did.

Valerie Weaver [00:06:52] Well, you were in Vietnam. Can you tell me what year that was?

Leon Bibb [00:06:57] Yeah. It was in Vietnam from September 1967 to September 1968.

Valerie Weaver [00:07:03] So this is about the time that Carl Stokes was running for mayor.

Leon Bibb [00:07:07] Mm hmm.

Valerie Weaver [00:07:08] Do you remember or heard much about that during the time that he was running? What was the political climate like here in Cleveland?

Leon Bibb [00:07:15] Well, I think the political climate, because I'd worked as a summer intern reporter for the Cleveland Call and Post during the summer of 1965. So I was reporting on that campaign in 1965. I think when I think Carl ran the first time in 1965, it was a two year term. Then it ran again and won in 1967. I think the political climate was things had to change, and the civil rights movement was going on and born blacks were getting more political power, and they were beginning to mobilize on that political power. Everywhere you went, there were references to the civil rights movement. There were references to Martin Luther King. There was references to getting out the vote, getting jobs. I was in that maybe that second wave of black people to get jobs in positions like I had at the Plain Dealer. I mean, there were couple of blacks in front of me, but I was in that early number of blacks. I was certainly in the first five to work at the plain Dealer. And so everything was beginning to open up, but with a little. We had to keep the political pressure on society to get those jobs to open up. That was the general feeling. And as a reporter for the call and post, I got a chance to stick my nose in a lot of those meetings and write about what was going on. And we were very politically oriented then. Sometimes I think even more then than we are now.

Valerie Weaver [00:08:53] During the time that he was running for mayor, you were in Vietnam, and I have a letter here that you wrote him congratulating him on what a great job and how proud you were of him and that he was going to continue to make Cleveland ring out with the Best Location in the Nation. So when you were in Vietnam and you wrote for the Stars and Stripes, that was a.

Leon Bibb [00:09:21] That. Well, I didn't write for the Stars and Stripes. I just saw the Stars and Stripes. It was written at another location, but I got copies of it, and I wasn't really writing for them. I was doing the job. I told you about artillery and patrol and all of that, but I had access to the Stars and stripes. I mean, and they would come into the post all the time into our unit, and you'd read them. It may be a couple of days old, but I would read it. So that's how I found out what was going on. And then there was, you know, there were radio. I mean, we had armed forces radio, and I'd heard about on the radio and read about it in other newspapers as well, the Chicago Tribune and other papers that were coming into the unit. They may be a week old getting there, but I'd read the news a week later.

Valerie Weaver [00:10:08] So the whole country heard about him winning?

Leon Bibb [00:10:11] Oh, yeah, the whole country knew about Carl Stokes winning. I think the whole world knew about it because it was a significant, significant step. You have to put yourself in 1967 context that there are no black mayors of any major cities. And this was big stuff, this was heady stuff, and that Carl was looked upon as, in many ways, a savior. Maybe we put too much on him, but he was looked upon as a savior that a lot of people thought, oh, things will change overnight. Well, it takes a long time for some things to do change. But he. I thought. I thought he. I thought he was a. I thought he was good. I thought represented the opening of the door of the political process for blacks, and we all felt good about it.

Valerie Weaver [00:11:03] Now, what year did you return from Vietnam?

Leon Bibb [00:11:05] I came home in 1968, September '68.

Valerie Weaver [00:11:10] And Carl at that time was still mayor. Is there anything during his time as mayor that sticks out the most in your mind that he did for the city?

Leon Bibb [00:11:21] Well, by the time I came back, he'd been in office for a while. And I worked at the Plain Dealer for a short while again after I got out of the army for a short while, and then I was off to graduate school, and I left Cleveland again and went back to Bowling Green State University, this time to major in radio, television. And that's how I got into the business I'm in now, radio and television. So I just remember there were a lot of charges about where money was going, but I wasn't deeply involved as a reporter then. So I didn't know what was what, but I just knew there were a lot of. There were lot of concerns, but things were beginning to happen, and black people were beginning to get jobs and get involved, greatly involved in city hall as a result of the political process. That I remember very well.

Valerie Weaver [00:12:22] Now, during the time and right before Carl was mayor, as you said, there were a lot of changes going on around the country. We had the civil rights movement of 1964. We had the voters' rights around the country in 1965, I do believe. There were also some events happening in Cleveland, such as the burning of the Cuyahoga River, the Hough riots, the Glenville shootouts in 1968. I do believe the Hough riots were in 1966.

Leon Bibb [00:13:03] I think so, yeah.

Valerie Weaver [00:13:04] Is there anything that you know about that, how it started?

Leon Bibb [00:13:12] You hear all kinds of stories. I've heard that there was some sort of an altercation at a bar at East 79th street and Hough Avenue that sparked the Hough riots. And the police answered, and something happened. Somebody said something, and there was some shoving and pushing, and that grew, grew, grew, grew from that bar to down the block. And then things just happened. And I can't tell you any more than that because I wasn't there. But I do know that cities across America were burning. I remember when I was in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in the army in 1967, I think. We'd already had Watts in 1965, and there was Detroit, I think. And there were concerns that we might, some of us troops might be shipped to some of these cities to try to quell the disturbances. That did not happen. For me, at least, that did not happen. But there were just. Every day there was another little riot going on someplace, or a big riot going on someplace. Place. I can remember when I was at the Plain Dealer the first time in '66, there was something happening in the Glenville area. And my editor came up to me rather sheepishly because I was 21 years old. I was one of the few blacks on the staff. I was green as grass, brand new in my first job. And it was a big job for a big newspaper. I mean, I made a big jump right out of college to a big newspaper as a reporter. And he says, Leon, there seems to be something kicking off in the Glenville area. We're not certain exactly what it is, but we need somebody to go in there, a reporter, to go in there with a photographer, and just kind of see if you can get a handle on what's going on. Now, if you don't want to do this, you don't have to do this. And he kept kind of apologizing to me, asking this, you don't have to go if you don't want to go because there could be some trouble. And you are young and brand new on the job and you might have some difficulty. Do you mind going into Glenville? I said, I don't mind going into Glenville. I live in Glenville. I'll be going there anywhere tonight when I go home. And that's how I went in. And I snooped around and things were just beginning, and I saw a little bit of it. I saw a little bit, but I didn't think I saw the bulk of it, of the riots. It was beginning to happen, and once it jumped off, then the whole staff was in involved. But I had a piece of it. I have a small piece of. Piece of the reporting.

Valerie Weaver [00:16:08] Military tanks with the national.

Leon Bibb [00:16:10] Oh, yeah, yeah. There were National Guard troops that were brought in and armored personnel carriers and troopers armed.

Valerie Weaver [00:16:21] Were people afraid?

Leon Bibb [00:16:22] Oh, yeah, yeah, they were afraid. I mean, I was so busy doing that and getting ready to go get drafted in 1966. All of these things were happening in my life at one time, and people were afraid. They were worried about what was going on. I since have seen film of it, of what was going on. And sometimes I have to think about now, did I see this face to face, or did I see this on film? And sometimes I can't remember whether I was there or I've seen it so much on film. So sometimes my memory, I've seen it. I just. Did I see it when it happened or did I see it a few hours after it happened on film? So.

Valerie Weaver [00:17:13] I was talking to someone else who also served in Vietnam and lived in the Glenville area, and he said that when he came back, he felt he was safer in Vietnam.

Leon Bibb [00:17:24] I'd heard people say that. I've heard people say that. I don't know if I said that. It was when I was. When I was in Vietnam and all of the riots were going on across America. Some of us asked ourselves, what the hell's going on back home? I mean, it seems like war over there, too, and there's war over here. So, so many things were going on. I was in Vietnam when Bobby Kennedy got killed. I was in Vietnam when Martin Luther King got killed.

Valerie Weaver [00:17:55] Wow. Those are historical moments.

Leon Bibb [00:17:57] And I looked at it from that perspective, from the jungle, and said, what's going on? What the hell is going on back home? So. And when you're young and sometimes unable to process all of this information at the same time, and try to keep your head down and stay alive. At the same time. The thing. Some of it just seems surreal, like it wasn't happening. Sometimes when I look at photographs of me in the service in Vietnam, it's like it's not me. Who is that? Who is that young fellow I look at? And it's sobering to realize some of the things I did. It's sobering now, but at the time, I guess I just did them.

Valerie Weaver [00:18:49] It was a part of history and all of that. Do you think all of that really changed our country? The war, the riots at home?

Leon Bibb [00:18:58] I think so.

Valerie Weaver [00:18:59] Assassinations?

Leon Bibb [00:19:00] I think we began to look at ourselves because I've been a reporter and a soldier. I was in the war during the highest point of the war, the Tet Offensive, 1968. I was there. When the students got shot on the campus of Kent State University. The day after I was there. Because I was reporting for my college radio station from graduate school. Now I've already served in Vietnam and now I'm in graduate school. And I drove to Kent State University the day after. Cause I'm a reporter now. So I was there. And that came out of the war in Indochina. The students were protesting. And then you had the four students who were not protesting who got shot right there. Some of them were not protesting, certainly, and they got shot. So I was there. So it's kind of like wherever these events happen I always seem to be somewhere nearby. I seem to be nearby and I'm writing letters to Carl Stokes that people pull out of the archives that I haven't seen since 19. What's this? 1967.

Valerie Weaver [00:20:09] November 22, 1967. I'm sorry. This is a piece of history as well. Let's talk a little bit about what you know about Carl and what do you know about Lou Stokes? How did the country react? And Cleveland received Lou Stokes when he became the first African American to be in Congress from the state of Ohio.

Leon Bibb [00:20:34] Well, I think that was another proud moment. I mean, the Stokes brothers, they were putting together a dynasty. I kind of looked at the Stokes brothers like the Kennedy brothers. They were kind of like. They were like my Kennedys, you know. And they had. I thought they were putting together a dynasty. And I've since got to know Louis, certainly over the years. He and I get together periodically, socially and have dinner together and we worked together doing television news. And he would be the analyst, political analyst on election night, working right by my side. And I was just. I was thrilled with the idea because I'm part of that civil rights movement. I mean, when the civil rights movement is going on and you're young and you are getting educated, and now jobs are beginning to open. I mean, those first jobs, I mean, you give praise to the people who are helping open these jobs. And that's how I looked at both Louis and Carl. And then when Louis went off to Congress, that was just another proud moment, because this is where we are, is America, and they are Americans. And I'm an American, and I want a piece of this piece. And I want to be involved in the, in the struggle for equality, and I want my children to grow up and have access to all of the things that everybody else has access to. If they want to be politicians and run for Congress, I want them to have an opportunity to do that. And so that's how I looked at the successes of Louis and Carl. And, of course, over the years, Louis and I, especially Louis and I, have talked about this a great deal, and he's just a wonderful storyteller. I mean, when he tells the story that Martin Luther King was in Cleveland the night of the election of Carl, a lot of people may not know that he was in Cleveland. And they said, Doc, come on down. Carl has won. Come, I'm told. Come on downstairs and let's face the cameras. Carl has won. And, and Doctor King said, no, this is Carl's night. I don't want to take away anything from Carl. And he stayed up in the room. He stayed up in the hotel room, but he was here. Talk to Carl. Talk to Louis. Rather talk to Louis. He'll tell you that story. I've interviewed him about that. Oh, brings tears to your eyes when Louis tells that story about that Martin Luther King was in town.

Valerie Weaver [00:23:17] I had heard that Martin Luther King and Carl talked during the time of their election and, you know, working out strategy together. I did not know that he was in town. I'd heard that he had come to town to help with the voter registration. Are there any other stories that you can share that Louis has shared with you about the political climate, about Cleveland, about things that he's done, more about Martin Luther King?

Leon Bibb [00:23:47] I was. Well, if we can talk a little bit about the. This is years later, when Louis was on the, I think during the Iran-Contra situation, Louis Stokes talked to Colonel Oliver North, who was charged with a lot of different things, about exchanging guns and Iran and all of that. And Louis Stokes talked about his being an American. Louis Stokes being an American, and talked about Colonel north. You say you're an american, but you did these things, and you say, that you wear the uniform of the American military and you did this in America's name. Well, let me tell you, Colonel North, I, too, wore the uniform of this nation. And Louis did this wonderful speech in one of the hearing rooms in the nation's Congress. And when I heard it coming, I'm sitting at home, I heard it coming. I said, this is going to be good. And I leaped up and I started my videotape machine, machine recording because I wanted to record that moment. And Louis and I have talked about that. I just think that he has been one of those stellar public servants, stellar politicians, who's been involved on the cutting edge of change in America, who sat on the House assassinations committee, where they re examined the assassinations of John Kennedy that took place in this country. And Louis has just been there. And for that, I give him high praise, his brother Carl, high praise for what he did, being the first mayor, black mayor of a major American city. And that began to open doors. I mean, the next thing you know, Hatcher of Gary, Indiana, is elected, and Kenny Gibson of Newark, New Jersey, is elected. And then it began to happen as blacks were seizing political power. And when you grow up in the 1950s and the early 1960s and you're coming of age, and I love that phrase, coming of age in the 1960s, and the world is changing daily around you. I mean, when you think of the 1960, what took place in America? When you think of almost every day, something was taking place. I mean, we were going, we were launching satellites. We were going into Earth orbit with John Glenn, and we were later putting man on the moon in 1969, there was the civil rights movement. There was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There was the assassination of the president in '63, the assassination of Martin Luther King in '68, assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968. There were the riots of 1965 and '66 and '67, and then there was the war in Vietnam. I mean, the 1960s, a whole lot is happening virtually every day. And when you are coming of age into this and you are young and getting educated, and the doors are beginning to swing open because of the political pressure that's put in to get those doors open, I mean, it is sobering to reflect back. And I have not experienced a decade like the 1960s in my life. Nothing. Nothing like it.

Valerie Weaver [00:27:37] Just a time of history, a time of great advances, a time of great change. And, you know, Carl and Louis both are legends for our city.

Leon Bibb [00:27:49] Yeah.

Valerie Weaver [00:27:49] I mean, I think it's wonderful that you have a street named, you know, after you, the Stokes, Stokes Boulevard, a library, Louis Stokes library. And then we have that new courthouse?

Leon Bibb [00:28:00] Yeah, the Carl Stokes Courthouse.

Valerie Weaver [00:28:02] Carl Stokes Courthouse.

Leon Bibb [00:28:03] And the Louise Stokes post office on Warrensville Center Road in Shaker Heights, named after their mother, the Louise Stokes. I kid Louis. I says, you know, I look at the statue of Moses Cleaveland, for whom the city is named, and I says, Moses, you may be in trouble. We may be changing the town to Stokesville. [laughs]

Valerie Weaver [00:28:27] That is true. That would be a good thing. Did you have a chance to ever meet their mom?

Leon Bibb [00:28:32] No, I never met her. I never met her.

Valerie Weaver [00:28:37] So if you could talk to today's young people coming of age, what would you say to them now about, you know, are the doors that have been opened for them and the struggles that have taken place for them to be where they are now? Is there anything that you would like them to know about Stokes brothers, or their legend?

Leon Bibb [00:29:02] I think that young people have to, as did Carl and Louis Stokes and millions of others, I think young people have to seize the moment. They have to go out. They have a responsibility to themselves to stay in school and get educated and do the right thing. This is their country. I'm not leaving. I'm not going back to anywhere. I've never been there. This is where I was born, and this is where I'm going to be. And I want our young people to seize the moment and get educated and do the right thing and be aware of the political power that people hold. Harry Truman, when he left office, I'm told, in 1952, when Eisenhower came in and Harry Truman left, he went to Union Station with his wife Bess to get on the train to go back to their beloved Independence, Missouri. And when he walked into the train station, he was surprised there were so many reporters and supporters there to see him. And the reporters said, how do you feel, Mister Truman? Mister President, you are leaving office. You are leaving the highest post in this land. How does it feel to be stepping down? And Harry Truman said, I'm told in so many words, that's where you got it wrong, boys. I'm not leaving the highest post in the land. I've just been promoted up. I'm among the people now. You see, it's the people who run this country, not the president, not the Congress, but the people who are in charge. I'm back with the people. Now I'm in charge. That is how I view America. It is we the people, and I take that to my heart. And that is a story that I want all people to understand. If you don't vote, don't complain to me. I voted from the jungles of Vietnam for the candidate of my choice. Now, it's hard to vote absentee from Vietnam. I'm telling you, it's very hard because it took six days for the mail to go each way. This is after you ask for the ballot, then they send you the application for the ballot and then you send that back. And then they send you the ballot and then you send it back. It takes a month just to get the vote counted. But I wanted my vote counted. And I have not missed a general election since I turned voting age because I'm going to get into that polling place and I want young people to understand that a whole lot of people did a lot of living and dying for that vote. And every time I go to vote, I always say I do this in the name of my ancestors, those who paved the way for me to have this. And I make it a spiritual thing. And so that is what I would tell young people, be the best you can be. Don't forget to vote. I know you've got rights that you all, everybody wants their rights, okay? And I want mine too. But I also know there are responsibilities that go with it and that's one of them. Do the best you can and go out and achieve. And maybe when you are laid to rest, I hope many decades later, somebody will say, now that was a man, now that was a woman. And if they can say that, then you have lived your life worthwhile.

Valerie Weaver [00:33:13] That's good. I'm going to quote you when I go back to school this fall and tell some of the same stories.

Leon Bibb [00:33:20] I didn't mean to give a speech, but I'm passionate about it.

Valerie Weaver [00:33:24] Yeah, yeah, that's wonderful and I appreciate that. Do you ever see Louis?

Leon Bibb [00:33:30] I mean, yeah, I see Louis. We worked together on the last election night, on primary. On election night he came over to channel five and he's our political analyst and we sit side by side and we talk about, you know, I kind of give the, give the vote tally how it's looking, how it's going. And then I asked Louis, well, Congressman, how does this look to you now? What's really going on here? What's the inside? Where are these votes coming from? And what do you think the public is saying when we see this groundswell of votes for this particular candidate or this particular issue? So I run into them all the time. I run into them all the time. We work together and always good.

Valerie Weaver [00:34:15] How long have you been working for Channel Five?

Leon Bibb [00:34:18] I've been with Channel Five for eleven and I was with Channel Three for 16 before that.

Valerie Weaver [00:34:25] Were you the first, were you an anchor person or a reporter when you first started for Channel Three?

Leon Bibb [00:34:30] I came in as the weekend anchorman. When I started Channel Three in 1979, I had worked in Columbus for six and a half years at the NBC station down there where I was the weekend anchorman and then became the Monday through Friday primary time anchor man. And that was quite a job for me. In 1977, when I became the primary anchorman at the NBC station in Columbus, that was the first prime time anchorman Monday through Friday in the state of Ohio, when I got that job and got promoted to that job. And I'm much appreciative to Channel Four, for taking a chance on a young kid, and that worked out well. And so I've been doing television news every day since 1971.

Valerie Weaver [00:35:28] Were you one of the first African Americans to be on nightly news every day?

Leon Bibb [00:35:33] Yeah, in the state of Ohio I was, and there were a few, maybe in some other cities, you know, a few here and there. But I'd like to think that we opened up some doors.

Valerie Weaver [00:35:44] What about Cleveland? NBC and Cleveland?

Leon Bibb [00:35:46] When I came to Cleveland and I came here to do weekends, it was bigger city from Columbus, better pay from Columbus. And even though I was doing weekends, I did weekends for seven years. And then in the mid eighties, when I got promoted to prime time at Channel Three, six o'clock and eleven o'clock, I became the second black anchorman, prime time, in the state of Ohio. Between my job in Columbus in '77 to '79 and 1986, there was nobody doing what I was doing, so I became the second. Just me.

Valerie Weaver [00:36:27] Was it a man? The other one? Who was the other person?

Leon Bibb [00:36:31] There was nobody. It was just me. Just me. I mean, there were people doing the noon show and the morning show, but not the central newscast of record. 6:00 at prime time. Yeah, prime time. Well, congratulations, but television is one of those things. I mean, you take the accolades for whatever, being a first or whatever, but I just want to do what I do, and you're only as good as what you did today. What I did yesterday is history. It's gone. Nobody cares. It's over with. I got to go to work today and I got to do it again today. And that's how I look at it. And it's consistency. I mean, I end up interviewing half the people in this town, certainly the newsmakers, many of them I've interviewed the famous and the infamous. I mean, people who are praised and people who are ridiculed and ridden out of town and jailed. In fact, in 1978, when I was in Columbus, I flew down to Knoxville, Tennessee, because I had an opportunity to interview James Earl Ray, convicted assassin of Martin Luther King.

Valerie Weaver [00:37:50] You're kidding.

Leon Bibb [00:37:51] I did it.

Valerie Weaver [00:37:52] You met this man?

Leon Bibb [00:37:53] I met him.

Valerie Weaver [00:37:54] He went into his cell.

Leon Bibb [00:37:55] Yeah, I went into prison. Yeah.

Valerie Weaver [00:37:57] And talked to him eye to eye.

Leon Bibb [00:37:59] Just like you and I are doing right now.

Valerie Weaver [00:38:01] Wow. What was that like? What was that like?

Leon Bibb [00:38:04] Well, it was. It was interesting. I mean, he. He talked. I mean, we talked. He knew I was coming. And he had said yes to the interview. I mean, why he'd said yes, I don't know. Nobody else could ever get these interviews, at least local. I mean, there had been some network people who talked to him, but he really didn't want to talk to anybody local. But he talked to me. I knew somebody who got me in, is what happened. Somebody who was close to him. And we got in and we sat down and he walked in. And we were set up. Had my cameraman set up. Bruce Johansen was on camera that day. And Bruce and I flew down there and the door opened and the guards came in, and James Earl Ray came in. He says, are you the man who's going to interview me? I says, yes. I says, I'm Leon Bibb. He says, hi, Leon. I'm James Earl Ray. [laughs]

Valerie Weaver [00:38:54] What did he have to say?

Leon Bibb [00:38:57] What did he say? He said he didn't do it. Of course. I mean, he said he didn't kill Doctor King. He said he didn't know who did it. Said he was involved in some gun running with some people. There was a man named Raul. He said that was his contact at gun running, but he didn't have anything to do with this killing.

Valerie Weaver [00:39:18] He said, what did you do with the interview?

Leon Bibb [00:39:20] We aired it on the NBC station in Columbus. I was working at it at the time. We had a half hour special. I was with the pornographer Larry Flynt at the time. It was Flynt who knew James Earl Ray, who was trying to get him a new trial. And Flynt came to me and said, I'd like for you to interview him, and I can get you in. Well, I said, okay, I can do this. Now, not that I was trying to get anybody a new trial. This had nothing at all. I'm just interested in the relationship between the pornographer of Hustler magazine, Larry Flynt, and James Earl Ray. And so we go down there together and we kind of interview him together. And two weeks later in Georgia, Larry Flynt is shot and paralyzed. And I was with him two weeks before in Tennessee.

Valerie Weaver [00:40:18] Amazing.

Leon Bibb [00:40:19] And I did a documentary on the relationship of these two men and, because Flynt lived in Columbus at the time and we used to see him all the time. And I saw him a couple of years ago here in Cleveland and I said, you remember me? Oh, yeah, Leon. Yeah, we went to see James Earl Ray. I remember that. And I did a report on it and I wasn't trying to get anybody a new trial, nothing like that at all. I'm simply interviewing the man. And so you get a chance to interview the great and the hated, the famous and the infamous. Been to the White House, interviewed George Bush, the first George Bush, the father in the White House, had lunch in the White House, had a chance to interview him. Had a chance to fly with the Air Force Thunderbirds upside down 550 miles an hour, pulling six g's, sitting in the backseat of a Thunderbird jet doing an interview. Been to hurricanes, Hurricane Gloria in the mid 1980s down in North Carolina, been to floods, interviewed people who've come through. Potentates, kings.

Valerie Weaver [00:41:31] Amazing. I wonder if you're going to write your biography.

Leon Bibb [00:41:33] I don't know when I get time. I've always got a newscast. I got to do that. I'm always writing. And I said, one day I'm going to sit down and put my thoughts.

Valerie Weaver [00:41:43] Did you. Carl left Cleveland as mayor, and when he left Cleveland, he moved to New York.

Leon Bibb [00:41:51] New York City.

Valerie Weaver [00:41:53] Started working for the NBC station.

Leon Bibb [00:41:55] Yeah, WNBC.

Valerie Weaver [00:41:56] Did you oversee Carl on the news?

Leon Bibb [00:41:58] Yeah, I did. I did. When I go to New York, I would look him up and I would see tapes of him and things. But I thought he did an okay job. He did a fine job.

Valerie Weaver [00:42:09] So he was better as mayor.

Leon Bibb [00:42:12] I liked him as mayor. I liked him as mayor and. But I thought he'd won an Emmy. I know he'd won an Emmy doing some things, but he did a very credible job as a newscaster. I think his heart was still in politics, though. See, I think his heart was still in politics. And I think that's where, you know, you go, my heart is in news. I have no interest in running for political office. Absolutely none at all. I mean, that's good for those who want to do that. I don't want to do that. But I thought he did a fine job as a newscaster and I thought he did a fine job as mayor and fine job as legislator and fine job as an ambassador to the Seychelles Islands toward the end of his career.

Valerie Weaver [00:42:58] Do you have any last things that you would like to say about Carl or Louis Stokes? You say it quite a bit.

Leon Bibb [00:43:08] They are. Louis is and Carl was strong-minded men. They stand on history. They always refer to their growing up in Cleveland, how they were raised, the parenting they had. And I think that speaks a lot to, to these men. I think there are a lot of kids who may be in impoverished areas because the Stokes brothers, I think they grew up in an impoverished area at the time of their youth. There are a lot of kids in impoverished areas, and all these kids need is guidance, somebody to help set their compass heading and guide them in the right direction. And I think these kids can achieve, too. I think that is their story. That is their story. Somebody took these young fellows and guided them. Louis, I was with Louis the other day at the Western Reserve Historical Society when he got his suitcase that he had lost on the airplane that somebody had lost, and they found it, and it had his memorabilia in it. And you should have seen the gleam in his eye as he held the trumpet that he had, that he learned to play when he was twelve years old, and he held a congressional medal that the Congress gave him. And then he pulled out some Boy Scout memorabilia and he talked about when he was a Boy Scout. Well, that says something. See, I was a scout, too. That says, and Mike White, the former mayor of Cleveland, he and I were in the same Boy Scout troop. What's that to, that says something about childhood building on strong foundations, and those things don't leave you. That is my message to people. Raise children right, and they will not sway away. They will not get off the path if you do it right. And I think the Stokes brothers were raised right. And although they may not have had any money, this is not about money. This is about parenting, and this is about being supportive of things, of quality things in their lives. And I think they had that. And generally speaking, I say, you show me a kid that's going in the right direction, I'll show you, God willing, an adult going in the right direction when that kid grows up. And I think that is what I have learned just from my years of life. And I think that's what the Stokes brothers brought. And they brought a dedication, and they brought a fighting spirit, and they brought an ability to communicate and use language and express themselves. And if you got those things, you can make it happen. They did and still do.

Valerie Weaver [00:46:05] Yes, they do. Leon, excuse me. Thank you very much for your time. I really do appreciate it. I do believe this is the end of our interview. Anything you want to, just add to the good of the cause?

Leon Bibb [00:46:22] I like the historical society, the Western Reserve Historical Society. I like it because as I have told people over there before that history is not old and dusty. History is just a second away. This is history right now, what we're doing. I came in this room an hour ago. That's history. But history is connected to the future and the future. And the present is connected to the future. So you got the past, the present and the future. They're all connected. What happened back then has impact right now. And what's happening right now has impact on the future. So we're all really linked together. Past, present, future. And the Western Reserve Historical Society realizes that. And that's why we give them praise too.

Valerie Weaver [00:47:16] Well, thank you. Thank you very much.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.