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Honoring two heroes in different ways

Bill Ritter's daily take on the news.

April 13, 2012 1:03:41 PM PDT
The images are simply too powerful to not somehow compare.

Two events at the same time this morning: The funeral of WABC-TV veteran Gil Noble, who was a groundbreaking reporter and anchor, and the news conference of Newark Mayor Cory Booker, whose heroics last night saved his neighbors from their burning buildings.

At Gil's wake last night, a packed Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem heard the other groundbreaking black journalists tell stories about Gil and the times back then. The 1960s when blacks not only didn't have a seat at the table, most didn't have a seat of any kind.

The eulogies were filled with the rhetoric and sentiments of the times back when the struggle for civil rights and equal opportunity were the defining issues for a generation of African Americans.

And Gil's appearance on television news and the stories he fought for and the interviews he landed made him a hero to a huge segment of New York. He was, for them and for all of us a "first."

And at the wake last night, Gil's contemporaries ? the other "firsts" got up and filled the church with their stories. They were fighters, these men and women, for a seat, and a seat at the table. But it was more than that they also fought for the right to tell their own stories, and not have them told or reported by others.

That's another reason Gil was so respected. His weekly show with a 40 year run, had a title that was a mantra of the times, "Like It Is."

And those who cut their teeth and made their bones alongside him those who spoke last night will always embrace huge chunks of the tenor of those times.

Times have changed. There's no question about that. But there's still a long way to go: Blacks today still lag behind the rest of society in so many crucial measurements. Unemployment is higher, they represent a disproportionate percentage of those incarcerated, and African Americans are far more likely to not finish high school than other ethnic minorities.

So that's the backdrop for why so many of the speakers at Gil's wake and funeral talk in terms of "the Man."

And it's why the heroics of Cory Booker provide a fascinating contrast today.

Because the African American chief executive of New Jersey's largest city ? and the second largest city in the tri-state is "the Man."

The folks we interviewed today about Booker coming home and seeing his neighbor's house on fire and running in despite the pleas of his security detail not to ? well, that's how they described the Mayor. As "the Man."

He's also "the Man" in the power sense with the meaning that civil rights workers and activists would describe elected officials back in the day.

It's hard, despite all the problems that still plague black Americans, to not also make note of how times have changed for the better.

Tonight at 11, we'll deal with both men the farewell to our friend Gil Noble, and the bravery of Cory Booker, who rescued his neighbors and, in the process, was burned and suffered smoke inhalation.

"I felt fear," Booker said today, his right hand bandaged. "I really didn't think we were going to get out of there."

He's the man. Big time.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Meteorologist Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers with the night's sports, including highlights from the Yankees' home opener. I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER

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