A Son’s Tribute To Gil Noble

He told me on many occasions that he was treated like the plague at work and that the only people that would talk and congratulate him on a regular basis were the maintenance and security employees who were Black.

[From A Son To A Father. Gil Noble died on April 5, 2012]

I would like to take this time to celebrate the extraordinary life of my father Gil Noble — a beautiful African man whose blood traveled from Africa through Jamaica to Harlem.

He is the son of Gilbert and Iris Noble and brother to Keith Noble, husband to Norma Jean Noble and father to me, Lisa, Lynn, Leslie, Jennifer and grandfather to eight grandchildren.

My father grew up in Harlem, a place he loved so passionately. As a young man he was inspired by great jazz musicians like Errol Garner, Oscar Peterson, and Art Tatum. He decided to pursue a career in music taking up piano with his best friend Jackie McLean an alto saxophonist.

My father told many stories of growing up in Harlem and his friendship with Jackie. They used to tour all the local jazz clubs to see their favorite artists perform. The most noteworthy story he shared was Jackie McLean saved his life. One day Jackie took him into a shooting gallery and rolled up his sleeves to shoot up. He was shocked because he didn’t know at the time that Jackie was shooting drugs. He hid this part of his life from my father. Later he revealed the track marks, sores on his arm, and said “Drugs was the devil! Stay away from it and never do it”. This experience scared him to death and as a result he stayed away from drugs.

Jackie later got off drugs and became a great man, a great musician and made a huge contribution to music all over the world. Along with Jackie’s many accomplishments, he became the head of the music department at a university in Connecticut and later established the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz. Jackie told me on one occasion that because of my father’s influence on him that he required all of his students to study African history before they could get into the music. My father and Jackie continually fed off of each other throughout their lifetime and remained close friends. Jackie, thank you. You were a positive influence on my father and you made a contribution to music and the world.

As a young man my father also developed an interest in art and began painting and sculpting on a regular basis to develop his skill. The most significant meeting in his life happened when he met an incredible woman who later became my mother. My father always told me that he knew right away that my mother was the one for him. Marrying her was the best move he ever made, he said, and “I concur.”

At the time my father was working two jobs and playing with his jazz trio, and also doing a little modeling on the side. An American fashion company hired my father to go on a fashion tour which would travel throughout Europe. They were also looking for more women to join the tour and my father recommended that my mother go in and meet with them. She did and they hired her as well.

My parents took a leave of absence from their jobs to go on this fashion tour.  During one of their stops in Russia, my father proposed and they decided to get married there. Their wedding made The New York Times and I was conceived during their honeymoon. They quit their jobs and traveled throughout Europe.

Upon returning to Harlem, my mother and father hit the ground running. They didn’t have jobs and I was on the way. My mother got a job as a nurse. My father got a job at a bank during the day and was hired by Bill McCreary at WLIB radio in Harlem as an announcer and he also reported the news. This was a temporary position but in short time Mr. McCreary saw something unique in my father and gave him a full time position.

At the time, Harlem was perculating with activity. Jazz was happening and the civil rights movement was on the way. Malcolm X and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. were on the scene as were some of the greatest musicians whoever walked the planet.

My father was listening very carefully to what was being discussed in the community. He told me a story that had a tremendous effect on him.  Muhammad Ali had just won the heavyweight championship and was in Harlem at a restaurant with a swarm of mainstream media reporters outside trying to get an interview with him. Bill McCreary sent my father to cover the story and when my father arrived, he was standing behind a huge media presence and one of the only Black faces in the crowd.

Muhammad Ali looked outside and waved to my father who he did not know at the time to come inside the restaurant. All the reporters outside were looking at my father like— who the hell is this?! When my father got inside, he was so excited he immediately thanked Muhammad Ali for the opportunity to meet him and interview him. Ali said, “Don’t worry about it brother, just make sure you pass on the favor.”

The way Ali treated my father affected him deeply. For someone in their early twenties, at the height of fame and fortune to think that way was extremely impressive. He said to me “You know who taught him that? [Malcolm].”  My father conveyed to me that Muhammad Ali taught him not to be afraid of being Black. He was one of my father’s greatest heroes. Thank you Bill McCreary– for giving my father a break in his career and the opportunity to blossom into the person he became.

As time moved on, things were really heating up in the Civil Rights Movement. Riots broke out in Newark, Blacks had been shut off by a National Guard barricade while White city officials and journalists stood at the perimeter. All the networks very quickly decided that they had to hire Black reporters to be able to cover the story. My father found out ABC was auditioning for a TV reporter position. On his second assignment, my father was called to cover the violence in Newark. He was able to get across the barricade and get the story from the Black community’s prospective. As a result of his reports he was hired as a reporter and the rest is history.

Shortly after being hired at ABC, my father was chosen to anchor the weekend newscast and to co-host a weekly public affairs program called “Like It Is” with Robert Hooks, followed by Geraldo Rivera, and eventually produced and hosted by him. One of the biggest assets my father had while producing and hosting “Like It Is” was his friendship and partnership with Elombe Brath who was a reservoir of information and contacts and who has always been a giant warrior in the struggle for the liberation of our people. Elombe was responsible for bringing many important stories to “Like It Is” and they remained close friends over the years. I want to thank Elombe Brath for all that he’s done for Black people and I want to send prayers to him and his family during this very difficult time as he has also battled ailment. He is truly a great man.

Over time, my father’s love and respect for Malcolm X grew deeply along with his love for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Adam Clayton Powell and many of our soldiers in the struggle for justice. His mission in life became crystal clear. He wanted to document the historical achievements of the African community, to change false values, correct historical errors, and cure the poison of prejudice in the minds of Black and White people. He saw producing documentaries as one of the vehicles to do that.

Over the years my father produced the largest collection of programs and documentaries on the African-American experience and worked tirelessly to correct negative media representations of African-Americans and to promote ethics and objectivity in journalism.

My father always worked extremely hard to be the best in his field of work and I definitely think he achieved that. His ability to do the extensive research for whatever story and documentary he was working on was unmatched. He would spend endless hours digging up film footage and historical facts to give the viewers a true and accurate story, and that’s what real journalism is supposed to be about. My father was an excellent journalist and could have turned his back on the Black community and just focused on promoting his own career like so many other reporters who were let into the upper floors of corporate journalism. But that was never an option for my father; he always had a profound and infectious love for Black people and never backed down from a fight to tell our story.

This was a very lonely journey at times for my father. He told me on many occasions that he was treated like the plague at work and that the only people that would talk and congratulate him on a regular basis were the maintenance and security employees who were Black. Most of the other Black and White employees didn’t want to been seen being too friendly with my father because of what he stood for. I can’t imagine what it was like fighting for your people every day and going to work and nobody wanted to talk to you or congratulate you.

When I attended Lincoln University my father was invited to speak. When he arrived he took me out to dinner and told me that someone had called his office, told him that they knew where he was going, and planned to blow the place up. My father said that he thought about this for a long time but that he didn’t feel that it was a credible threat and didn’t want to cancel on my school. He came anyway. I know this happened frequently and he never told my family.

Many times when I was young, people would yell out to him and ask to speak to him as we were walking down the street but before he would stop to talk to them; he would tell me to go across the street and wait for him for my protection. This life never deterred my father. He told me if he wasn’t being attacked like he was, he wasn’t doing his job correctly. My father was truly a freedom fighter and he never let anyone or any situation steer him off course.

As a young boy my father brought me to the “Like It Is” set on a regular basis and I remember how fortunate I was to meet Stokley Carmichael, Miriam Makeba, H. Rap Brown, and many more of our heroes. I remember going to Cherry Hill New Jersey to visit Muhammad Ali and his wife and also visiting his training camp in Pennsylvania before he fought Joe Frazier and George Foreman. Ali was like a god to my father and I and it was truly an honor to be in his presence.

I can also remember so clearly spending weekends at Minister Louis Farrakhan’s house when he lived in New Rochelle, New York, visiting his two sons Mustafa and Joshua and the rest of the family. I remember getting up in the morning and going to the bathroom and seeing Minister Farrakhan in his bathrobe playing the violin so beautifully. I was shocked because I had no idea he played the violin and that he played so well. We also took many trips to hear Minister Farrakhan speak. Thank you Minister Farrakhan for all you have done on behalf of the African community around the world and for your support and friendship to my father.

He admired and respected you and always said you were one of the sharpest knives in the drawer. I will always cherish those memories with you and your family.

I also recall the time my father took my family to visit Michael Manley at his home in Kingston, Jamaica and how fortunate we were to spend a whole day with him. Mr. Manley and my father were good friends. They admired and respected each other and were partners in the struggle for the liberation of our people.

I will always cherish the many visits to John Henrik Clarke’s brownstone in Harlem and going into his basement which was converted into a library. It was the largest collection of books I had ever seen in someone’s home and my father used to sit there with Mr. Clark for hours discussing African history and Black people’s condition here in this country.

The same would happen when we visited Dr. Ben-Jochannan at his home and my father also spent a lot of time with Dr. Leonard Jefferies diagnosing the African people’s condition around the world. My father admired and respected these men and was like a sponge absorbing and sharing all the information he could when he was with them.

My father taught me many things growing up. I can clearly remember one of the first lessons he taught me. It happened when I was a kid. We were at Jones beach one day and I saw a crab running along the sand and I picked it up and tore the shell off of its body. My father scolded me and asked me to imagine how it would feel like to have someone tear the skin off of my body. What he said affected me so deeply.

He taught me to respect all forms of life and I still carry that with me today. I also recall coming home from New York one day complaining to my father about a young Black man begging me for money and how I felt that he should have been able to get a job. My father sat me down and explained to me that I had no idea what might have happened in this young man’s life to cause him to have to beg. He told me that there are many side effects that come from the treatment of our people over a long period of time and that I should always look very deeply to find the real answers in life.

He taught me to be proud of my African blood, to be proud of where I came from and never to buy into the European standard of beauty that’s shoved down all of our throats in this country and that being Black in all its different dimensions is beautiful.
When I reflect on my father and his life, I see a beautiful rainbow. He had so many different dimensions to him and was talented in so many different areas. On many occasions I told my father I knew why God gave him so many gifts. It was because he knew my father would never misuse or abuse them in any way and would always use his gifts in positive way.

In all my life I never heard my father use a curse word and he never came home yelling and complaining about how he was being treated at work. He kept his anger to himself and just continued to fight for justice for our people. He also sculpted and painted so beautifully and my parent’s house is full of his exquisite paintings and sculptures.

He played the piano so beautifully and I used to love to listen to him practicing at home. He also loved working with his hands and one day I came home to visit my parents and I noticed these beautiful wooden covers over all the radiators in the house. I asked my mother where she bought them and she told me that my father had made them. I was blown away because there was so much detail in how the covers were made. It looked like she had brought them right out of an expensive store.

Anything around the house that needed to be fixed, my father would always try and fix it before he would call a professional. He also loved working in the garage fixing many different things. I think he always felt closer to his father when he did that because his father was a mechanic and had his own business and always used his hands. My father had an unusual laser focus. It always seemed as if he was able to do anything he put his mind to and did it well.

I want to thank my mother for being such an extraordinary wife and mother. It is because of my mother’s love and support and the way that she took care of home base that freed up my father to be able to accomplish so much with his life. My mother is a beautiful strong Black woman and deserves a lot of credit for everything she did on behalf of my father and our family. Everyone needs to know that standing with every great man is a great woman.

When I ask myself why my father was taken away from us after working and fighting so hard and so long, I have to remind myself that Malcolm and Martin never saw forty, Trayvon Martin will never see eighteen and I remember hearing Minister Farrakhan say in a speech that he had no idea who his father was as a person and that he had never even heard the sound of his voice. My father was a freedom fighter for most of his adult life and he made it all the way to 80. That’s a blessing and we’re all very lucky we had Gil Noble that long and that he left us a legacy of work generations to come will continue to benefit from.
I want to thank all of my father’s friends, supporters, and frequent guests on “Like It Is”, Betty Dobson, Gary Byrd, and the CEMOTAP organization, Adelaide L. Sanford, Councilman Charles Baron, Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, Dr. Joy Degruy, Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Herb Boyd, Bill Cosby, Harry Belafonte, Sikhulu Shange, Al Sharpton, and so many more. Thank you for your friendship to my father and your loyal support of “Like It Is” over so many years.

He could never have made it without the support of the Black community. My father always said “You can’t go anywhere in the world where Black People are in control of the economy where they live and we need to organize and plan a way to change that. It’s going to take a collective effort from all of our people”.
I know that my father is up in heaven now and as soon as he passed through those pearly gates his father Gilbert, Malcolm, Martin, Adam, Paul Robeson, and all his heroes, were there to greet him and pat him on the back and tell him, “Job well done Gil, you tried.”

He’s probably up there right now having a meeting with all of them.

Thank you dad for all your sacrifice, hard work on behalf of your family, and African people around the world. Thank you for being such a great example of what being a man is all about.

I will love you and honor you forever.

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