He's more than just an affable anchor. WJZ's Vic Carter is also a writer and activist who has helped lead the charge to erect the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in D.C. Here, he talks about his new book, what he's learned on the job, and the importance of keeping the civil rights conversation alive.
Where did you go to school?
Morehead State University, Morehead KY
What book or film most changed your life?
The Bible. I admire those who say they have read it from cover to cover. It is on my list—but I do spend time with various passages.
Who is your favorite Baltimorean, living or dead?
Former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. I had the pleasure of meeting him when he delivered the commencement address at the University of Virginia in the late '70s.
What is the best advice you ever got?
It came from Mal Goode who was the first African-American network news correspondent. He was telling me the challenges of being in this highly competitive and sometimes subjective industry where your every move—what you say, what you wear—is analyzed. His advice: "Never let them break your will." In other words don't let anything keep you from your course—stay focused and firm.
What is the biggest mistake you've ever made?
Sometimes not believing in myself, not following my instincts—and underestimating my ability to make a difference.
What's the bravest thing you've ever done?
On a hot Saturday afternoon, I was working in Atlanta and there was a fire call at the William Borders Towers for the elderly. My photographer and I happened to be blocks away and drove to the scene. When we got there we saw people hanging out of their windows. While my photographer got his gear, I ran inside up several flights of stairs and began evacuating people down the staircase. When help got there, I returned to covering the story.
What is the greatest problem facing Baltimore today?
An incredible gap between the "haves" and the "have nots." Baltimore, while charitable and giving, still has incredible poverty and a pervasive malaise among many who believe that their lives will never be better.
When were you most tempted to leave Baltimore?
Let's see . . . blizzard of 1996 and blizzard of 2010
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
Well, Sean Connery is the wrong race and James Earl Jones is a little my senior, so I am at a loss.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I collect art and on occasion enjoy a hot stone massage.
If you could write Baltimore's motto, what would it be?
"We have what it takes to be a great city—let's make it happen"
You replaced a legend, Al Sanders. Was that tough for you?
Clarification, I succeeded Al. From all that I have learned, no one could replace him. It was actually more difficult than I imagined. I was not prepared for the number of times I would be compared to someone I never met and whose work I never saw. What I had to project was that I am not him. His loss was tragic but all I had to give was me and my experiences and my expertise and energy. As a result I chose to never view Al's work. Instead I tried to focus on our product and how to make it better. I sought to add new things to the newscast that were the standard in other markets... Most of all I tried to get out of the anchor chair on TV and take the newscast and the viewers to big stories no matter where they were. I think of all the anchors in Baltimore, I have originated our newscasts from more places than anyone. Among them—Havana, Cuba, The Vatican, The White House, The U.S. Capitol, The Pentagon, Miami, FL, the middle of 695 when a truck struck an overpass, Bethesda, MD following Elian Gonzales, the trials of Ray Lewis and Jamal Lewis in Atlanta, and the Sniper trials and subsequent execution in Virginia Beach and Virginia's Death Row.
What have you learned about Baltimore in your 15 years on the job?
Baltimore is home to some incredible people, not just those whose names we hear and know. There are people here of incredible strength and endurance who live in some tough neighborhoods, but somehow they manage to make it to on church on Sunday. They protect and love their communities. They raise their children and children who don't belong to them. They are proud of their city and they want the people around them to do better and to be better. They come in a rainbow of colors and from a myriad of countries, and ethnicities, and religions. It is a pity their voices are not always heard and their faces are not always seen. But they are there, and they have been there, and they will be there—quietly making Baltimore more livable and more enjoyable for themselves and their families.
What have you learned about yourself?
I have learned that I love the job of being an anchor, but I like the notoriety much less. People many times notice when I walk into a room —which takes away my chance to be an observer. What I have also learned is that I can use my so-called celebrity for good and to help others, which I often do, many times a week. I don't ask for the best table in a restaurant – but I will use my name to ask you to help others and causes that are worthy.
Biggest on-air flub?
Trying to tell viewers about a trip I took to south Georgia where they were selling "boiled peanuts" - my co-workers swear that I said "bald penis"—which caused everyone to burst into laughter.
Favorite story you ever covered?
My favorite stories are those where I think we have offered an insight or information on an issue or a situation that leaves the viewers informed, or motivated, or simply captivated. As a result I like the stories where I am on top of things. I would have to say the most exhilarating story was our coverage of the death of Pope John Paul II. One moment I was speaking at a conference in Orlando, FL , the next I was weaving through the traffic and millions of people at the Vatican. CBS had negotiated coverage space for major events at The Vatican years before Pope John Paul's passing. So as a CBS Station, we were granted unprecedented access. We originated our broadcasts from the roof of a convent within the walls of Vatican City. Everyone else was some distance away.
Time to dish: Tell us a secret about Denise Koch!
She is perpetually in motion. She hums, taps, stomps, and likes to sing Beyonce songs. But she doesn't know all the lyrics, so she sings the ones she knows over and over and over again.
You just wrote a book about your mentor, From Yonder to Here: A Memoir of Dr. Ozell Sutton. How did you meet Dr. Sutton?
I met him while covering a horrible story in Greensboro, NC when five members of a Communist Worker's Party were murdered before television cameras. Dr. Sutton was dispatched there by the Department of Justice to keep tensions calm. The week of the trial, I was beaten by a sheriff's deputy who was ordered to clear the hallway of the courthouse. Dr. Sutton was there. We are also both members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.—the fraternity of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Jesse Owens, and Andrew Young.
Why did you write the book?
I escorted Dr. Sutton to the White House for the signing of the extension of the Voting Rights Act in 2006. I was with him and many of the icons of the civil rights movement. And I was impressed with the interactions of all these people who had endured so much for so many. That afternoon Ozell asked me to write his story . . . it took me a millisecond to say yes.
Dr. Sutton was one of many unsung figures in the civil rights movement, right?
Yes. Andrew Young describes Ozell as having "walked the bloody, muddy roads of our southland without fear or favor." He was a divine bridge between the U.S. Government and The Movement. Benjamin Hooks told me, "He has been on the front lines of The civil rights movement since day one." Ozell conducted voter registration in some places where other African Americans were afraid to go. He would be there all alone and often attacked for his efforts.
Is the civil rights movement something your parents talked to you about a lot?
Actually they never talked the movement, but they did talk about the effects. Schools integrated when I entered the second grade. I experienced the tensions. I remember when Dr. King was killed – I didn't really know much about the man – but I saw my parents cry. Fast forward to several years ago – and I became a writer of several speeches for Coretta Scott King and worked with members of her family while building a memorial to Dr. King in Washington DC. I was involved in helping to move the project from Congressional approval to groundbreaking.
And it's important to keep the conversation going, right?
Far too many people are lulled into the comfort of thinking that things are different – and they are – but race relations is far from perfect. It is an integral part of our history – of which only a fraction has been told.
You are quoted as saying that Dr. Sutton still gives you advice to this day. Give us an example of his wisdom.
Dr. Sutton continually reminds me to stay the course – to never be deterred from my goals and to temper the advice that others give you with common sense and your own instincts. On his advice – I always look people in the eye – then you can tell if they are truthful.
It says on WJZ. com that your secret talent is cooking. What's your specialty in the kitchen?
Honestly, I like to cook a variety of things. But I can make most anything—from a soufflé or a frittata to a sabayon or an African ground nut stew. Baking—not so much.
Any more writing in your future? Maybe a novel?
I actually have an outline for a novel but currently I am writing the life story of Ralph Boston. He won the gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome and subsequently won silver and a bronze. He broke Jesse Owens Olympic and world record and was a mentor to Wilma Rudolph.