Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
Benjamin Hooks - Baptist minister, former judge. Federal Communications Commissioner, new man at the helm of the NAACP but mostly Memphis preacher - spoke from the stage of the American Film Institute Theater Thursday night after a preview of a television documentary on the black church.
"I've seen the film before, I like it," he told the television executives, film producers, politicians and ministers in the audience. "And let me say that when I go to the NAACP I will not publicize any white corporation that does not work with the black community. Let the church say 'Amen.'"
And the "Amen" were heard. And some laughter because "This Far By Faith" is a film that in underwritten by the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. and it had outlined such traditions of African religions as the call and shout that have survived into contemporary religion.
Then Hooks went on, quoting early 20th-century civil rights activist and diplomat James Weldon Johnson whose poetry and its religious themes are explored in the film. A few rows back, when it seemed like Hooks was truly getting the spirit, Fred Thomas, WRC newsman and a preacher himself, felt, as he commented later, that he "should use the old deacon's technique and call out 'come on home, doc.'"
It would have been a fitting gesture because "Faith," which will be shown over the Public Broadcasting System on Tuesday, emphasizes the communications role the black church and preacher have played from African soil to Southern plantations to urban neighborhoods.
"Son, may I hold your arm? We like people like you that keep the good word going," the Rev. Annie Woodridge, and aide to D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntroy, said to actor Brock Peters, who with his resonant voice had added a necessary solemnity to the narration of the hour-long film. Fauntroy, who had been announced as host of Thursday night's preview and reception at the Kennedy Center, did not attend because of illness.
Peters, standing with his wife, DiDi, and a bevy of AT&T officials, looked preoccupied and said he didn't think one TV documentary "was enough." He explained, "The subject of the black church requires much more exploration. It sort of comes off but I know what could have been."
Peters' misgiving aside, other people involved in producing the film thought the show worked well - especially Bryon Lewis, president of UniWorld Group, the country's largest full-service black advertising agency, and the person who had proposed the program to AT&T.
After Lewis was turned down by "about 24 major American corporations," he said the telephone company, which does a large volume of business in inner cities and has a minority employment rcord of 16 per cent of 100,000 telephone workers, agreed to finance the project. So far the costs have totaled $350,000.
Lewis repeatedly explained that the idea of the documentary and corporation support happened long before "Roots." But the success of "Roots," and some of the historic shortcomings of the television adaptation of Alex Haley's best-seller, have increased interest in such serious topics as "Faith." Larry Grossman, the president of PBS, said, "I suspect, all 268 outlets will carry the show."