With the recent passing of legendary 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace—who died April 7 at 93— comes reflection on the career of man whose investigative and thought-provoking interviews would go down in history.
Wallace, a man who travelled with Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement and was a major figure in covering the ins and outs of it, had a news tenure that spanned more than three decades. Many of his top interviews were with key black politicians, entertainers, activists and pop culture icons.
As the nation mourns the death of a media powerhouse, here’s a look at top black news moments in Wallace’s career. — Janell Hazelwood
In 1964, Wallace talked with Malcolm Xin his home for one of few interviews conducted shortly before the leader’s assassination. Wallace would count the Nation of Islam leader as a friend thereafter. His interview gave one of the first mainstream glimpses into Malcolm X’s beliefs and the concept of “invisible movements” occurring nationwide during a time of high civil unrest.
“…Negroes are banning together, in different kinds of movements, all kinds of movements,” Malcolm X said. “They remain almost invisible …When I say invisible I mean invisible in the sense that their existence is unknown and no matter how much you try and track them down, you can’t find them. And never try and find them through the Negro leaders. The Negro leaders are famous as apologists. If you recall, one of the most famous Negro leaders in 1959 was asked by you about the Black Muslim Movement, and he said he knew nothing about it…”
In 1986, a pre-billionaire Oprah Winfrey talked with Wallace about how she overcame racial challenges being a black newscaster in the South, her issues with her weight, and how she prepped for her rise to talk show success. “I know now that I’m where I am because I always believed I could get here,” Winfrey said.
“I will do well because I am not defined by a show… I think we are defined by the way we treat ourselves and the way we treat other people,” she added. “It would be wonderful to be acclaimed as this talk show host who’s ‘made it.’ But if that doesn’t happen, there are other important things in my life.”
In 1996, Wallace sat down with the Nation of Islam’s Minister Louis Farrakhanwho discussed his visit to Nigeria.
Upon Wallace saying Nigeria is “the most corrupt nation” that he has ever covered, Farrakhan infamously said, “So what? … Now here’s America 226 years old. You love democracy? But it’s there in Africa you trying to force these people into a system of government that you’ve just accepted. Thirty years ago black folk got the right to vote. You’re not in any morale position to tell anybody how corrupt they are. You should be quiet … America should keep her mouth shut wherever there’s a corrupt regime as much hell as America has raised on the Earth.”
Also in 1996, Rock & Roll icon Tina Turnerhosted Wallace for a private concert in her home in France, reflecting for the first time on her transition into European living, a fame that she said “no one in America” knows, and the differences in being hot in Europe vs. her American homeland.
On her success there: “What I find with my homeland, nothing lasts very long. Europe is different.” She later said, “In my heart … I don’t think I will go back home.” When talking cosmetic surgery and the rumors behind the then-56-year-old’s youthful physique, she detailed the difference between cosmetic surgery and “corrective” surgery, and how she had to get work done after years of battery and abuse infamously credited to Ike Turner.
In 2003, football legend and NFL Hall of FamerLawrence Taylor discussed his fall from grace in sports due to drug addiction. Taylor would spend thousands of dollars a day on cocaine and women, which led to his demise and ultimately a criminal investigation. “You gotta understand, it didn’t affect my play,” Lawrence said. He infamously broke down in tears and walked off set when Wallace read a heartwarming speech by Taylor’s son, expressing his unwavering support of the athlete despite his recent scandal.