Rev. Ambrose I. Lane Sr., journalist, dies

Longtime Pacifica Radio broadcaster devoted his life's work to social justice and civil rights issues

September 23, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

The Rev. Ambrose Inman Lane Sr., a journalist, author, teacher and longtime WPFW-FM Pacifica Radio broadcaster who fought for social and economic justice, died Sept. 14 of heart failure at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The Sykesville resident was 75.

Mr. Lane, the son of a coal miner and a schoolteacher, was born and raised in Knoxville, Tenn.

Although he had received four college scholarships, Mr. Lane was forced to postpone his college studies for a year while he recuperated from injuries he suffered after being hit by a car his senior year at Austin High School.

He attended Knoxville College for two years, working his way through school to pay for his tuition. He eventually transferred to the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1957.

After graduating from college, Mr. Lane worked as a community organizer and earned a master's degree in 1963 in social work from the University of Pittsburgh.

He was a child welfare worker, administered public assistance programs, counseled ex-convicts and instructed trainees for the Pennsylvania State Department of Welfare before moving to Buffalo, N.Y., in the early 1960s, where he went to work at the Methodist Home for Children.

During his years in Buffalo, he also co-founded, edited and was a part-owner and publisher of the Buffalo Challenger, a weekly newspaper, which also covered Rochester and Syracuse.

He also was the founder and executive director of the Community Action Organization in Erie County, N.Y., which is "one of the oldest community action organizations in the nation," said a daughter, Alycee J. Lane of Oakland, Calif.

Mr. Lane gained national attention when his 1966 proposal, "We Ourselves," was presented to the White House Conference on Civil Rights a year later.

"The proposal resulted in federal legislation, the Kennedy-Javits Amendment to the Economic Opportunity Act, which was the beginning of federal-financed support of community development corporations in economically depressed communities throughout the country," his daughter said.

New York Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller used Mr. Ambrose's "We Ourselves" proposal as the backbone of his establishment of the New York State Urban Development Corp.

In 1967, Mr. Lane was elected president of the New York State Community Action Program Directors, and in 1969 ran an unsuccessful campaign as the first African-American candidate for mayor of Buffalo.

Mr. Lane moved to Columbia in 1974 when he was named executive director of the National Center for Community Action Inc., and also served as editor of the organization's two publications, the National Center Reporter and New Spirit.

Mr. Lane's more than three-decade broadcasting career with WPFW Pacifica Radio began in 1978. Through the years, he had served as a programmer and commentator providing examination and analysis of international, national and local issues.

Until his recent illness, which forced him off the air this year, Mr. Lane had been the host of "We Ourselves," which, according to Ms. Lane, he characterized as being "in the spirit of speaking truth about power." He began hosting "We Ourselves" in the 1990s.

He anchored nationwide gavel-to-gavel coverage of the U.S. Senate's confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominees Clarence Thomas, David H. Souter and Anthony M. Kennedy.

During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, he co-anchored Pacifica Radio's national six-week coverage of the war, which included a daily political commentary.

He also had written and produced several special series on racial, social justice, economic, religious, political and foreign policy matters for WPFW and Pacifica's Los Angeles affiliate, KPFK-FM.

He had served on Pacifica's national board and executive committee and on the local Washington board for WPFW.

Mr. Lane's work earned him a United Black Fund's Media Excellence Award in 1999 for "20 years of outstanding service to the community through superb journalism."

"He always reached out to the community to get both sides of the story," said Renee L. Bowser, who is chairperson of WPFW's local board in Washington. "He always wanted to get both sides of a story.

"Ambrose covered stories that weren't always covered by the mainstream media," Ms. Bowser said. "These were stories and issues of progressive change, democracy and promoting and distributing public information."

She said Mr. Lane brought his background in journalism to his work and was indefatigable when it came to illuminating all sides of an issue. "He'd dig," Ms. Bowser said.

She described his on-air style as being "professorial, almost lecturelike."

His show, which aired on Mondays and Fridays, also allowed callers to interact with Mr. Lane, said Ms. Bowser. "He always wanted to hear all sides of an issue. He wanted to know what regular people thought," she said. "Obviously, we thought a whole lot of him here."

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