News Column

George Stoney, Who Helped Create Public Access TV, Dies at 96

July 16, 2012

Tim Clodfelter

George Stoney, an acclaimed documentary filmmaker from Winston-Salem who helped start public access television, died Thursday at age 96.

Stoney, who had been ill, died at his apartment at Washington Square Village in New York on Thursday evening. His daughter, Louise Stoney, and Hospice staff were at his side.

"George Stoney was one of the pioneers of documentary film, bringing his early work and training as a journalist to enrich the genre," said Jane Daugherty, a family friend who teaches journalism at the University of Miami. "As a friend, more importantly, he was an inspiration: dedicated to social justice and to making public television and his films tools of democracy. He was also an extraordinary teacher at NYU and Stanford and in the larger community of filmmakers. He will be missed."

Stoney was a professor emeritus at New York University, where he taught film and television from 1970 until spring of this year. He also taught at such institutes as the University of Southern California and City College of New York.

He was born in Winston-Salem in 1916. He graduated from Reynolds High School in 1933 and went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he graduated in 1937 with a bachelor's degree in English and journalism.

"His father was a traveling preacher who did not make a lot of money," Daugherty said, "so George quite literally worked his way through the University of North Carolina in the 1930s, sometimes sleeping in unheated attics of friends because he could not afford a rooming house or place in a dorm."

He later completed graduate work at New York University and elsewhere, and worked for a time as a freelance journalist. After serving as an Army intelligence officer during World War II, he shifted from journalism to filmmaking and founded his own documentary film company.

In 1971, he co-founded the Alternate Media Center at NYU, which helped start the movement to create public access television on cable TV.

"His impact on community media has been immortalized by the Alliance for Community Media's George Stoney Award, which goes to individuals or organizations making outstanding contributions to community media," according to a report at IndieWire, a website devoted to independent film.

Stoney made more than 50 documentary films, including "We Shall Overcome," a history of the civil rights-era song; "All My Babies," a film that was used to train black midwives in the 1950s, which Stoney described as "the best film I've been associated with"; and "The Uprising of '34," about the rise and fall of the organized labor movement among textile workers in the South in 1934.

"Uprising" was listed by Bill Moyers among the top 10 documentaries about social justice. In a 1995 interview with the Winston-Salem Journal, Stoney said that he made "Uprising" because he felt the full history of textile workers in the South had not been preserved.

"There is almost nothing about what the workers did," he said. "I'm not saying history is wrong. I'm just saying that history is incomplete."

Stoney is survived by his daughter, Louise Stoney of Albany, N.Y. and Lake Worth, Fla.; his son, James Bruce Stoney of Queens; a sister, Elizabeth Stoney Segal of Washington, D.C.; one granddaughter and a great-granddaughter.

The memorial service for Stoney will be held Monday evening at the Abrons Art Center in New York.

Source: (c)2012 Winston-Salem Journal (Winston Salem, N.C.). Distributed by MCT Information Services

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