Say the name "Buckskin" to longtime residents of Baton Rouge and immediately, their eyes light up, smiles appear on their faces, and the trips down Memory Lane begin.
What was it about this young entertainer and salesman that captured the hearts of children and their parents in the Capital City?
Who is Buckskin Bill Black?
In 1955 William P. Black was working at a television station in Tulsa, Oklahoma when he was contacted by a former boss who had signed WAFB Channel 28 on the air. He offered the tall, youthful radio personality a job as an entertainer and salesman. Black packed his bags and made his way to Baton Rouge.
Bill Black began his television career as a cameraman and floorman. During that time, he wanted to create a television character that children could relate to. Black had worked his way through college as a rodeo clown and was a comic and emcee in army shows during his stint in the Korean War. He knew how to command an audience.
Black conceived of the idea of an Native American Indian scout. It was to be understood that the scout was not a real character, but one who could research and tell stories intended for a young audience. Dressed in buckskins, Black stepped in front of the television cameras and began a brand new show with the greeting "Chickama Scouts!" He became known as "Buckskin" Bill. Tens of thousands of performances later, he earned his place as one of Baton Rouge's living legends.
Eventually Buckskin Bill created not one, but two children's shows. Storyland aired weekday mornings at 9am and was geared to smaller children. The Buckskin Bill Show came on later at 3:30 p.m.-just in time for the older school crowd to tune in. In a week's time, everyone from Cub Scouts to high school seniors appeared with him on the program.
Over the decades Buckskin Bill Black accomplished much in the way of community service through both his television programs and on his own time. He helped Baton Rouge acquire its first zoo and then raised money to buy its first two elephants.
Black heard of the need for medicines in the Amazon River area of Brazil. Through the help of his television children, he collected three and a half barrels of aspirin (52 gallons each) which took care of fever, colds, rheumatism and other illnesses for almost two years.
Traveling to and from a village in these remote areas was difficult. The Taxi Jungle Promotion involved collecting trading stamps, coupons, and cash for the purchase of a Cessna 185 amphibian plane. More than one-fifth of the cost of the plane was collected under Buckskin Bill's supervision and through his television shows. It made its way to Brazil where it was used by doctors, nurses, missionaries, social workers, and other volunteers who otherwise would have had to spend as much as two weeks traveling to needy areas.
Perhaps his most unique contribution to society, however, came on Storyland. One of the most original children's programs on television, Storyland charmed both children and their parents. It included a trained dog name Mr. Blue, Candy the Chimp, Billy the Goat, Dum Dum the Myna Bird, and an assortment of farm and wild animals. Senor Puppet provided the comedy relief for this 30-minute program.
Bill Black wanted Storyland to be as educational as it was entertaining. He worked with an adviser from LSU and the State Department of Education to create a pre-school curriculum for television news which was woven into the entertainment portion of the show. Black's chief collaborator on the project was his wife, Elma, who had received an education degree from Oklahoma College.
Realizing the need for hearing impaired children to understand television, Bill had a former teacher from the Louisiana School for the Deaf on Storyland once a week for years. By means of "Visible English"-- fingerspelling, written statements, and other visual aids-- she translated stories, news items, weather reports, as well as the fun part of the show. For the first time in their lives, hearing impaired children were able to understand a television program. This program helped tremendously in publicizing the school and brought many volunteers, including teen clubs, to help there. A group from the Lafayette area who watched Storyland started a Visible English class in their area to promote a better understanding between the hearing and the hearing impaired.
Several years before that time, Buckskin Build Black realized a great need for an outlet where prisoners could express their musical talent. He went about getting the necessary sponsors and workers to donate time and talent to produce Good Morning, Angola Style. He and his close friend, Sid Crocker, made many after-work trips to and from the state prison to audition and rehearse inmates for the show which ran 2 1/2 years.
Bill Black also took part in the city parish summer reading program to help stimulate young readers.
The Istrouma Council of the Boy Scouts of America counted on him as a real friend. His constant plugs on behalf of scouting persuaded many young men to join. He was a cub master of the Cub Pack 117.
Because of his support of Jaycees work, he was made grand marshal of the Christmas parade. He worked with Head Start programs, civic groups, zoo planners, and church groups. His commitment to education resulted in his election to the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, where he serves today.