Karen Grigsby Bates

Karen Grigsby Bates is the Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News. Bates contributed commentaries to All Things Considered for about 10 years before she joined NPR in 2002 as the first correspondent and alternate host for The Tavis Smiley Show. In addition to general reporting and substitute hosting, she increased the show's coverage of international issues and its cultural coverage, especially in the field of literature and the arts.

In early 2003, Bates joined NPR's former midday news program Day to Day. She has reported on politics (California's precedent-making gubernatorial recall, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's re-election campaign and the high-profile mayoral campaign of Los Angeles' Antonio Villaraigosa), media, and breaking news (the Abu Ghrarib scandal, the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams).

Bates' passion for food and things culinary has served her well: she's spent time with award-winning food critic Alan Richman and chef-entrepreneur Emeril Lagasse.

One of Bates' proudest contributions is making books and authors a high-profile part of NPR's coverage. "NPR listeners read a lot, and many of them share the same passion for books that I do, so this isn't work, it's a pleasure." She's had conversations with such writers as Walter Mosley, Joan Didion and Kazuo Ishiguru. Her bi-annual book lists (which are archived on the web) are listener favorites.

Before coming to NPR, Bates was a news reporter for People magazine. She was a contributing columnist to the Op Ed pages of the Los Angeles Times for ten years. Her work has appeared in Time, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Essence and Vogue. And she's been a guest on several news shows such as ABC's Nightline and the CBS Evening News.

In her non-NPR life, Bates is the author of Plain Brown Wrapper and Chosen People, mysteries featuring reporter-sleuth Alex Powell. She is co-author, with Karen E. Hudson, of Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times, a best-selling etiquette book now in its second edition. Her work also appears in several writers' anthologies.

Bates holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wellesley College. Additionally she studied at the University of Ghana and completed the executive management program at Yale University's School of Organization and Management.

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Code Switch
2:05 pm
Fri January 10, 2014

Franklin McCain: Taking Jim Crow Off The Menu

Franklin McCain (left) and David Richmond are shown in April 1960. They were two of the four Greensboro, N.C., college students who started demonstrations against segregated lunch counters in February 1960.
AP

Originally published on Fri January 10, 2014 3:05 pm

When Franklin McCain was a freshman at North Carolina A&T State University, he was sitting himself down at a whites-only lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., as a conscious gesture to change the world. Or at least the segregated world in his home state. They were protesting the downtown stores' policy of refusing sit-down service to blacks (although the stores were perfectly happy to take black customers' money for things other than lunch).

Today's Special: Jim Crow

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Code Switch
9:23 pm
Tue December 10, 2013

To Thine Own Selfie Be True, But Not In All Places At All Times

President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron pose for a picture with Denmark's Prime Minister, Helle Thorning Schmidt, during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela Tuesday in Johannesburg, South Africa. First lady Michelle Obama is on the right.
Roberto Schmidt AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed December 11, 2013 1:32 pm

Editor's Note: Roberto Schmidt, the Agence France-Presse staffer who took the photographs discussed in this blog post, has now weighed in on the discussion and provided context. In his own blog post, Schmidt wrote "photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance."

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Code Switch
5:52 pm
Thu December 5, 2013

The First Time I Heard The Name 'Mandela'

People gather to leave messages of support for Nelson Mandela outside his hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, earlier this year. Mandela has died at the age of 95.
Jeff J Mitchell Getty Images

Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 6:07 pm

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Movies
3:50 am
Mon December 2, 2013

'Best Man Holiday' Resonates Across Racial Lines

The Best Man Holiday is Malcolm Lee's sequel to his film Best Man.
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Originally published on Mon December 2, 2013 6:36 pm

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Politics
4:04 am
Thu November 21, 2013

Mexican-American Vets Ignited Kennedy's Latino Support

President John F. Kennedy speaks to Mexican-American activists at a LULAC gala in Houston's Rice Hotel on Nov. 21, 1963, the day before he was assassinated.
Alexander Arroyos AP

Originally published on Thu November 21, 2013 8:12 am

On the evening of Nov. 21, 1963, President John F. Kennedy, his wife Jacqueline, Vice President Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, walked through a wall of applause to take their place as honored guests in a Houston ballroom. They were making a brief stop at a formal dinner held by LULAC — the League of United Latin American Citizens — to show their appreciation for the Mexican-American votes that had helped the young president carry Texas in the 1960 election.

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Code Switch
3:28 pm
Tue November 19, 2013

An Appreciation: 'Essence' Cover Girl Barbara Cheeseborough

Barbara Cheeseborough died a few weeks ago in California at age 67.
Courtesy of Essence

Originally published on Tue November 19, 2013 5:18 pm

If you were black and female and grew up in the '70s, you were used to looking at pretty white women on the covers of major fashion and beauty magazines. If you wanted to borrow their look, you had to adapt. Ebony helped, with its Fashion Fair cavalcade of models — but they were fantasy ideals: lots of polish, no funk. Ebony was your mother's magazine.

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Author Interviews
4:42 am
Mon November 4, 2013

Amy Tan Weaves Family Mystery Into 'Valley Of Amazement'

Amy Tan's latest novel, The Valley of Amazement, will be published on Tuesday.
Rick Smolanagainst Against All Odds Productions

Originally published on Mon November 4, 2013 4:28 pm

Amy Tan was 200 pages into a new novel when she attended a large exhibition on Shanghai life in the early 1900s. While there, she bought a book she thought might help her as she researched details on life in the Old City. She stopped turning pages when she came upon a group portrait.

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Code Switch
12:02 pm
Fri October 18, 2013

Asian-Americans To Evangelicals: We're Not Your Punch Line

A joking Facebook post by Saddleback Church's Rick Warren was the catalyst for a pointed letter from some 700 evangelical Asian-Americans.
Donna McWilliam AP

Originally published on Tue October 22, 2013 8:48 am

"We the undersigned, are distressed about the continuing divide that persists in the North American evangelical church in the area of racial harmony."

That's the first line of a four-page open letter to American Evangelicals ("On Cultural Insensitivity and Reconciliation in the Church") from a coalition called Asian American Christians United. The letter was released earlier this week.

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Code Switch
3:39 pm
Wed October 9, 2013

In Los Angeles County, It's 'Bark And Hold' Vs. 'Find And Bite'

This dog holds the armor it has just ripped from its target until given the release command.
Mark Hayes iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Thu October 10, 2013 7:21 am

According to the Police Assessment Resource Center*, or PARC, far too many people in Los Angeles County are being bitten by police dogs — and the overwhelming majority of those victims are black and Latino.

In PARC's latest report, released on Monday: "Victims of the dog bites are almost universally African-American and Latino." And while the rates of bites of whites, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans have remained low over the past 8 years, "the percentage of apprehensions involving a dog bite has trebled in recent years."

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Code Switch
5:12 pm
Mon October 7, 2013

Undocumented Immigrants In Calif. Will Benefit From New Laws

California's Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a group of bills related to immigration because, he said, enough time has passed.
AP

The federal government remains shut down over a budget stalemate, but California's Gov. Jerry Brown decided not to wait for Congress to make decisions on the Gordian knot that is U.S. immigration policy. On Saturday, Brown signed into law a group of bills related to immigration because, he said, enough time has passed.

"While Washington waffles on immigration, California's moving ahead," Brown stated. He added, with trademark bluntness, "I'm not waiting."

The "Trust Act" Vs. "Secure Communities"

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Code Switch
11:23 am
Fri October 4, 2013

Actors With Disabilities In Big Roles? 'We Don't Have A Chance'

The original Ironside starred Raymond Burr as a detective who became a paraplegic after being shot in the line of duty.
The Kobal Collection

Originally published on Thu July 17, 2014 5:19 pm

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Code Switch
1:12 pm
Sat September 14, 2013

At Fashion Week, Color Pops And Models Call For Diversity

Marc Jacobs is among the designers who were named by the Diversity Coalition for not having enough models of color on the runway.
Emmanuel Dunand AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Sat September 14, 2013 4:40 pm

Color continued to be a big deal on the New York runways during Fashion Week this week, but almost all the color was represented by the clothes being showcased in the new collections and not the models wearing them.

That lack of diversity has been a perennial problem in the fashion industry — at home and abroad — for at least the past 15 years. And while there may be an Asian or Hispanic girl from time to time (in this industry, everyone is a "girl"), discernibly black girls get token representation if they get it at all.

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Code Switch
5:16 pm
Tue September 10, 2013

Harlem On Their Minds: Life In America's Black Capital

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 8:38 pm

The poet Langston Hughes liked to wryly describe the Harlem Renaissance — the years from just after World War I until the Depression when black literature and art flourished, fed by an awakening racial pride — as "the period when the Negro was in vogue." Note the past tense. Two new books published Tuesday explore the blossoming of black cultural life in two different decades.

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Code Switch
12:56 pm
Sat August 24, 2013

While Unsung in '63, Women Weren't Just 'Background Singers'

Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer of Ruleville, Miss., speaks to the state's Freedom Democratic Party sympathizers outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C., in 1965.
William J. Smith AP

Originally published on Sun August 25, 2013 10:17 am

On that sweltering August day in 1963, almost a quarter-million people thronged the National Mall, from the Washington Monument to the columned marble box that is the Lincoln Memorial. The crowning moment, of course, was Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech.

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Code Switch
3:51 pm
Mon August 12, 2013

Medgar Evers' Son Honors Civil Rights Icon In His Own Way

After Medgar Evers was murdered, his wife, Myrlie Evers, carried on his work. This photo shows Myrlie Evers and her children, Van, 9; Darrell, 16; and Rena, 14, in June 1969 in their Claremont, Calif., home.
AP

Originally published on Mon August 12, 2013 7:06 pm

James Van Dyke Evers was only 3 when his father, Medgar, was assassinated in the driveway of the family's home in Jackson, Miss., in June 1963.

A sniper shot Medgar Evers in the back as he returned from a meeting late at night. Tensions had been running high because Evers, the first field secretary for the NAACP, was making headway in pushing the state's black citizens to register to vote. White Mississippians who had lived comfortably under segregation could feel the ground shifting beneath them — and they didn't like it.

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Code Switch
1:55 am
Mon August 12, 2013

Killed For Taking Part In 'Everybody's Fight'

Viola Liuzzo carries her shoes while walking with other civil rights activist before she was shot and killed in Alabama. Liuzzo-Prado says her mother walked barefoot whenever she could. "She just hated shoes." When her body was removed from the car she was shot in, she was barefoot.
Courtesy of the Liuzzo family

Originally published on Tue August 13, 2013 5:21 pm

For the past few months, NPR has been commemorating the monumental summer of 1963 by looking at watershed moments in the civil rights movement. In this three-part series, Karen Grigsby Bates talks with the children of civil rights leaders who lost their lives in the battle for racial equality.

In an obscure corner of Detroit, there's a battered playground honoring a civil rights martyr. It has an overgrown baseball field, some missing swings and on a broken fence, a worn, wooden sign.

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Code Switch
2:56 pm
Sun August 11, 2013

Amusement Parks And Jim Crow: MLK's Son Remembers

Martin Luther King Jr sits on a swing with his eldest daughter, Yolanda, and eldest son, Martin, at an amusement park he helped desegregate.
Courtesy of the King family

Originally published on Wed August 14, 2013 1:09 pm

In this three-part series, Karen Grigsby Bates talks with children of Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to see how they've coped with the burden and privilege of their legacies.

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Code Switch
3:56 pm
Thu July 25, 2013

Key Witness Against Emmett Till's Killers Led A Quiet Life

Willie Reed (right) testified against the men accused of murdering 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955. He changed his last name to Louis after fleeing to Chicago and hardly spoke of the trial.
Charles Knoblock AP

Originally published on Thu July 25, 2013 4:43 pm

Willie Louis may be one of the most celebrated but least-known figures in a pivotal point in American history: He testified against the men accused of kidnapping and murdering 14-year-old Emmett Till. He died July 18, but his wife, Juliet, announced his death this week.

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Code Switch
11:53 pm
Tue July 23, 2013

Univision Clips 'Tweety's' Wings

Univision has canceled a popular Spanish-language radio show hosted by Eddie Sotelo, also known as Piolín or "Tweety Bird."
Damian Dovarganes AP

If you drive anywhere in greater Los Angeles, you know that you spend a significant amount of time staring at the bumper of the car ahead of you. And you may have noticed that a lot of those bumpers have red and yellow stickers that say "PIOLÍN por la MAÑANA." A lot.

The stickers show up on everything from sleek luxury cars to beat-up pickup trucks, and they advertise the morning drive-time radio show of Eddie "Piolín" Sotelo. (Piolín translates into "Tweety Bird" in Spanish—a gleeful moniker for the cheerful, diminutive host.)

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Code Switch
4:56 am
Sun July 21, 2013

Black Americans Welcome Obama's Entry To Race Discussion

A man holds up a sign at the "Justice for Trayvon" rally in downtown Chicago on Saturday.
Scott Eisen AP

Originally published on Mon July 22, 2013 11:41 am

As soon as he made his remarks on race Friday, President Obama was part of an intense conversation around the nation.

In dozens of cities across the country on Saturday, protesters held coordinated rallies and vigils over the not-guilty verdict in the shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. Many African-Americans insist that understanding the context for black distress over the Zimmerman verdict is key to honest discussions about race.

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U.S.
5:25 pm
Sun July 14, 2013

National Reaction To The Zimmerman Verdict: 'What Next?'

A woman, who refused to be identified, carries a young boy on her shoulders as she participates in a rally Sunday in Baltimore protesting the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Florida shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin.
Patrick Semansky AP

Originally published on Mon July 15, 2013 2:55 pm

The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin is reverberating far beyond Florida. On Sunday, President Obama acknowledged the strong passions the verdict has incited. He asked Americans "to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son."

Many people are trying to make sense of a case that sparked a national conversation on race and gun laws.

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Code Switch
3:00 am
Sun July 14, 2013

With Fla. Verdict, Is Protective Clothing Still Required?

Many families live in dread of standing in the shoes of Trayvon Martin's parents. His mother, Sybrina Fulton (second from left) and father, Tracy Martin, were in court Friday as a Florida jury began its deliberations.
Gary W. Green AP

"I'm ashamed at how long it took me to realize why so many people in my family have been consumed with looking church-ready when they step out the door regardless of time or day."

That Facebook quote came from Phyllis Fletcher, an African-American colleague at KUOW in Seattle. And it reminded me of something my sister once told me when a white friend teased her about taking too long to get ready when they went on joint shopping expeditions. "Why are you getting all dressed up? Just throw on some jeans, like me, and let's go."

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Remembrances
3:34 am
Thu June 20, 2013

Actor James Gandolfini Dies Suddenly While On Vacation

Originally published on Thu June 20, 2013 6:25 am

The 51-year-old actor died on Wednesday in Rome. Reports attribute his death to a heart attack. Gandolfini had been a character actor for years before he was given a chance to read for Tony Soprano in a new series about a New Jersey mob boss HBO was producing in the late 90s.

Code Switch
11:09 am
Thu June 13, 2013

Moynihan Black Poverty Report Revisited 50 Years Later

Daniel P. Moynihan appeared before the Senate Government Operations subcommittee in 1966. He had conducted a study on poverty among blacks.
Bettmann Corbis

Originally published on Thu June 13, 2013 12:45 pm

On Wednesday, the Urban Institute released a new report that revisits a famous study conducted almost 50 years ago by the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The original study, "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action," was written by Moynihan when he was an assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor. In the report, Moynihan listed a series of ills he argued had helped cause poverty in black America.

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Code Switch
2:36 am
Mon June 3, 2013

Barrier-Breaking Surfer's Legacy A Reminder Of Work To Do

Surfers surround a celebrant who pours libations and says prayers to honor the spirit of surfers past and present and to give thanks to the sea for providing sustenance and recreation.
Karen Grigsby Bates NPR

Originally published on Tue June 4, 2013 2:31 pm

The Saturday morning fog was burning off above the part of Santa Monica's beach known as the Inkwell. It's the stretch of sand to which black Southern Californians were relegated by de facto segregation until the 1960s.

Men, women and children walked across the sand in wet suits, carrying surfboards. They're part of the Black Surfers Collective, which aims to get more people of color involved in surfing.

They had gathered to honor pioneer Nick Gabaldon, a legendary surfer who is remembered as the area's first documented board man of African-American and Mexican heritage.

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Code Switch
5:03 pm
Fri May 24, 2013

History Makes Hiring Household Help A Complex Choice

Actress Marla Gibbs (as maid Florence Johnston) and actor Sherman Hemsley (as her boss, George Jefferson), appear in an episode of The Jeffersons.
CBS/Landov

Originally published on Sun May 26, 2013 5:39 pm

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Code Switch
3:26 pm
Mon April 15, 2013

Dumbfoundead: A Rising Star In A Genre In Transition

Korean American rap artist, Dumbfoundead performs at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C., on March 26.
Lauren Rock for NPR

Originally published on Mon April 15, 2013 9:02 pm

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Around the Nation
2:26 am
Tue March 26, 2013

'American Winter' Families Struggle To Survive Fall From Middle Class

Pam Thatcher and her family ultimately moved into her mother's two-bedroom apartment because they couldn't make rent.
Courtesy Devon Terrilll Viewfilm productions/HBO

Originally published on Tue March 26, 2013 8:57 am

It's a visual no parent wants to picture: a child describing what it's like to live in a house with no power for lights, heat or cooking. For many middle-class American parents, it's hard to imagine their family ever facing a situation like that. But a new HBO documentary suggests that many seemingly prosperous parents are only a few misfortunes away from dark houses and empty refrigerators.

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