St. Clair Bourne, Film Legend, Dies

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Renowned journalist, filmmaker and activist St. Clair Bourne died Saturday at age 64 from complications following an operation to remove a brain tumor, his family told The Black Star News.

Bourne died at The New York Presbyterian University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell.

“This is absolutely a shocking and devastating loss,” said Judith Bourne, St. Clair’s sister, in an interview today.

The tributes flowed today for an individual referred to by many as a “great” film maker. Charles Barron, New York City Council Member (42 District; Brooklyn),  called Bourne a “legend of his own time” who used his craft as a means for motivating and activating a movement for the liberation and human rights of Black people in America.

“We always say in the tradition of Paul Robeson that culture should be used as a weapon for liberation, and no one used it better than St. Clair Bourne,” Barron added. “It is hopeful that artists, whether a photographer, playwright or filmmaker, would come in the tradition of Brother St. Clair and fight for and ignite our liberation as he did.”

Born in Harlem on February 16, 1943, Bourne was raised and educated in New York City. After graduating from Xavier High School in New York, he attended Georgetown University in Washington D.C, but left after he was arrested during a sit-in in Arlington, Virginia in his junior year.

In search of more challenges, Bourne then joined the Peace Corps and volunteered for two years in Peru. His work in publishing a local newspaper helped him establish a reputation as a national-award winning journalist. After he left Peru, Bourne earned a dual degree in journalism and political science at Syracuse University in New York in 1967. He won a scholarship to Columbia University Graduate School of Arts to study filmmaking and went on to become the Executive Producer of Black Journal, the first Black public affairs series in America. The series later won an EMMY award, and Bourne won the John Russworm Citation for “excellence in broadcasting.”

Bourne left the Black Journal in 1971 to form Chamba, his production company. Since then, he’d worked on numerous motivational and inspirational documentaries that concentrated on changing cultural and political trends: including Langston Hughes: The Dream Keeper and On The Boulevard, a short drama. He also produced and directed Big City Blues, a film on contemporary Blues scenes in Chicago for CBS. Bourne recently won three EMMY nominations for producing a documentary about photo-journalist/filmmaker Gordon Parks.

Herb Boyd, an award winning journalist and author, and a close friend of Bourne, told The Black Star he was stunned at the news of Bourne’s passing, who, before his passing said his operation was a routine procedure.

“He sent out an e-mail before the operation and he said it was an ordinary kind of surgery, that the tumor was benign and everything,” Boyd said in a phone conversation. “It was a typical kind of trying to put all of those people who would be immediately concerned about him at ease. ‘Things will be all right.’ And that’s what I was left with. It was typical of St. Clair to be extremely concerned about others’ feelings.”

At the time of his death, Bourne was working on a documentary about veteran Memphis-based civil rights photographer Ernest Withers, who died in October at age 85.

Judith Bourne said her brother’s body will be cremated and that the family will hold a private internment. A memorial service will be held for St. Clair in January.

For more information on the life of St. Clair Bourne visit Chamba Media Web site at the following link  (

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