This weekend we’ll be celebrating Dr Martin Luther King‘s birthday and in doing so we should all be mindful of the power of his words. We should be mindful of King’s words as we continue to dialogue about what sort of responsibility those who speak to the public have especially via broadcast medium especially with respect to Black Radio..We thought we’d take a walk down memory lane and listen to what King had to say about the role BLACK RADIO played in furthering the Civil Rights struggle..It was a speech given in August of 1967 in Atlanta, Ga to NATRA (National Association of TV and Radio Announcers )
In this rare speech which can be heard in its entirety by clicking the link above..King talks about how Black radio has been a transformative tool. He notes that Black radio is the primary source of information in the Black community and is more powerful medium than even Television which he says was made for the benefit of white people.
King notes that Black radio deejays are important ‘opinion makers’ who made integration easier, through the language of universal language of soul music. He praised Black radio deejays for helping unite people and Black radio deejays through presenting this music was able to conquer the hearts and minds of people in ways that surpassed Alexander the Great..
King who challenged Jim Crow laws and discrimination was considered by his enemies to be a rabble rouser who was creating a dangerous climate with ‘incendiary’ words. His words were so powerful that former FBI head J Edgar Hoover saw fit to follow him and try to disrupt his activities via a program called Cointel-Pro. There were many including some Black preachers who did not want King to come to their towns and speak because he would stir things up. His ability to move the masses was threatening.
Now at the end of the day, King was able to help push through the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 which put an end to most Jim Crow Laws. He was able to help get the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed which ended discrimination practices at the polls. At the same time Kings powerful words so enraged folks, that he was constantly receiving death threats. He also ruffled the feathers of powerful people including President Lydon Johnson after he spoke out against the Vietnam War.
If Kings words were seen as important weapons against discrimination, why are we not seeing the words of today’s far right punditry weapons to support oppression and draconian behavior and policies?
The other thing to keep in mind about Dr King was his shrewd understanding of media in particular radio and what a powerful tool it was. many do not talk about the special relationship King had with Jack ‘Jack tha Rapper Gibson and the nations first Black owned radio station WERD founded in 1949 which was housed in the same building as King’s SCLC headquarters on Auburn street in Atlanta.
Gibson is credited with being the first to broadcast King and other Civil Rights leaders on public airwaves. There are stories about how when rallies and special events were unfolding, King would bang on the ceiling with a broom to the studio housed above him, the disc jockey would lower the boom mic and King would speak to the people via radio.
In this 1967 NATRA speech Dr King delivered the members of this important African American organization were very appreciative as King laid out the indispensable role Black radio had played in shaping and furthering the Civil Rights struggle. King names off some of the key unsung radio heroes who he says there would not have been a Civil Rights movement had they not reflected the mood of the people and brought critical information to the masses. We hear about Georgie Woods, Pervis Spahn, Magnificent Montague and Tall Paul White to name a few.
King also talks about how radio is the most important and predominant medium in the Black community. It has far more reach and influence than television. He also talks about how the music these Black radio announcers played. King asserted that it helped united people. King pointed out how Blacks and Whites were listening to the same songs and doing the same dances and that the Soul Music these disc jockey’s played had served as an important cultural bridge.
He also talks about how some of them were vilified for ‘creating a climate’ that led to the unrest in American cities. Most notable was the radio announcer named Magnificent Montague who had coined the phrase Burn Baby Burn to describe a hot record, but was later used a rallying cry for the Watts Riots of 1965. Montague who was good friends with Malcolm X who had been assassinated earlier that year, was on the air at KGFJ was accused of riling the people up and causing the mayhem. He had done no such thing, nevertheless LAPD paid him a visit. Montague was made to drop the slogan Burn Baby Burn to Have Mercy Baby.
It’s interesting to note that after King was assassinated many of the Black radio deejays who were vilified were called upon to help quell the riots that were breaking out in cities all over America. The most notable were Petey Greene of Washington DC and Georgie Woods of Philadelphia. One last point we’d be remissed if we didn’t shout out Civil Rights organizer Bayard Rustin, who has been written out of so much of our history.. King was sharp, but a lot of his media game came via Rustin and we should make note of that…
In addition to speaking about the important role of Black radio played in furthering the Civil Rights struggle, King also drops gems that many associate with his famous Transforming a Neighborhood Into a Brotherhood speech.. This is the Dr King that has been hidden from us and downplayed where he directly challenges the state and systems of oppression. He’s on point with both his analysis and spirit.. He talks about how white folks were given free land when they moved out west while the sons and daughters of slaves were left penniless via Jim Crow laws and other forms of discrimination thus putting us far behind.. This is an incredible speech.. So again click the link above and listen to it in its entirety.
With respect to King’s message on Black radio we did a video mash up where we included key excerpts from freedom fighter H Rap Brown who talks about the role of entertainers and how they are often manipulated and used against the community by the White Power structure.
We also have excerpts from Minister Farrakhan talking about BLACK RADIO in his historic 1980 speech given to radio deejays at the Jack the Rapper Convention in Atlanta. He talked about how Black Radio deejays are used as agents to dumb down our thinking. What’s interesting to note is that Farrakhan’s speech came 13 years to the month after King gave his NATRA speech. The time between King’s speech and Farrakhan’s speech we saw so much of Black radio dismantled and so many of the disc jockeys silences and depoliticized. Farrakhan talks about how station owners went out of their way to hire deejays who would talk jive to the people and do very little to uplift them. It’s a trend that many say still exist today.
We round it the mash up with remarks on radio by Hip Hop activists Rosa Clemente made during the historic protest against Hot 97 in spring 2005 and Chuck D during 2Pac‘s Birthday celebration in June of 2005 also in Atlanta. Rosa notes how the people who control NY’s number one Hip Hop station are 7 executives all over 40 who are white men. She accuses them and their deejays of peddling a type of mind drug to the community.
Chuck’s remarks are telling as he notes how elders who are heading up these stations are afraid to grow up and be adults and how they’ve become frightened to speak to their own offspring.
Enjoy.. all these people drop some serious jewels.