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WERD Atlanta – Americas First Black Owned Radio Station

Radio doesn’t mean much to the millennial generation in that the Internet has stolen younger listeners with tailorable music – but in the 40’s through the 90’s radio was King. But it wasn’t until 1949 that black folks owned their own station, and prior to the mid 60’s black radio was confined to only daytime, operating from sunup to sunset on AM bands at low power. Black Music radio was largely missing post sunset in most of the country, as the local white owned station only played music by white musicians. The low power limitation meant that black station reach was decidedly limited, typically no more than 20-30 miles of an urban center. AM Radio bounced off the stratosphere, and at night you could hear radio from cities sometimes over a thousand miles away, So called “Bandit” stations (not operating with FCC licenses) were popular at night as they played exciting new music that never made the top 40 stations.  The development of FM Radio, and the Civil Rights Movement eradicated this form of discrimination as black stations rushed to go FM and get free of he “Daytime” limitation.

My father and I looked at buying a low power AM Station in the early 60’s which had been owned by whites. I was still a youngster, but my various grass cutting and handyman jobs had netted me a decent chunk of money to make the down payment, and a local black owned bank was amenable (with my father’s signature as I was only 13) to loan the $5,000 necessary. The price of Daytime AM Stations went though the floor due to the anticipated emergence of FM.And like the Internet where the value of a property is based on the number of eyes who visit a site, the value of a radio station is based on the coverage market in “ears” listening. So Urban stations are vastly more valuable. The issue was the “Community Service” clause in the FCC regulations. Black folks were fairly thin on the ground in my suburban area – so the FCC rejected our application because they felt a black owned station wouldn’t be serving the predominately white community. Took another shot in the early 70’s at buying an FM Station – but by that time they had become expensive properties (@ $3 m) beyond my means to raise enough money to do.

America’s first black-owned radio station let the words of MLK and others ring

Two blocks away from the famous King Center in downtown Atlanta is a small brick building that tourists typically overlook.

But in the 1950s, that little brick building reverberated with the messages of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders.

The building was home to the first black-owned radio station in the United States — WERD — and it was the medium that King used to broadcast his Sunday sermons then, later, announcements of his civil rights marches. The station was a fixture of Atlanta’s African-American community. It offered a rare public venue for black jazz and blues performers during the Jim Crow era, and amplified the voices of King and other African-American leaders as they encouraged black citizens to vote.

In the decades that followed the tumultuous 1950s and ’60, the building that had been WERD went through the incarnations of any professional building in a changing city, finally serving its community as a hair salon during the 1980s and ’90s. That — a hair salon — was what hairdresser Ricci de Forest thought he was getting when he signed a lease in 2004.

What he knew, though, was that it was not just any hair salon; it was one of only two “Madam C.J. Walker” hair salons left in the country. Named for an African-American beauty pioneer who made a fortune from licensing her salon chain and selling beauty products in the early 20th century, the salon and the building housing it had the appeal of that historical niche.

“I wanted to attach her legacy to my business,” says history buff de Forest.

It wasn’t until about two years later that he discovered his new salon had a much broader and deeper place in African-American history, as the birthplace of WERD and as the amplifier of King’s words to a community and to a nation.

The discovery was met with a sense of jubilation mixed with disappointment. De Forest didn’t understand why the space hadn’t been preserved in the years before he came to Atlanta from Cleveland.

“The burden of the responsibility hit me like a sucker punch. This is a heavy responsibility,” he says.

In 1949, Atlanta University Professor Jesse B. Blayton Sr. bought WERD for $50,000. Although it was only allowed to operate from sunrise to sunset and was allocated limited frequency power, it quickly became a staple to Atlanta’s black community.

King’s office at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is on the other side of the wall. It was said that King would tap the ceiling of his office with a broomstick to get the attention of the WERD DJ upstairs when he needed to make an announcement.

Today, you can still hear broadcasts from WERD online, where de Forest plays his record collection under the motto “All vintage. All vinyl. All the time” on Wednesdays from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. ET.

De Forest wanted to preserve the legacy of both Madam C.J. Walker and WERD by gradually turning his salon into a makeshift museum. Thousands of donated vinyl records — including albums by Billie Holiday, Miles Davis and Count Basie — decorate the walls, along with segregation-era signs de Forest has collected over the years. His desk displays a rusty “we serve colored carry out only” sign.

The hair salon portion of the building looks like an early 20th century time capsule and still operates as a functional hair salon. While Some of de Forest’s regular customers get their hair done, visitors stop by to look at the old curling irons and hair straighteners on display. One visitor named Selena says she’s lived in Atlanta for 18 years but didn’t know about the legacy of this place.

“It’s embarrassing — I’ve never stopped but there’s so much history in this one little space that I never knew about.”

It’s not just this building that doesn’t get much foot traffic along Auburn Avenue. In fact, many of the historic buildings in this district are not frequented by many visitors.

A once bustling district built by black entrepreneurs in the early 20th century, Auburn Avenue later suffered from a lack of investment after the city integrated. The National Trust for Historic Preservation declared the area “endangered” twice.

De Forest says he sees his efforts to preserve the Madam C.J. Walker Museum and WERD radio station as part of a larger mission to preserve the district’s history and contributions to the civil rights movement.

He gained nonprofit status in fall 2015 and keeps a small donation jar at the entrance of the building. De Forest says he’s received a few donations over the years but also has to frequently dig into his own pockets to keep the doors opened.

“I’ve been keeping it open for years and it hasn’t been easy … it hasn’t been a financial gain. It’s been a financial drain.”

Despite this, he says he loves going in to work, where he is part-time hairstylist, DJ and tour guide.

“It’s like a 5-year-old going to ride his tricycle. It’s unbelievable. I feel that good.”

Nowadays, de Forest frequently thinks about retiring and moving abroad to train other hairstylists, but also worries about what this would mean for the future of the museum. He invites young local artists to use the museum for performances as a way to reach out to younger generations, with the hope that they, too, can share his enthusiasm and love for the space.

His outreach seems to be working. There are a handful of young volunteers, including a bubbly 24-year-old named Chiane Matthews, who by chance stopped by the building last spring and had been returning almost every day since.

“I fell in love with this place and so I wanted to do something to help preserve it,” says Matthews.

She started volunteering as a social media director and show producer and eventually brought her best friend, 23-year-old Amani Hassan, on board. In the short time before our interview, they had both been able to persuade another one of their friends to volunteer as “brand manager” for the museum.

On Wednesday nights, young men and women fill the makeshift museum. Matthews and Hassan take turns announcing the performers of the night, which include two R&B singers and two local rappers accompanied by a small band. During the performances, de Forest quietly sits in the corner and listens as he plays black and white video of a jazz duo on the back wall projector. “I want them to know this is where it started,” he says.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2016 in Black History

 

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The NY Times Black History Project

The NY Times is publishing pictures from their extensive libraries of the Civil Rights era. Some are of common people, some celebrities, and some key members of the Civil Rights Movement, both well known and not. These pictures have never been published previously, and provide a context of life during those turbulent times.

The daily pictures and commentary are published here – Check it out, they are publishing articles with photographs every day for the month.

Unpublished Black History

The NJ National Guard, with bayonets fixed on guns sent to quell riots in Newark in 1968 after Dr King was murdered.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2016 in Black History

 

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National Museum of Black History

Almost done! Can’t say I care much for the architecture as it i a starkly modern and out of place as the Native American building is geographically out of place.

The Native American Museum

African American Museum

National Museum of African American History and Culture Scheduled to Open Sept. 24

The Smithsonian Institution has announced that the African-American history museum will open in late September, with the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony led, fittingly, by President Barack Obama.

The long-awaited National Museum of African American History and Culture will open on Sept. 24 in Washington D.C., the Smithsonian Institution announced Monday, the Associated Press reports.

Linda St. Thomas, chief spokeswoman at the Smithsonian, said that President Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, will lead the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

A weeklong celebration is scheduled to follow the opening of the museum, and it will include an outdoor festival and a period in which the museum will remain open for 24 hours.

As AP notes, the museum has built a collection of some 11 exhibits that detail the history of slavery, segregation, civil rights and African Americans’ achievements in the arts, entertainment, sports, military and other aspects of the wider culture. There will also be artifacts on display that are on loan from other institutions, such as the 13th Amendment and the Emancipation Proclamation, both signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2016 in Black History

 

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Today’s Google Doodle is Frederick Douglas

If you go to Google Search, in honor of Black History Month, today’s Google Doodle is this pic…

Go here to the Google Cultural Institute to see a letter written by Douglas to his former slave master and other important documents and images.

Now, I really appreciate Google doing this, but would prefer they hire a few more black engineers, scientists, and management…

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2016 in Black History

 

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Nat Turner…”Birth of a Nation”.

Quite frankly, I would hold off on any “Winning the Oscar” predictions for this dramatization of the Nat Turner Rebellion. As any student of American History should know, the Nat Turner Rebellion was one of many acts of defiance and outright rebellion by slaves being held in bondage. Making the Southern Myth of “happy darkies down on the Plantation” utterly bankrupt.

The film has been a major hit at the Sundance Film Festival, whether that will carry through to larger commercial success dealing with this decidedly uncomfortable chapter in American History for the confederate flag waivers…Is yo be seen.

‘Birth of a Nation’: Sundance’s Record-Breaking Remedy to #OscarsSoWhite

Acquired for a Sundance Film Festival record $17.5 million, Nate Parker’s dramatization of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion will be a major Oscar contender in 2017.

Actor-director-producer Nate Parker made history by inking a landmark $17.5 million Sundance deal to sell his slavery drama The Birth of A Nation to Fox Searchlight, starting his 2017 Oscar campaign a full year early. The vibrant and lyrical portrait of the divisive African American hero is an incendiary inquiry into themes of racism and faith that still echo today.

A perfect storm of elements converged to make Parker’s pre-Civil War slavery biopic the most electrifying debut of this year. It began, of course, with the provocative true story of Turner, a slave and preacher turned rebel leader whose violent uprising left 60 white slave-owning men, women, and children slaughtered and has long occupied a morally ambiguous place in American history books.

Then, from Nat to Nate: Parker’s own seven-year quest to bring Turner’s story to the screen—boldly co-opting its title from D.W. Griffiths’s 1915 film, one of American cinema’s most famously racist “classics”—saw him quit acting for a year to finally make it happen after being discouraged time and again. In the end it took a village, as evidenced by end credits naming four production companies, over a dozen exec producers, and special thanks to folks like George Lucas and, curiously enough, Mel Gibson.

And third, the fortuitous confluence of timing that aligned The Birth of a Nation’s world premiere with peak industry fury over racial homogeny at next month’s Academy Awards. This year’s Oscars will be so white, but 2017 now already has its first Best Picture contender of color since 12 Years A Slave—not coincidentally, also about the ugly stain slavery left on America’s past.

As journalists scrambled to ask every marginally famous celebrity about the lack of black Oscar nominees this year in the snowy white-blanketed and predominantly white ski resort town of Park City, Utah, The Birth of a Nation felt all the more urgent and relevant. “If it doesn’t get nominated next year,” I heard a (Caucasian) man joke, cluelessly reaching for the zeitgeist while waiting for a shuttle at Sundance, “there could be an uprising!”

Some might dismiss the film’s hot buzz as merely a byproduct of the diversity crisis in Hollywood—particularly serendipitous timing for a movie directed, co-written, produced by, and starring an African American filmmaker, about the most despicable era for racial injustice in our country’s history. But it’s not so much the series of documented events depicted in The Birth of a Nation that earn it its resonance, as it is the stirring, soulful, and incendiary spirit that courses through its veins, anchored by an utterly extraordinary performance by Parker himself.

The real Turner was a slave and homegrown Baptist preacher famed for spreading the gospel in sermons to other slaves. He reported having religious visions and took a solar anomaly in the skies in August of 1831 as a sign from God to commence his bloody insurrection…Read The Rest Here

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2016 in Black History

 

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Alzheimer Disease and Black People

Had up close and personal experience with this in my family, with more than one of my maternal side’s siblings coming down with it. With the dozens of doctors and researchers I talked to…None ever mentioned this.

African-Americans Need to Wake Up to the Danger of Alzheimer’s

The justified fear in the African-American community around medical trials is keeping us from beating a disease that affects us more than others.

Today we celebrate the civil rights movement, one of its beloved leaders, and our hard-won gains. Unfortunately, African-Americans are at risk of letting those gains slip through their fingers, along with their most basic civil right: to support their families, and themselves. Worse, they don’t even know about this threat. I’m talking about Alzheimer’s, and the dirty little secret that African-Americans are twice as likely to get it. Its consequences, as I have come to see first-hand, are simply catastrophic.

My beautiful wife, the food and lifestyle maven B. Smith is now well into the dreadful progression of stages from which, so far, no cure or effective treatment exists. I have become her round-the-clock caretaker, the hardest job I’ve ever known. And yet I’m luckier than most in my position: we live in a nice house, and we have money saved.

For the 5.3million Americans coping with it, and the roughly fifteen million more serving as full or part-time caretakers to those loved ones, Alzheimer’s is a curse that costs, on average, $100,000 a year. Make that $1 million over the disease’s average ten-year duration. Most African-American families struggling with Alzheimer’s simply can’t afford that. Having reached the middle class at last—thanks in large part to Dr. King and his movement—many are slipping back into destitution, the gains of a movement snuffed out, like so many candles in the dark, one by one by one.

The Obama administration has, at last, taken steps to address the gross inequity of funding for Alzheimer’s research versus other top killers. The budget for Alzheimer’s research will be boosted 60% in this year’s budget to $936 million. That’s still chump change compared to cancer ($5.1 billion) and HIV/AIDs ($25.3 billion), especially with 13.8 million Americans projected to get Alzheimer’s by 2050, at a cost to us all of $1.1 trillion. Yet, research is up, and promising drugs are out there.

The problem is that African-Americans may not benefit from that research. Why? In a word: Tuskagee. The infamous, decades-long, secret study of black men with syphilis that led to so many unnecessary deaths left subsequent generations deeply—and rightly—suspicious of medical trials. Result: hardly any African-Americans have signed up for new Alzheimer’s drug trials. If the disease affects African-Americans differently, who’s to say the new drugs will be suitable for them?

So on this day of civil rights celebration, I say to my fellow African-Americans: don’t be put off by a medical experiment long impugned and barred by law from reoccurring. Don’t squander the civil right to help cure a disease that disproportionately targets us. Sign up for Alzheimer’s trials, either by contacting the national Alzheimer’s Association or the Brain Health Registry. Join the fight.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2016 in Black History, BlackLivesMatter

 

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Book About George Washington’s Slaves Pulled

Some apparently well-meaning authors have gotten into hot water relative their depiction of two of First President George Washington’s slaves.

Scholastic Pulls Children’s Book About George Washington And His Slaves After Outcry

The picture book was strongly criticized for its upbeat images and story of Washington’s cook, the slave Hercules and his daughter, Delia.

Scholastic is pulling a new picture book about George Washington and his slaves amid objections it sentimentalizes a brutal part of American history.

“A Birthday Cake for George Washington” was released Jan. 5 and had been strongly criticized for its upbeat images and story of Washington’s cook, the slave Hercules and his daughter, Delia. Its withdrawal was announced Sunday.

“While we have great respect for the integrity and scholarship of the author, illustrator and editor, we believe that, without more historical background on the evils of slavery than this book for younger children can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn,” the children’s publisher said in a statement released to the AP.

The book, which depicts Hercules and Delia preparing a cake for Washington, has received more than 100 one-star reviews on Amazon.com. As of Sunday evening, only 12 reviews were positive. The book also set off discussions on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere on social media.

While notes in “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” from author Ramin Ganeshram and illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton had pointed out the historical context of the 18th century story and that Hercules eventually escaped, some critics faulted Ganeshram and Brantley-Newton for leaving out those details from the main narrative.

“Oh, how George Washington loves his cake!” reads the publisher’s description of the story. “And, oh, how he depends on Hercules, his head chef, to make it for him. Hercules, a slave, takes great pride in baking the president’s cake. But this year there is one problem — they are out of sugar.”

The trade publication School Library Journal had called it “highly problematic” and recommended against its purchase. Another trade journal, Kirkus Reviews, had labeled the book “an incomplete, even dishonest treatment of slavery.”

In a Scholastic blog post from last week, Ganeshram wrote that the story was based on historical research and meant to honor the slaves’ skill and resourcefulness…

Sunday’s announcement comes amid an ongoing debate about the lack of diversity in publishing, although the collaborators on “A Birthday Cake” come from a variety of backgrounds. Ganeshram is an award-winning journalist and author born to a Trinidadian father and Iranian mother and has a long history of food writing. Her previous works include the novel “Stir It Up” and the nonfiction “FutureChefs.”

Brantley-Newton, who has described herself as coming from a “blended background — African American, Asian, European, and Jewish,” has illustrated the children’s series “Ruby and the Booker Boys” among other books. The editor was Andrea Davis Pinkney, also an author who in 2013 won a Coretta Scott King prize for African-American children’s literature….Read More Here

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2016 in Black History

 

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