As we commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day this weekend, Bomani Jones shared a link to a website that uploaded a speech Dr. King made to the National Association of TV and Radio announcers back in August of 1967. The speech called on the importance of Black radio as shaping the opinions of their listeners through talk and music.
Over 45 years later, Dr. King is gone and unfortunately, so is most of black-owned and operated media. Sure, radio stations have black deejays that play black music, but how many black-owned radio stations still exist? How many black owned papers are still thriving (blogged about that in August)? How many black TV stations are there? Not many of each of the entities I just named, I can promise you.
To me, and this is just my opinion (long-standing as it may be), Brown vs. Board of Education was really misunderstood by blacks and whites. Many people took that decision, one that went a huge way in desegregating schools, as a unifying decision, that blacks and whites wanted to attend school/shop/eat/use the bathroom together. In my opinion, Brown v. Board was about equal resources in black neighborhoods and communities, allowing for them to flourish and thrive outside of white governance.
That includes black media, which had a long and rich history of serving Black America. There were magazines like Ebony, Essence and Jet (still in publication today), several great Black-owned and operated newspapers (such as the Baltimore Afro American, Philadelphia Tribune and the Chicago Defender) and of course the radio, which played great music and talked to their listeners with a cadence and a candor that was similar to friends talking. Guys like Petey Greene in Washington D.C. and Georgie Woods here in the Philadelphia area were the voices that calmed the violence in most cities ravaged by rioting during the late 1960s.
That feeling of community fell by the wayside with desegregation and the eventual integration of Black media into white corporations and the three events are closely related. With no black media reporting on the happenings of black neighborhoods, with no black radio to play the music the people in their communities want to hear, what cohesiveness or unity do you have? It all fell apart, by design to me.
Less than 48 hours before President Barack Obama prepares to take the oath for the second time, the question has to be asked – can a Black media renaissance happen? Have we overcome too much for those feelings of cohesion and community that our grandparents and parents had to be revived in our generation? Do we have the voices in this generation that Dr. King so proudly and urgently called on his speech to NATRA 45 years ago?
Only time will tell.