This weekend we’ll be celebrating what would’ve been Dr Martin Luther King‘s 82cd 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.
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 headJ 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 withJack ‘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 1967 Dr King delivered a rare and powerful speech in Atlanta to NATRA ( National Association of Television and Radio Announcers). 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.
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 namedMagnificent Montague who had coined the phraseBurn 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.
Below is a special mix I did called MLK vs the Radio.. It contains excerpts from that rare NATRA speech..
I am also posting up the entire speech which is absolutely brilliant Dr Martin Luther King NATRA-Full speech
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