(Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)
ABOUT SHELLEY STEWART
Media executive Shelley Stewart was born on September 24, 1934 in Birmingham, Alabama to Huell Stewart and Mattie C. Stewart. He graduated from Rosedale High School in Birmingham, Alabama and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, where he served from 1952 to 1953.
After his military service, Stewart returned to Birmingham and was hired by WEDR-AM as a radio personality known as, “Shelley The Playboy.” By 1958, Stewart left Alabama to work for WOKJ-AM in Jackson, Mississippi. In the 1960s, Stewart worked for WENN-AM and served as the on-air voice of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, in 1967, he co-founded Steiner Advertising, now known as O2. In the 1970s, Stewart left WENN-AM and began working at WATV-FM. He and Dr. Erskine Faush went on to acquire WATV-AM, which became the most popular radio station in Birmingham. In 2002, Stewart and Faush sold WATV-AM to Sheridan Broadcasting and Stewart retired from broadcasting the same year. He then founded the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation in 2007, in an effort to reduce the dropout rate and increase the graduation rate of high school students.
Stewart also authored two books, The Road South: A Memoir and Mattie C.’s Boy: The Shelley Stewart Story.
Stewart was awarded the Footsteps to Freedom Award from the 16th Street Foundation in 1999, the Community Service Award from the National Association of Black Journalists in 2013, the Drum Major of Justice Award from the National Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the World Conference of Mayors’ Outstanding People of the World Award. Stewart was also named a Pioneer of Radio Inductee by the Smithsonian Institution in 1996, inducted into the Black Radio Hall of Fame, honored as a “Living Legend” by Warner Bros. Records, and recognized by Coca-Cola Bottling Company as one of the top ten most recognized African Americans in the State of Alabama. Stewart and Samford University President Andrew Westmoreland co-founded and lead Birmingham Kitchen Table, and in 2013, he was named alumnus honoris causa one of the university’s highest recognitions for non-graduates, for his role in the civil rights movement and his work in the community.
Bio written by The HistoryMakers on May 2, 2017.
This is one clipping that is where WEDR, where Shelley Stewart was at, “KKK” was written on WEDR. $5000 worth of vandalism. Ed Estes operated the station at this time, in Pensacola as well, another in Mobile, says “the first trouble he has experienced came, May 17th, when someone cut the support cables on the WEDR tower, causing the $5000 tower to fall to the ground.” Now as we all remember this is the second all black staffed radio station in the United States. “Estes offered a $1000 reward for the conviction. Engineers who checked the tower periodically told Estes on several occasions they’d found dead dogs with their throats cut at the base of the tower.” These are just horrible Klan activity. This was May 3rd, 1958.
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Mattie C.'s Boy
Shelley Stewart was five years old when he and his brothers watched in horror as their father murdered their mother with an ax. Homeless at the age of six, Stewart found what shelter he could, suffering physical and sexual abuse and racism.
Despite heartbreaking setbacks and the racial strife that gripped the South in the 1950s and 1960s, Stewart graduated high school and entered the broadcasting profession. There he became a hugely popular radio personality, rubbing shoulders with the top recording artists of the day and becoming one of the nation’s first black radio station owners.
He helped Dr. Martin Luther King mount the historic Children’s March through the streets of Birmingham, Alabama. Later Stewart would use his powerful communication skills to help convict one of the men who bombed the city’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Then this often-honored man turned his business skills to the creation of a foundation named after his mother; the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation works to convince high school students to stay in school and graduate, a topic Stewart speaks on in his many engagements around the country. Stewart, with author Don Keith, tells his story in his memoir Mattie C.'s Boy.
The Road South
As a five-year-old in Home-wood, Alabama, Shelley Stewart watched his father kill his mother with an axe. Two years later, Stewart escaped the care of abusive relatives, making a living as a stable hand. A stint in the army led to electroshock treatments for trying to integrate whites-only dances. But despite numerous setbacks, he never gave up his will to succeed. Eventually, odd jobs at radio stations laid the foundation for a 50-year career in broadcasting.
As an African-American radio personality, Stewart reached out to Jim Crow Alabama, using music to integrate his audience. Along the way, he helped launch the careers of such legends as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, and Gladys Knight. Instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement, he publicized the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A remarkable witness to and participant in the momentous social changes of the last three decades, Stewart, now a successful businessman and community leader, shares his courageous personal story that shows the indomitable strength of the human spirit.