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Richland Student Media

Richland Student Media

Dallas


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Richland Chronicle 2/20/24
Richland Chronicle 2/20/24

WERD radio: Echoes of revolution

Atlanta station and its culture-rich history
Chronicle staff writer Tracey Nicholas sings at the WERD museum. (Staff Photo/Carlos Ortega)

While on a walking tour led by Ernie Suggs, enterprise reporter and manager of the AJC Sepia and first keynote speaker of the 2023 ACP/CMA Fall National College Media Convention, students from across the country found themselves face-to-face with dozens of historical locations along Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, with one stop in particular holding a much more storied past behind its beauty shop window display. The Madame C.J. Walker Boutique Museum and WERD Radio Station Museum sit on the corner of Auburn Avenue and Hillard Street, with Ricci de Forest serving as their caretaker.

Finding the space in the 1990s, he kept an eye on the vacant building which the modern-day museum stands for over a decade before leasing the space in 2004. Ricci began operating a small-scale salon until he was told that the space above it housed something completely unexpected.
Above him sat the WERD Radio Station, the first Black-owned and operated radio station in the U.S. The station played a pivotal role in the representation and amplification of Black voices and music during the Jim Crow era, in which segregation and outward racism were deeply rooted into American culture.It was influential in promoting Black music, especially rhythm and blues, and provided a platform for the growth of the R&B genre and Black artists who popularized their music.
The station also played a crucial role in the Civil Rights movement, spreading awareness about the movement’s activities and offering a platform for leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.
Since this discovery, Ricci has been working to transform and authentically represent the space as a historical museum, hosting tours of the Madame C.J. Walker Boutique Museum and WERD Radio Station Museum regularly while working to expand their reach. Alex Ro, the CEO of local Atlantan tour company has seen these efforts continue to grow in the last three years of taking customers to the museum. In tracing the legacy of WERD, it becomes evident that its impact goes far beyond the confines of radio history. WERD’s pioneering spirit paved the way for future generations of Black-owned media outlets and continues to inspire those who recognize the transformative power of media in shaping cultural narratives, amplifying marginalized voices and fostering societal change.

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