With the creation of the internet and the use of Smartphone’s, getting a message around to many people in a short period of time didn’t take much. But even before the television, what did people use to “spread the word”? In Birmingham Alabama, the means of getting the word around to the black community mostly relied on the power of the radio. The person who kept the community of Birmingham updated with crucial information about the Civil rights movements was DJ Shelley “The playboy” Stewart. Dianne Mcwhorter's Pulitzer, the author of Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution, “the most detailed report on the Birmingham civil rights movement”, hold Shelley as “indispensable” to the movement in Birmingham due to his ability to draw an audience of both black and white activist students willing to support the cause. The leadership displayed by Shelly Stewart during the Children’s March in May 2, 1963 showed how he used the power of radio to relay messages to support Martin Luther King Jr. and the bigger cause.
He was born on September 29, 1934 in an African-American neighborhood called Rosedale very close to the heart and soul of the Civil Rights movement Birmingham Alabama. Shelley was fortunate enough to receive some type of education during childhood; he attended Parker Industrial High school then ended up graduating at Rosedale High school, with honors. One of his teachers, Mamie Foster says "Stewart had little going for him at first beyond the ability to read well and a sense of compassion that kept him from turning mean and bitter." However, Shelley experienced life changing events I’m sure no one could know how to deal with at such early stages in his childhood. When he was only five years old, he and his three other brothers (Sam, Jerome, and David) witnessed their father brutally kill their mother with an ax. His father later remarried another woman, and then she banned Shelly and his three brothers from ever returning to the house again. As a result, he was forced into a life of homelessness, where he had to survive off of other people's leftovers. He found refuge under the care of two aunts shortly after but it resulted in the same abusive environment that he was just in. Shelley with his best judgment at the time made the final call to run away from his aunt's home and decided to move into a barn, with the exception that he watches them. One could wonder how does a child move forward with such odds against him, but through tough times he never forgot what his teacher said “Shelley, if you learn to read, if you get a good education you can become anything you want to be” Shelley knew that the struggle he and his brother were going through wasn’t forever, this shaped his character, personality and the style of leadership he holds within him.
Who exactly is Shelly Stewart and how did he get his name “playboy”? After serving in the Air Force for one year, he returned to his hometown...