Stewart, Shelley 1934-
STEWART, Shelley 1934-
PERSONAL: Born 1934, in Birmingham, AL; son of Huell (a mill worker) and Mattie (a house cleaner) Stewart; married three times, divorced; children. Ethnicity: African American; Education: Rosedale High School, Birmingham, AL, 1952, diploma (honors).
ADDRESSES: Home—Birmingham, AL. Offıce—O2 Ideas, 2160 Highland Avenue, Birmingham, AL 35205. Agent—c/o Author's Mail, Warner Books, 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Radio talk-show host and disc jockey, civil rights activist, business owner, and author. Worked for radio stations WWBCO-AM, WENN-AM, and WATV-AM (co-owner); O2 Ideas (advertising agency), Birmingham, AL, co-owner, vice chairman, and chief consulting officer. Military service: U.S. Army Air Force.
MEMBER: Black Radio Hall of Fame.
AWARDS, HONORS: Miles College, Birmingham, honorary doctorate.
(With Nathan Hale Turner, Jr.) The Road South: A Memoir, Warner Books (New York, NY) 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: "I didn't write The Road South for anything more than to help and inspire others," said Shelley Stewart in an interview with Edward Morris for Bookpage. "If just sharing my experiences matters—that you don't have to hate, that you don't have to give up, that you have to respect and love yourself, that you must be educated in order to communicate with others—then maybe it won't be in vain."
Stewart was born in legally segregated Alabama during the Great Depression. His introduction to horror, hardship, and abuse began as a young child. At the age of five he and his three brothers saw their abusive, alcoholic father kill their mother with an ax during a rampage, and after his father remarried, his stepmother banned the children from the house, dumping them on the filthy back porch to fend for themselves. Five-year-old Stewart and his brother, Bubba, were forced to scrounge for food and rags in order to feed and clothe themselves and their younger siblings.
Stewart lived successively with two aunts who were nearly as abusive as his father: one served fried rats for Sunday dinner; the other, who believed black boys should be broken like mules, stripped him, hung him from the ceiling, whipped him, and rubbed salt into his wounds. In such environments, Stewart realized at the age of six that his survival depended upon himself alone. He ran away and, with the owner's permission, lived in a horse stable in exchange for helping with the horses. He walked five miles to school, and credits his teacher, Mamie Foster, for developing his sense of self worth. Of her, he says in his book: "[She] guided me masterfully through the first grade at Union Baptist and helped lay the foundation for my affection for the printed word. I was secretly proud that I was a capable reader in a sea of Negro illiteracy." Morris remarked, "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."
Stewart was later taken in by a well-to-do white family, living in their basement for three years. He worked three part-time jobs while in high school and dreamed of being a lawyer. Although Stewart was an excellent student and graduated from high school with honors, the principal refused to recommend him for a scholarship, telling him, as recounted in Stewart's book, "You are just not college material." Bitterly disappointed, he joined the U.S. military, where his struggle against racism landed him in the psychiatric ward, forced to endure electric shock treatment. He was subsequently discharged. A critic for Kirkus Reviews commented that Stewart's narrative in The Road South: A Memoir "is hobbled by clumsy prose," then concluded, "Though his personal story is remarkable, the greatest strength here may be the matter-of-fact reporting on a virulent strain of deep Southern racism."
Stewart landed a job as a deejay at the white-owned WBCO radio station. He also became a popular dance-hall deejay, meeting musicians such as Jackie Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and the Temptations and becoming friends with Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes. Radio provided Stewart a venue to promote the civil rights movement and support Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s march on Birmingham, using coded messages to rally demonstrators, both black and white.
During his career Stewart battled with alcoholism, depression, and three unsuccessful marriages. He also struggled, unsuccessfully, to redeem his younger brothers. On a professional level, however, after fifty years behind the microphone, Stewart's pursuit of the business side of radio culminated in co-ownership of WATV 900 Gold; as partner, vice chairman, and chief consulting officer of a highly successful advertising and communication agency; and as an author. A writer for the Time Warner Books Web site described Stewart's book as "A true story in the tradition of A Child Called It and Angela's Ashes . . . one man's remarkable struggle to survive poverty and the most horrifying abuse to forge unheard-of success—and the strength to heal his life."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, July, 2002, Vanessa Bush, review of The Road South: A Memoir, p. 1813.
Bookpage, July, 2002, Edward Morris, "Struggles down South: Life Lessons from True Survivor Shelley Stewart" (interview), p. 20.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2002, review of The Road South, p. 722.
Library Journal, August, 2002, Suzanne W. Wood, review of The Road South, p. 111.
02 Ideas Web site,http://www.02ideas.com/ (January 9, 2003).
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Online,http://www.accessatlanta.com/ (October 23, 2002), Cynthia Smith, "A Memoir of a Remarkable Life."
Birmingham Business Journal Online,http://birmingham.bizjournals.com/ (October 23, 2002), August 9, 2002, Sharon Gee, "Author Shelley Stewart's Long, Hard Road."
Time-Warner Books Web site,http://www.twbookmark.com/ (October 23, 2002).*