Madison, Joseph E. 1949–
Joseph E. Madison 1949–
Talk show host, activist
The maxim “talk is cheap” has never seemed more true than in our current, talk-glutted times; in a society strewn with empty campaign promises and washed-out ideals, few people seem willing to get past the talk and put themselves on the line for their beliefs. Joseph E. Madison is one of those few. Born in 1949, Madison rose through the ranks of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) to become a prominent member of the board of directors. He spent 20 years in Detroit where he served as executive director for the local NAACP, developing the Voter Education Project. In addition to his civil rights activities, he is the host of a syndicated radio talk show in Washington, D.C. At age 48, Madison is a 20-year veteran of talk radio, and was recently named by Talkers magazine as one of America’s 100 most important talk show hosts. His many activities, past and present, share common threads that help to define the man himself: commitment to community activism; a love for and a duty to the African American community; and a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of his convictions.
Boasting a long list of achievements, Madison’s lifelong commitment to civil rights includes 19-years experience in minority and urban affairs. As national political director and life member of the NAACP, Madison has served in numerous leadership positions and is credited with devising fund-raising strategies, producing a telethon, and directing a Detroit Freedom Fund Dinner which raised $1 million for the NAACP. Madison also coordinated a Philadelphia voting campaign resulting in 250,000 new voters and 80% voter turnout.
Madison’s radio show is characterized by his frank yet civil approach to issues ranging from national politics to local neighborhood issues. As a radio commentator, Madison does not shrink from controversial topics and, in the past, has unflinchingly voiced viewpoints that are unpopular in the media. During the O.J. Simpson trial, he was criticized for commending the tactics of the defense attorneys, and when the Oakland County (California) school officials voted to allow Ebonics to be used as a language tool, he was one of the few media personalities to cheer the decision.
The true test of Madison’s commitment to his beliefs began when he received a telephone call in August of 1996. The caller drew Madison’s attention to a controversial
Born June 16, 1949, Dayton, Ohio; son of Nancy Madison and Felix Madison; married Sharon Madison; children: Shawna, Jason, Monesha, Michelle. Education; Washington University, 8.A., 1971.
Career: Talk show host, activist. General Motors Corp, public relations, 1969-70; St. Louis Cardinal Football, statistician, 1970-71; Seymour & Lundy Assoc, urban affairs, 1971-74; Detroit Branch, NAACP, exec dir, 1974-77; natl political dir, NAACP; political dir of SEIU; dir of COTE; WXYZ-TV, Detroit, Mi, host of public affairs program, 1975-76; WXYT Radio, Detroit, Ml, host, 1978-89; WRC Radio, WWDB-FM, 1989; Washington, DC, radio show host, 1990-94; Natl Press Building, personality & dir of syndication, currently. Television appearances include: Good Morning America, ABC News Nightline, NBC’s Today Show, and the Oprah Winfrey Show, among others.
Organizations: Bd of dir, Operation Big Vote, 1978-; bd of advisors, US Census Bureau, 1985; national bd mem, life mem, NAACP; mem, Intl Platform Assoc, 1985; pres, Michigan Leadership Conference.
Honors/awards: Americans Noteworthy Community Leaders, Jaycees, 1976-78; Man of the Year, Black American Women’s Hall of Fame, 1980; Men to Watch in the 1980’s, Detroit Monthly Magazine; Nation’s 50 Leaders of the Future, Ebony Magazine; Top Ten Newsmaker, Crain’s Detroit Business; Achievement in Radio Award for Best Non-Drive Time Radio Show; Best Spot News Bdcast; finalist, Best New Talent Award; honorary Kentucky colonel.
Addresses: Office -TPT News, Inc, Natl Press Bldg, Ste 1186, Washington, DC 20045.
series of articles printed in the San Jose Mercury News (CA). The articles claimed that a San Francisco drug ring had sold tons of cocaine to Los Angeles gangs in 1980, and that drug profits had been used as gun money for the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contras with the CIA’s knowledge. If true, the allegations would implicate the government in the promotion of the crack cocaine epidemic. While the mainstream press largely ignored or discredited the story, Madison turned his Washington radio station into a daily forum for a discussion of the alleged wrongdoings. Spurred by Madison, the Prince George County branch of the NAACP announced its intent to seek an independent investigation into charges that the CIA knew of crack cocaine shipments in 1980 to southern California. The NAACP further resolved to support legislation for a Records Act allowing the declassification of government documents that would shed light on the affair. In addition to arousing NAACP sentiment, Madison encouraged Americans to visit his Internet site to download a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) form letter requesting records.
To demonstrate the force of his convictions, Madison began a hunger strike along with comedian-activist Dick Gregory and professor-author John Newman of the University of Maryland. Beginning on October 15, 1996, they vowed not to relent until a Records Act was passed. Madison’s hunger strike also was intended to be a show of solidarity with the victims of crack cocaine. His commitment proved costly; by the time he reached 108 days of fasting and a loss of 30 pounds, the toll on his health included frequent headaches and a reduced energy level. “I knew when I started this that I had to be in it for the long haul,” Madison was quoted in a Detroit News article as saying. In addition to the fasting, Madison and Dick Gregory were arrested twice—once outside CIA headquarters while trying to deliver news stories to CIA Director John Deutsch, and again outside DEA offices while tying police crime tape across an agency entrance and demanding records. Incarcerated both times overnight, Madison and Gregory were later cleared of charges. They were not alone in their struggle, however; Madison enjoyed bi-partisan support from Democrat Maxine Waters and Republican Senator John Warner, as well as Democratic Congressman Albert Wynn who called for an independent committee to monitor the CIA’s internal investigation. Madison hoped to draw the interest from a wide range of people, saying in a Detroit News article that, “this story transcends race, class, gender and generation.”
Madison’s supporting evidence of the alleged conspiracy covered a broad spectrum of documentation. Representative Waters told Madison’s audience that Los Angeles Sheriff Department documents proved that former Contra leader and drug kingpin Danilo Blandon had avoided prosecution for a drug-related arrest. Listeners also learned from “Freeway Rick” Ross, a Los Angeles drug dealer, about his purchases of large amounts of cocaine from Blandon. Madison’s audience heard from former army intelligence officer John Newman that, historically, drug dealers in Burma, Laos, and South Vietnam were protected by the CIA.
Madison’s show also featured Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) who claimed to know of documents that linked former Marine Oliver North and the CIA to a “public diplomacy” agency which deliberately misled journalists to get them to support the Contras. Lawrence Walsh, special prosecutor for the 1980s Iran-Contra investigation, further confirmed that rumors of drug smuggling by the rebel group did exist.
Charges made in early 1997 by Celerino Castillo, a former Drug Enforcement agent, that the U.S. government knew of cocaine shipments during the mid-1980s was confirmed by Dallas reporters who went to El Salvador and interviewed Castillo’s informants. Castillo later sent information to DEA headquarters linking cocaine shipments to Oliver North and detailing CIA efforts to finance contra rebels. However, these records remain classified and the DEA refuses to release the information. Instances such as these encouraged Madison to pursue his hunger strike in an effort to force the DEA, CIA and other government officials to disclose evidence.
While Madison drew his evidence from many different sectors, he did not receive support from many outside the African American community. Speculation regarding the charges remained at the forefront of discussions in black churches, town meetings, and the black media, but many African-Americans felt that the news received insufficient coverage in the media at-large. As with the O.J. Simpson trial, an existing gulf between black and white Americans was exposed.
Critics charged Madison with promoting a conspiracy theory among African Americans that the government was practicing a sort of genocide by inundating Black communities with drugs. Madison, however, dismissed such claims as attempts to portray him and other African Americans as anti-government so as to prevent white citizens from demanding an independent investigation. Madison faced further criticism when it was revealed that the Mercury News articles had misrepresented certain facts.
The struggle was not without its triumphs; Madison and his supporters were instrumental in getting CIA director John Deutsch to address a community hearing in Los Angeles of 2,000 people. However, while Madison and his supporters urged that special prosecutors be appointed to investigate the matter, such demands were never realized and Madison eventually ended his lengthy hunger strike.
Madison shared the NAACP Chairman’s Award at its 28th Annual Image Awards with Maxine Waters and Dick Gregory. All three were recognized for the role they played in pressuring the government and motivating the community. Madison’s efforts in the matter spurred congressional interest and international media coverage from the BBC network of London, an Australian network, South American radio, CNN, MSNBC and daytime television shows. Wade Henderson, a former Washington lobbyist for the NAACP who now directs the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights said of Madison in a Detroit News article, “Joe brings together a blend of activism, substance, and media savvy that makes him one of the African American community’s better representatives.”
His efforts have been recognized by numerous prestigious organizations; in 1993 and again in 1995, he won the Association of University Women’s Award for Excellence in Radio Programming. He was also named to the list of “America’s Noteworthy Community Leaders” by the Jaycees, “One of the Men to Watch in the 1980’s” by Detroit Monthly magazine, and as one of the “Top Ten Newsmakers” by Detroit Business Magazine. Madison has appeared on Good Morning America, ABC’s Nightline, NBC’s Today Show, and The Oprah Winfrey Show, among others. Selected by Ebony magazine as “One of the Nation’s 50 Leaders of the Future,” Madison has certainly made his mark.
Detroit News, December 22, 1996, p. A5.
USA Today, February 25, 1997.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Joseph. Madison’s homepage at http://www.jmadison.com.
—Marilyn Williams and Rebecca Parks
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