February 08, 2012


Jesse Blayton Sr.

I love listening to the radio, which probably makes me sound a bit antiquated, since it’s all about listening to Spotify now. But, in addition to hearing my favorite songs, I like listening to the DJs and their banter.

Today, African-Americans dominate the airwaves, from Coast to Coast – some are even syndicated, such as Tom Joyner and his crew. But in the 1940s, there were only a few black DJs, and none of the stations were black-owned.

All of that changed in 1949, when Jesse B. Blayton Sr. purchased WERD in Atlanta, Georgia for $50,000 – changing the station format to ‘Negro appeal’. His purchase signified the first black-owned and operated radio station in the country (n.b. WDIA, in Memphis, Tennessee was a station, which was launched earlier that year, and had black programming and a black staff, but was white-owned)

Jesse B. Blayton Sr. was born in Fallis, Oklahoma, on December 6, 1897, and attended the Walton School in Chicago. He went on to study at the University of Chicago before moving to Atlanta, Georgia, to practice as an accountant in 1922. In 1928, he passed the examination to become Georgia's first black Certified Public Accountant and only the fourth in the United States. Jesse also held positions as an Atlanta bank president and as a professor at Atlanta University.

By 1949, Jesse was ready for a new challenge. When he purchased WERD in Atlanta, in October 1949, becoming the first African-American station owner, he installed his son J.B. Junior as General Manager, and hired a Chicago DJ named ‘Jockey Jack’ Gibson (AKA ‘Jack the Rapper’) to be the Program Director. It was Jack who instituted a daily news broadcast, using information from Atlanta’s black newspaper, and he also brought in an Atlanta University professor to do news commentary. This in itself was unique, since at many black stations run by white owners, there was a code of silence when it came to discussing racism. Jack is also credited with developing a new design for radio control rooms where he elevated the equipment forcing disc jockeys to stand. This greatly improving their voice projection; and his idea has been copied all around the world. In the early 1960s, Jack left radio and began to make his mark in the record industry. His pioneering efforts brought together many in the black music profession.

DJ Jack Gibson

Other DJs included James ‘Alley Pat’ Patrick, who was not only a radio pioneer, but also known as the black bail bondsman who would show up in small-town bastions of Jim Crow to bail out civil rights protesters. Among his many clients was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a well-known frequenter of Southern jails in those days of unrest.

 DJ James 'Alley Pat' Patrick

WERD was housed in the Masonic building on Auburn Avenue, then one of the wealthiest black neighborhoods in the United States. Located in that same building, was the headquarters of the new Southern Christian Leadership
, led by Dr. Martin Luther King. It has been said that Dr. King would beat the roof of the office with a broomstick as a signal to send the microphone down, through the window, when he wanted to make public addresses.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at SCLC and WERD Building

The station became extremely successful and paved the way for other African-Americans break into the industry, including starting Radio Networks. Jesse sold WERD in 1968. He died in 1977 and was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995.

I consider Atlanta to be my second home. I lived and worked there for awhile; and much of my family now lives. My favorite Soul Food restaurant, in Atlanta, is Mary Mac’s Tea Room, which was established in 1945. It’s not that fancy, and it’s not that expensive, but the food is absolutely delicious! You have to save up the calories for a week before going to eat there; but it’s worth it! So wrong, yet so right! 

In 2010, the restaurant published a cookbook. Here is a recipe for a decadent Tomato Pie, which is one of the most-ordered items on the menu.  Enjoy!

Tomato Pie

By John Ferrell, Mary Mac’s Tea Room Cookbook

Serves 10 to 12.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium sweet onions, thinly sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 box Ritz crackers (British friends, you can now buy Ritz crackers in our supermarkets)
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 cups mayonnaise (Hellmann’s works the best)
  • 1 ½ cups grated extra sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 13 by 9-inch baking dish with olive oil or butter. Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the salt and pepper to taste, remove from the heat, and set aside.

Crush 2 sleeves of Ritz crackers by hand or in a food processor. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cracker crumbs for the topping. Place half of the remaining cracker crumbs in the bottom of the baking dish and pour 1 can of the diced tomatoes, with juice, over the cracker crumbs. Layer half of the sautéed onions on top of the tomatoes, and repeat the layering process using the rest of the tomatoes and onions. Sprinkle the remaining half of the cracker crumbs over the tomato mixture.

In a bowl, combine the mayonnaise, Cheddar cheese, Parmesan cheese, and basil. Spread the mixture over the layers and sprinkle the reserved 1/2 cup cracker crumbs on top. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Sources: Wikipedia, Google, Bing, Radio Hall of Fame, Urban Radio Nation, Donna Harper, The Root, Mary Mac’s Tea Room

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