Celebrate Black History: Genevieve Stewart, the woman who inspired thousands to demonstrate

RAW: Celebrate Black History interview with Genevieve Stewart

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The Cumulus Media group has been downtown for a few years, but former KQXL FM radio star Genevieve Stewart saw it for the first time recently. It is a lovely mix of hardwood flooring, with matching wood trim and glistening Plexiglas-walled studios.

Around a corner nook, I heard a squeal, "Oooo! I can't believe it's you!"

Stewart laughed and said, "yes!" Her friend gushes, " I'm so glad to see you!"

The station now goes by the moniker Q106.5 FM, and DJ Incredible was on the air during her visit.

Genevieve and the deejay worked together when she was host of the station's morning talk show from 7 to 8 a.m. DJ Incredible said, yes, the hour was early, but it was a pleasure to work and learn as he and Genevieve greeted the city with a mix of news and talk that was irresistible to what quickly became the city's largest morning audience.

"We went to Number 1 in the ratings in morning drive within one book, one ratings book as they call it," Stewart said.

She started work there at the invitation of the owners in 1989. And at that time, she was the first-ever black female radio talk show host in Baton Rouge.

Stewart said she developed a basic structure for the show.

"Usually I would take the opening segment to establish the topic, interview the guest, and then from there on, we'd open the telephone lines," Stewart explained.

Callers would line up to bring their problems, their good news, their search for racial justice. At that time, Q106's airwaves reached far into our state.

"Our broadcast range was about a fifth of Louisiana's geographic area," Stewart said. The range was almost an unheard of listening area in 2016.

"People would call in when there was a school shooting. They called into Question of the Day before they called the police, before they called 911," Stewart said. "We managed to reverse a case of the district attorney at that time was prosecuting. And our listeners thought it was unfair. They made me aware of the story, and consequently it was reversed."

Click here if you'd like see the raw interview with Genevieve Stewart and learn more about that case, and it's interesting, There's also a story about how Stewart went undercover to investigate an audience complaint.

Stewart packed Question of the Day off to Washington DC for a week. By locating there, she was able to invite Don Brown, who was chairman of the National Democratic Party at the time, real hitters appeared on the show.

"And our audience in Baton Rouge was able to talk to national political figures directly on the phone," Stewart beamed.

It was during Stewart's tenure as radio host that discussions on budget cuts to Louisiana's black colleges gave birth to the Southern Radiothon. She said at first, they did a two-hour broadcast on how badly money was needed in light of the intended cuts.

"We stretched it over five days, and we made $35,000. It became an annual event, and we would raise hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Two signature public demonstrations were born straight out of Question of the Day.

A march from the Governor's Mansion to the State Capitol, featured a few thousand marchers. They were rallying to demand more control over illegal drug use and sale. Civil rights activist Dick Gregory answered Stewart's invitation to come to Baton Rouge and add his star power to the march. As he led the throng, they began right by were Governor Buddy Roemer was.

"We literally started at the Governor's Mansion, and we chanted 'Come out Buddy, Come out', and he came out and joined us, and we marched to the Capitol," Stewart described the event. "You had every statewide elected official except Billy Guste (state attorney general at the time). He was out of town."

Also among the Drug Free Louisiana signs were signs against Rollins Environmental Services, a plant in the North Baton Rouge community of Alsen. The march was also about alleged environmental racism.

"The situation then was much like what you're seeing today in Flint Michigan," Stewart said. "Observers have reported the off-site impact, but no one in government was moving to stop it. But in Flint, it stopped when children showed signs of lead poisoning. That was our great concern in Alsen was about the children who might be impacted by having this company so close to them."

And as if making the point, not long after the demonstration, an accident at Rollins Environmental sent workers to the hospital in the majority black community.

The second milestone action inspired by the Question of the Day Queen was a voter registration push for the two days following the 1991 primary for the governor's race. When David Duke emerged as the challenger to Edwin Edwards, the news that a former Klu Klux Klan wizard might have a chance at the governor's mansion exploded in the black community.

"We managed to register 18,000 people in Baton Rouge in one day. Outside the lines were going six, seven and eight blocks. When it was time for the clerk's office to close, workers agreed to stay for as long as it took for people who had been standing in line when closing time came."

James Terry, a photographer who had been taking pictures, told me people were averaging about 3-hours in line, just to register to vote.

When all these things were happening, they may not have seen like a huge political/social force at work, but when you line them up, it is in compressing them that you see the many ways black radio and Genevieve Stewart's show motivated people and gave them a platform for demanding change.

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