Monday, January 07, 2013

Smith-Douglass Vs. Eleanor Roosevelt

In February 1950, the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a newspaper column about her recent tour of southern states. You can read the whole article here. Allow me to quote the first paragraph.
"There is a charm about the South. The smell of magnolias, the lavender-and-old-lace feeling, still exists there. People are less hurried; they have more opportunity perhaps for the grace of living. But underneath it all I am not so sure that there are not some signs of poverty and unhappiness that will gradually have to disappear if that part of our nation is going to prosper and keep pace with the rest of it."

Her comments went over poorly, but it didn't hit all at once. It was more like a rolling snowball. Newspaper syndication then was different than now, some newspapers didn't run her article the following November. Roosevelt  as a capable writer and had published works as early as 1921. [See here] She praised the charm and scenery down south, but backhanded them a few times about little things like corruption, poverty and racism.

The south responded in print surely, but also by radio broadcast. Their chosen voice was Waldemar Eros Debnam a segregationist, anti-reconstructionist, and general bigot. Debnam did daily news commentaries over WPTF-AM in Raleigh.  He started out there in 1941 and stayed on into the late 1950s. He was a native North Carolinian, born in Wake county in 1898, and was a graduate of University of North Carolina. He was a newspaperman, broadcaster and author. You can listen to one of his broadcasts here.

In response to the Roosevelt column, Debnam wrote a response and broadcast it on WPTF. His own literature said that the response was broadcast on the Smith-Douglass Network, but that wasn't exactly true. It was broadcast, but it wasn't much of a network. Smith-Douglass consisted of WPTF-AM broadcasting on 680 kHz and a simulcast, WPTF-FM on 94.5 MHz. Both stations operated from 410 South Salisbury street right in downtown Raleigh. Debnam then printed up the response as a pamphlet and it sold out four times. The introductory text read as follows.
"This little booklet is an enlargement on a series of two broadcasts over the Smith-Douglass radio network February 8th and 9th, 1950, in answer to comments on the South by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt in her column, My Day, a few days before."

The rest is bigoted crap and I wont quote it here. WPTF-FM later became WKIX-FM and today airs oldies.  WPTF-AM today is a news talker with a sordid history of ultra-conservative commentators.  Debnam went on to broadcast more segregationist drivel and author more bigoted books. After a failed run for federal office, Debnam did some time in TV news. He died in 1968.