JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) - The unveiling of WLBT's marker on the Mississippi Freedom Trail took place Wednesday morning outside of the news station on Jefferson Street.
Guests for the ceremony were Dr. Leslie-Burl McLemore, (Chairman, Mississippi Freedom Trail Task Force), Ricky Thigpen, (Executive Vice President for Visit Jackson); Ted Fortenberry (General manager of WLBT), William "Bill" Dilday (Former General Manager), and Howard Ballou (WLBT news anchor).
This new Mississippi Freedom Trail marker recalls the controversial past and eventual transition to diverse ownership of WLBT.
During the 1950s and 1960s, WLBT purposefully silenced news coverage of the civil rights movement and held ties to the segregationist White Citizens' Council. The station intentionally removed broadcast footage concerning civil rights from the NBC News feed and preempted programs featuring African-American actors, while allowing the Council to operate a bookstore in the studio's lobby.
A coalition including NBC, civil rights groups and the Reverend Everett Parker of the United Church of Christ notified the Federal Communications Commission of WLBT-TV's actions. In 1964, Rev. Parker and the UCC formally petitioned the FCC to revoke the station's license but were denied legal standing in the case. The U.S. Court of Appeals disagreed, but in 1967, the FCC ruled again in favor of Lamar Life Insurance Company, the station's owner.
A final appeal by the UCC in 1969 was successful, ordering the FCC to revoke the license for WLBT. In 1971, the FCC granted Communications Improvement, Inc., a biracial community board, permission to operate the station and William Dilday became the first African-American TV station manager in the South.
"In a protracted struggle, the citizens of Jackson were able to defeat the forces of segregation that populated the airways with racial discrimination and misinformation," said Dr. Leslie-Burl McLemore, chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Trail Task Force. "The new biracial coalition of station owners created an environment in which all voices could be heard."
All that changed with new management with William Dilday at the helm, becoming the first African American general manager of any station in the country.
"When I came here in '72, I never thought of anything like this happening," said Dilday. "All I thought about was to make this station the best it could be and fulfill all the aspirations of my board of directors and now look what we've got. I'm very proud."
But Dilday admits, there were some obstacles to achieving his goals.
"And what I finally did was, I made sure that everybody knew what I wanted on the station and if you didn't get it, I was going to chew out everybody," added Dilday. "So they started working together to keep me off their backs."
"And black and white came together and worked together," continued Dilday.
The Mississippi Freedom Trail started in 2011 and commemorates the people, places and events of the civil rights movement. For additional information, please visit www.visitmississippi.org.