“History, when presented well, is transformative; it defines and interprets reality, it gives people hope, it makes us better.” — Lonnie G. Bunch III, Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum for African American History and Culture.
Urban One, Inc., is the largest African-American-owned broadcasting company in the U.S. and the largest radio broadcaster targeting black listeners. Urban One, Inc., with holdings in radio, cable television and digital media, owns and operates 55 radio stations in 16 U.S. markets. Founder Cathy Hughes is the first black woman to own a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange. Urban One ranked #9 on the 2016 Black Enterprise 100.
So why is Urban One not included in the National Museum for African American History and Culture? Before writing this article, I called the museum to ask Mr. Lonnie Bunch III that question but was unable to speak with him. I don’t know if he has a plan to include Urban One or not, but I truly hope he does. Meanwhile, many concerned listeners of the popular and acclaimed “Carl Nelson Show” on D.C.’s 1450 AM (WOL) have made calls and sent emails to Mr. Bunch to inquire about this glaring omission to black history.
To be sure, this is not just about Urban One and black history; this is about “black business history” as well, for which I have advocated and taught for many years. Our young people and older ones too should know our entrepreneurial history. Black people in this country have been entrepreneurs since the 1700s, despite the hardships they faced, and there are few things in our history that are more important than that.
Additionally, black media have played such an important role in black history. We have John Russwurm’s Journalism, David Walker’s Appeal, Frederick Douglass’ North Star Newspaper, Garvey’s Negro World, to Muhammad Speaks and The Final Call. Names such as Abbott, Sengstacke, Bogle and John Johnson in print media, to radio stations like WDIA in Memphis, WCIN in Cincinnati, WERD in Atlanta and radio personalities such as Jack Cooper, Jack “The Rapper” Gibson, Dyanna Williams, Bob Law and Gary Byrd, just to name a few. These media outlets are where many black people actually learned our history.
Since the first “black” radio station in 1948, to the first “black-owned” radio station in 1949, we have seen many positive developments in black media, not the least of which is Cathy Hughes’ rise to the pinnacle of her beloved industry. Determination, perseverance, tenacity, boldness and sacrifice remain hallmarks of her journey toward continued success. She is a vital part of our history and is making even more history as we speak.
Howard University recently announced a multimillion-dollar gift to its School of Communications from Alfred C. Liggins III, son of Cathy Hughes and president/CEO of Radio One, Inc., which led to the school being named in honor of Ms. Hughes, a former Howard University staff member. The “School of C,” from which my daughter graduated in 2015, is now the “Cathy Hughes School of Communications.” That accomplishment alone is an excellent reason for Urban One to be included in the National Museum for African American History and Culture.
Cathy Hughes has been and still is a “Quiet Storm” personified, in keeping with her radio show theme song early in her career. She has not been boisterous, self-aggrandizing, or selfish; she just went about her work building a business and preparing to leave a legacy rather than trying to be a legend. Her example is reflective of the “hope” in Mr. Lonnie Bunch’s quote at the beginning of this article. When visiting the museum our young entrepreneurs can derive “hope” from the Cathy Hughes chronicle. They will be buoyed by the strides Ms. Hughes made, in spite of the hardships, and some will take up the gauntlet to continue her legacy of excellence in business.
So why was Urban One omitted from the museum even after, as I was told, generously contributing to that edifice? I don’t know the answer, but I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Mr. Bunch for not including them in the inaugural year. However, the second year is upon us, and September must not arrive without Urban One having a prominent spot in the National “Black” museum.
As Mr. Lonnie Bunch said, “History, when ‘presented’ well, is transformative.” Cathy Hughes and Urban One have “transformed” the media landscape in this country, and Ms. Hughes has “presented” her history quite well. As the curator of the museum—a steward of black history — Mr. Bunch should do whatever he can to “present” Urban One to the world.
If you want to help get Urban One included in the museum, please call Lonnie Bunch III at 202-633-4751 and/or email him at NMAAHC-Director@SI.edu.