Shelley’s Plumbline

Shelley’s Plumbline

In construction, a plumbline is a weight suspended from a string used as a tool to find the true reference line. A plumbline will always find the vertical axis pointing to the center of gravity, ensuring everything is right, justified, and centered. Pulling from a library of more than 3,000 shows from his storied career in broadcasting, Shelley's Plumbline leads us in a search for the truth, opening the channels of communication and understanding on tough social topics that are as relevant today as they were 40 years ago. Join us as we explore the past, compare it to today, and craft a better future.


November 22, 2023 27 mins

Two of the most popular episodes of Shelley’s Plumbline were Episode 1 of Season 2,  "The Final Interview with Eddie Kendricks."  A lot of folks also liked Episode 2 of Season 2 … about Shelley’s life scouting for musical talent on the Chitlin' Circuit.

So to kick off Season Four, we’re going to give you more stories about Shelley’s life in music – this time with his friend, Riley King – or should we say, BB King. Yup...

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Today as we continue to explore Shelley’s life in music, we feature a conversation about Sam Cooke, one of Shelley’s dear friends.

In fact, Shelley was so close to him that Sam was the godfather to one of his children.

Aside from being a very good friend, Sam and Shelley shared the same mission: to use the power of music to bring people together. They both played to integrated audiences at a time when that was not acceptable. In fact...

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From time to time, Shelley would conduct an open forum during his show, and listeners would call in. Today’s episode features a discussion from 1996 with Shelley and a listener regarding a speech given by William Raspberry, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Washington Post. The discussion focuses on how racism is often used as an excuse or crutch against progress.

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Today we continue our exploration of one of the many organizers in the Movement who had great influence but were not as well-known. This episode features an interview from January of 1998 when Shelley sat down with Tommy Wrenn.

Active in the movement in both Birmingham and Selma, Wrenn worked as a field staffer for the Dr King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Wrenn would go into towns to set up routes for protest marc...

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Today’s episode features an interview from 1998 with the author of The Boy Who Didn’t Want to Be Black, Yvonne Willie.

She and Shelley discuss the role of racial identity and self-worth, revealing that internalized racism is a learned behavior.

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Today we continue to share little-known stories of the struggle during the early 60s with an interview with James Armstrong. He recounts the many artificial obstacles city officials presented him when he attempted to enroll his children in Graymont School in Birmingham, Alabama, at a time when it was segregated. 

He prevailed, however, and his sons Floyd and Dwight were the first students to integrate the school. 

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Today, we feature an interview with author and historian Dr. Vincent Harding. A social activist, he was perhaps best known for his work with and writings about Martin Luther King Jr., whom Harding knew personally. 

In this episode, Dr Harding sits down with Shelley and talks about not only the Black struggle – but how several different vectors of society then, as now, are engaged in a struggle for freedom.

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Today, we share an interview with Johnny Ford, the first African-American mayor of Tuskegee, Alabama. He served five terms from 1972 to 1996 when he won a seat in the Alabama House of Representatives. He was re-elected mayor of Tuskegee in 2004, and he served until 2008. This interview touches on the issues of gerrymandering and how it unfairly affects the representation of the population.

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In this episode, Shelley shares an interview from January 1993 with Rev. Nelson H. Smith, also known as "Fireball" Smith. Smith was another unknown yet highly influential foot soldier in the fight for human rights for all, participating in The Movement before the 1960s and marching side by side with Dr. King during the '60s.

Throughout his ministry, Smith preached the importance of higher education, financia...

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Happy 89th Birthday to Shelley Stewart!

Today, we celebrate Shelley's 89th birthday with a recording of a speech Shelley made when he was 63 years old at Friendship Baptist Church.

This Church plays a special role in Shelley's life. As a boy of five, he saw his mother murdered just a few blocks away. In spite of growing up without his parents, he would celebrate his graduation in this same Church. 

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This week, Shelley continues to explore some of the lesser-known yet powerful foot soldiers in the Movement. 

One such person is Yvonne Turner.

Who is Yvonne Turner? Well, well before the Human Rights Movement of the 60s, the true Movement began in the mid-1950s, and people like Yvonne Turner, Georgia Price, and others were instrumental in organizing voter education drives and meetings. Visit to see one of the v...

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To kick off Season 3 of Shelley's Plumbline, we went through his archives, and Shelley rediscovered some rare recordings of #MLK that he had forgotten about. 

These are speeches MLK made in Birmingham! Why are they rare? Because for his protection and to keep Bull Conner guessing, Dr. King would often show up to churches unannounced to make speeches. 

Shelley Stewart was in attendance recording the choir when Dr. King showed up....

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September 6, 2023 37 mins

Today Shelley shares an interview from 1995 with Ezekwa Abdullah. Ezekwa argues that Blacks still repress themselves and suffer a form of psychological slavery in the collective subconscious psyche because attitudes of repression have been preserved and passed from one generation to the next. The ghost of the plantation exists today because not enough has been done to condemn this point of view.

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Today, Shelley replays an interview from the Free By Choice program, which brought inmates from Alabama prisons on the air to speak openly about their crimes and the decisions which led to them. These Free By Choice inmates had a strong desire to share their stories so their suffering could serve to help others avoid making the same mistakes.

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Today, Shelley reaches back into his archive to an interview with Mariam McClendon. They discuss colorism, that is, the differences in perception between light- and dark-complected blacks and the challenges darker-complected blacks encounter – even from members of their own race. Even though the interview is from 1991, the problem of colorism still exists today, hindering relationships and opportunities among blacks.

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Today’s episode of Shelley’s Plumbline features an interview from 1989 with Orlando Jones, a one-time track star at the University of Alabama. Orlando shares his story of how he went from running on a track as an All-American scholarship athlete to running drugs across the border in Mexico, eventually getting caught and landing in prison.

He shares his message in the hope that others might avoid his fate.

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Today’s episode features a 1993 interview with Julius Davis, a man who had just spent 19 years in prison. At 21 years of age, he had been handed two life sentences for his involvement in two separate murders. Julius discusses how prior to his crimes, he was involved as a positive influence in his community and how two bad decisions led him to prison.

While in prison, however, Julius did not fall victim to negative influences. He cre...

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In this episode, Shelley reflects on an interview from 1991 that covers the topic of racial identity. Which is the correct terminology? Black? African-American, People of Color? The interview also discusses class differences among Blacks.
Be advised that this episode contains frank discussions about race and uses the n-word. Listener discretion is advised.

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Today we continue our exploration of the Evolution of Black Media and the role Black radio stations played during the Civil Rights movement of the 60s.

We explore how the Black population began to look to popular disc jockeys such as Jack Gibson, Gertrude Cooper, Georgie Woods, Martha Jean “the Queen,” and the Plumbline’s very own Shelley “The Playboy” Stewart to hear coded messages regarding protests and demonstrations.

Black Radio ...

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This week we kick off the first of a two-part series on the Evolution of Black Media. In this episode, Shelley tells us about the early days of Black Media and how much of the entertainment for black audiences was produced by whites. Amos N Andy, for example, a well-known radio sitcom, was produced and performed by two white actors.

Shelley recalls how the first black man in radio, Jack Cooper, blazed a trail in 1929, and by the tim...

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