By Hamil R. Harris
(Trice Edney Wire) – Joe “The Black Eagle” Madison, an unapologetic radio activist who dedicated his life fighting on and off the air, has died of prostate cancer. And amid all tributes the question that is being most asked is who now will carry the progressive torch for Black America?
“Joe Madison was the voice of a generation,” President Joe Biden posted on X/Twitter Feb. 1. “Whether it was a hunger strike for voting rights or his advocacy for anti-lynching legislation that I was proud to sign in 2022, Joe fought hard against injustice. Jill’s and my thoughts are with his wife, Sherry, and the entire family.”
In his death, Madison, 74, is making one more lap around Radio Row and this time the issue is Prostate Cancer. He was initially diagnosed in 2009. The cancer went into remission, but then it came back.
“Joe dedicated his life to fighting for all those who are undervalued, underestimated, and marginalized. On air he often posed the question, “What are you going to do about it?”, the family said in a statement. “Although he is no longer with us, we hope you will join us in answering that call by continuing to be proactive in the fight against injustice.”
NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson released a long statement on the passing of Madison who dedicated most of his life to Civil Rights and organizations like the NAACP.
“At age 24, Joe became the youngest executive director of the NAACP’s Detroit branch before being appointed the organization’s national political director from 1974 to 1978 and eventually being elected to the national board of directors where he served for 14 years from 1986 to 1999,” Johnson said. “In 1996, Joe was appointed chairman of the NAACP Image Awards where he promised to restore the prominence of the NAACP Image Awards. The next year, he was awarded the Chairman’s Award at the 1997 NAACP Image Awards. The result of his work to preserve the legacy of the NAACP Image Awards has been seen and felt since.
Throughout his time at the NAACP, Joe led numerous voter mobilization efforts. One of the most notable included the “March for Dignity” where hundreds of volunteers partook in a cross-country activation from Los Angeles to Baltimore. These marches garnered substantial success, where thousands of signatures were collected in support of an anti-apartheid bill in Congress.
In 2021, Madison went on a 73-day hunger strike to encourage the passage of voting rights bills. Despite his fight with prostate cancer during his hunger strike, knowing the health ramifications of the strike, Joe declared, “I am willing to die.” His dedication to the cause of voting rights and access to the ballot box for Black voters was unlike any other.
Johnson said that several months following his hunger strike, Madison’s persistent advocacy on the airwaves played a crucial role in the passage of the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act in the Senate. His impactful work garnered recognition from prominent figures and global leaders, including President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, President Barack Obama, and former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. As America continues to face attacks on the fundamental right to vote, it is the hope of many that elected leaders will be among those who will carry on Joe’s legacy, particularly his dedication to the preservation of the Voting Rights Act.
On Friday Feb 2, Vice President Kamala Harris called into The Clay Cane Show in Orangeburg, S.C. to pay her respects to Madison who passed away on Feb. 1 at the age of 74.
“Whenever there was a moment in terms of what was happening in our country, which was a significant moment, an inflection moment, I always talked with Joe Madison,” Harris said. “He would always be able to, in the conversation, remind us all about the history on an issue. He always had a perspective that is a reflection of the voice of the people.”
While reflecting on their relationship, the Vice President shared that Joe was one of her very first interviews after being sworn in as a Senator – becoming only the second Black woman to serve in the U.S. Senate.
Harris also noted her admiration for Joe’s spirit of optimism, his championing of voting rights, and how he always challenged people to respond to challenging moments by asking of themselves, “what are you going to do about it?”
Willie Jolley, a nationally syndicated voice on XM radio said, “Joe Madison was not only a dear friend but when I went to XM 21 years ago he was one of my advisers on how to become successful in that medium.”
“Eighteen years later I have the best self-help show in the country” Jolley said. “Getting good counsel from Joe Madison in terms of How to speak to a national audience. He had a tremendous impact on my radio career…He was fearless and committed,” Jolley said. “He just didn’t talk the talk he literally walk the walk. He was consistent. He had mentees pouring into others.”
Pouring into others and being a model for youth was a major part of Joe Madison’s life, says Hazel Trice Edney, editor-in-chief of the Trice Edney News Wire. She was president of the Capital Press Club, when it honored Madison with an award during the organization’s 70th anniversary celebration in 2014.
“Joe was a consummate mentor who never said no when I asked to bring my Howard University mass communications class to visit him at SiriusXM Radio. He and his wife, Sharon, who was his producer, would even email to remind me that they are welcome,” she said. Edney recalled one particular instance in which Madison allowed her students to participate with him on a radio interview. “Joe was one of a kind; never afraid; always keenly focused like the Eagle that he called himself. Prayerfully, his style and commitment has been infectious to produce others to run with the torch for justice.”
Rev. Al Sharpton on Instagram, said, “He was not just a supreme radio host he was a global activist. He raised the issue of slavery in the Sudan almost single handedly. I raised his Sudan work in my speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 when I was running for President.”
Dr. Ben Chavis, Executive Director of the National Newspaper Association, said that going forward, “We need a clear clarion voice that represents all of the interest of Black America amid all of the distractions and noise. When people hear a clear voice, they respond. The NNPA is focused on being that clear voice.”
Joseph Edward Madison was born in Dayton, Ohio, on June 16, 1949. He and his younger sister were raised by their grandparents after his parents “abandoned” them when he was 2, according to his 2021 memoir, that was called, “Radio Active.”
According to his official bio, Madison was an All-Conference running back at Washington University in St. Louis where he was also a baritone soloist in the university choir and a disc jockey at the campus radio station. He earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology and was the first person in his family to graduate college. Washington University also awarded Madison an honorary doctorate largely because of his community service and his impact.