United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry celebrates the life and achievements of William H. Dilday, Jr. who was the first Black person to run a commercial network-affiliated television station, WLBT-TV in Jackson, MS, and passed away late last month.
After the United Church of Christ successfully challenged the license renewal of WLBT-TV at the Federal Communications Commission and in federal court, the caretaker non-profit running the station invited Mr. Dilday to become its general manager in 1972. According to the New York Times, “Within his first year he increased Black employment at the station to 35 percent from 15 percent, including as anchors, camera operators and news editors.” By 1977, the station was earning $500,000 profit off $3.7 million in revenue, 40 percent of its staff was Black and 30 percent were women. WLBT became the number one TV station in Jackson.
He ran the station until 1985, co-founded the National Association of Black Journalists and became a part owner of the first Black-owned television station in 1973, a station in the Virgin Islands. Mr. Dilday created a Peabody-winning local investigative news program, Probe, that covered political corruption in Mississippi.
Mr. Dilday was so widely respected—despite ruffling feathers for his inclusive hiring practices and hard-hitting journalism—that corporate groups vying to obtain the WLBT-TV license in the 1970s promised to continue to let him run the station as part of their efforts to obtain a license.
Mr. Dilday’s achievements and integrity in running the station–coming down from Boston when invited to take the job–was a critical piece of turning the UCC’s advocacy into a successful station, demonstrating that a Black manager could successfully run a station bringing integrated news, programming and successful journalism to a city that previously had been served by a station that engaged in racist tactics and programming decisions.
Mr. Dilday’s death comes at a time when WLBT is observing 70 years on the air, including commemorating the major role that the United Church of Christ played in the history of the station.
- William H. Dilday Jr., First Black TV Station Manager in U.S., Dies at 85 (New York Times)
- William H. Dilday Jr., history-making Black executive in TV, dies at 85 (Boston Globe)
- Trailblazing African American manager, who led WLBT for more than a decade, dies (WLBT)
- WLBT, From the Vault: FCC yanks WLBT’s license, Group succeeds in years-long effort to challenge station’s discriminatory practices (Aug. 1, 2023).
Read more about the history of UCC Media Justice.