Joe Madison, Legendary Radio Host and Civil Rights Champion, Dies at 74

Known as the “Black Eagle,” Madison built a decades-long career in media and grassroots advocacy.

A legendary voice is no longer.

Civil rights activist and SiriusXM talk show host Joe Madison, who was among the most influential commentators on race and politics in the country, has died according to an announcement released by his family on his website. He was 74.

Known as the “Black Eagle,” Madison traversed between a broadcast career and social activism.  He also garnered a reputation for bringing contemporary issues, particularly those impacting the African American community, to the forefront. Since 2007, his morning drive show on SiriusXM’s Urban View sported an audience of some reported 26 million listeners each day. In 2022, Madison signed a multi-year deal to stay with the network.

In addition to his massive following, Madison also became a formidable voice in the political sphere. In 2020, he played a critical role in getting legislators to pass the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act. More recently, he even went as far as executing a hunger strike, inspired by his mentor and fellow activist Dick Gregory.

“Voting is essential to maintaining Democracy as food is essential to maintaining life. I don't think it has to be overstated,” he told several days after he began the hunger strike. “I don't think it's complicated.”

That 2021 hunger strike was in protest of Senate Republicans blocking the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. He ended the strike in 2022 after 73 days when Senate Democrats failed to change rules on the filibuster in order to pass a voting rights bill.

This was part of a long line of actions over the course of decades that placed him at the forefront of modern civil rights activism. Born in 1949 in Dayton, Ohio, he played football for Washington University in St. Louis, where he graduated in 1971. At the age of 24, he was the youngest ever executive director of the NAACP’s Detroit branch. Madison later became the NAACP’s National Political Director and remained in the city while in the position.

In 1985, he helped to lead the branch in organizing a boycott of Fairlane Town Center in suburban Dearborn after the city passed an ordinance to keep nonresidents out of its parks, which many saw as racist. The boycott was successful, resulting in a halt of spending in the town during the holiday shopping season.

“The Dearborn boycott was where I became of age and when I viewed myself as a professional activist,” he told the in 2015.

While still in Detroit, he began his broadcast career when he debated over a controversial busing case in the late 1970s on local station WXYZ. The program director asked him to take on a weekend show, which grew in popularity. On the show he was one of the first in the media to interview an individual diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

He went on to serve on the NAACP’s national board of directors where he served for 14 years. In the midst of these advances in 1984, the anti-apartheid movement was gaining momentum and to bring awareness to it, Madison and his colleagues organized a march from Los Angeles to Baltimore. The administration of then-President Ronald Reagan had been working with the South African government, but the “March for Dignity” pressed legislators to pass what became the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986.

Madison’s radio career expanded to include stints at WWDB in Philadelphia, WWRC in Bethesda, Md., and Washington, DC.’s WOL. The show was later syndicated to the  Radio One Talk Network and its XM Satellite Radio channel, which merged into SiriusXM in 2008, where he has found a permanent home for his show ever since.

In 2015, Madison produced a special marathon show broadcast in hopes to set a Guinness World Record for the longest on-air broadcast at 52 hours. It raised more than $250,000 for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. In 2019, he was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.

Sirius XM released a statement on Thursday after Madison’s death was announced.“Joe Madison led an incredible, impactful life. He was also an invaluable member of the SiriusXM family and a treasured colleague and friend,” the statement said. “Our hearts go out to his beloved wife, Sherry, along with his entire family, his devoted listeners, and the countless people he inspired with his determination to make the world a better place.”

An official cause of death was not stated, but it is confirmed that he took time off from his daily radio show to battle cancer. He said on the broadcast in 2021 that was living with prostate cancer and that it had spread, but that he was also undergoing treatment.

Madison is survived by his wife, Sharon, their four children, five grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

While still on his hunger strike last year, he explained to what the significance of protest to make a difference really meant.

“What I think people need to understand is that this is not about a moment but a movement,” he said. “The one thing we have to realize is that all movements require sacrifice. So we have to be prepared, all of us, to make whatever sacrifices we think will get us to where we need to go.”

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