Wendell L. Greene Sr. explored racial issues through radio show, community discussions
Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Wendell L. Greene Sr., who died Aug. 19 at the age of 81. Greene's obituary was published online in The Herald-Mail on Aug. 23.
In the midst of the 1960s, when the nation was gripped by racial unrest, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and protests over the Vietnam War, Wendell L. Greene Sr. was dissecting it all in Hagerstown.
He helped lead local discussions on race and had a talk show on WJEJ radio in Hagerstown that explored political viewpoints from across the spectrum.
As a Black man witnessing the inequality that minorities faced, Wendell's career demonstrated an individual's determination to be a force in the world despite the landscape, according to his daughter Denise Hunt, who is assistant principal at the Barbara Ingram School of the Arts.
Wendell was born on Oct. 3, 1939, in Martinsburg, W.Va., and attended the Ramer School, a Black high school there. He graduated in 1959, the school's last graduating class before integration.
Returning home in the 1960s
Following graduation, Wendell enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in Japan as a criminal investigator and a military police officer.
Upon returning home after the service, Wendell looked for employment, an experience that showed him not all workplaces were ready for a Black man, according to his daughter.
He got a part-time job at Eyerly's department store on Washington Street downtown. Even though it paid $34 a week, just a dollar more than he would have received on unemployment, he took it. Wendell thought he could pick up some job skills.
Soon, Wendell realized it was time to prove himself. In an interview once with The Daily Mail newspaper, Wendell said he wanted to show he could "do something more than pushing around cartons."
He moved to a full-time position and began organizing merchandise displays for store windows, which was common for retailers at the time. The following year, Wendell was named display manager for the store.
More Life Remembered: 'She was a light in a dark place': Carolyn Suman educated, befriended state prison inmates
Michael T: Magician Michael T found the good in everyone and encouraged them
More: Devotion to family, church, community and hard work defined Karl Pile
The Sears store at North Potomac Street and Northern Avenue offered Wendell a job that was double the pay he got at Eyerly's, and he took a position as sales promotion manager.
Wendell discovered that his hiring was likely tied to Sears' interest in expanding its minority employment, Hunt said. And even more interesting to Wendell is that the retailer wanted him to become involved in the community, even if it meant doing it on company time, she said.
He joined the Hagerstown Jaycees, Washington County Young Democrats and the Hagerstown Boys Club, and he became a member of the board of directors for the Washington County Community Action Council, which helps people become financially independent.
Wendell joined weekly meetings of a group called Seekers of a New Direction (SAND), which helped Maryland Correctional Institution inmates kick drug addiction. He also joined a group called "Serenity," which involved Blacks and Whites joining together to have "frank, off-the-record exchanges" about race and other topics, his daughter said.
In the mid-1960s, Wendell and a friend were approached by WJEJ radio to do a show about Black topics. Wendell recalled in The Daily Mail interview that he wasn't given any guidelines or restrictions to organize the show that became "Black Spectrum."
Various guests were invited onto the weekly show, and they included former Washington County Commissioner Harold Boyer, former Superintendent of Schools William Brish and a member of the John Birch Society, a right-wing group fighting what it perceived as communist infiltration in the U.S. Also interviewed was a follower of Malcom X, a Black Muslim minister and human rights advocate.
Wendell said in The Daily Mail interview that he was half-jokingly interested in finding a Ku Klux Klan member to interview.
Wendell's friend who helped lead the show said in The Daily Mail story that while the Black community reacted favorably to the program, there was "little response from the white community."
An 'ordinary' guy
"We're two people. We're not rich people. We're just ordinary people doing what we can on our own time," Wendell said in the story.
Hunt said she was a young child when her dad was involved in much of his community work, so the memories are faint at times.
But she gets filled with curiosity imagining what he experienced.
"There's so much history, and really we don't know all about it," Hunt said.
Wendell became skilled in job placement and related work. His expertise was honed over a variety of experiences, including when he was hired in the early 1970s as a job developer and placement specialist at the Washington County Board of Education.
The work involved pairing local businesses with students who were looking for employment. At one point in that job, Wendell worked with the city of Hagerstown's personnel manager to help find jobs for high school students in city government.
Wendell obtained a bachelor's degree through the Board of Education and obtained a master's degree that included a double major in labor relations and administrative supervision from Federal City College in Washington, D.C.
He was an employment recruiter specializing in finding professional and technical workers for a Corning plant in Berkeley County, W.Va., and also had his own business, Green-Way Associates Inc., that offered headhunter work and professional resume preparation.
He wrote two books, including "The Insider's View," which was a guide for job seekers, especially those transitioning from the military to civilian life. The second was "Resumes: A Guide to Composing a Professional Resume."
Wendell and his wife Lela, who died in 2007, also had a son, Wendell Greene Jr., who lives in Hagerstown.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Racial issues and other topics examined in 1960s radio show