Educator Palmira Braswell, Macon’s first black female radio DJ, dies at 84

jkovac@macon.comJuly 12, 2012 

Macon’s first black female radio disc jockey, Palmira Braswell, whose rich, distinguished voice was as sweet as her on-air nickname, “Honey Bee,” died Wednesday. She was 84.

Braswell, a trailblazing educator who grew up in Macon’s Pleasant Hill community, was an advocate for poor children.

She earned a sociology degree at what was then Fort Valley State College. She began teaching here in the 1950s at Ada Banks School on Seventh Street.

She made and sold candy apples -- sometimes burning herself in the process -- to raise money for supplies. It was one of the few ways black schools could pay for classroom essentials.

At school one morning, Braswell heard that radio station WBML was looking for a black woman to be a disc jockey. Blessed with a warm, firm voice, she had always wanted to give radio a try.

WBML station manager George Patton hired her for an evening slot.

She taught second grade by day and spun the hits of B.B. King and others from 9 to 11 at night. Honey Bee-brand snuff sponsored her show.

“Mr. Patton used to really get after me about my delivery as far as trying to sell that darn stuff,” Braswell said in a 2007 interview. “He said, ‘Believe it. Put the fervor in your voice!’ ”

In another interview a decade ago, she said the radio gig “meant a lot to me. ... To be a part of that, well, I guess you would call it a revolution in a sense. ... Black music was just beginning to be accepted as a crossover into the mainstream.”

She was married once but divorced. She went back to using her maiden name.

She had no children but was fond of the ones she taught.

Braswell once said, “A child’s arm around your neck with a sweet, wet kiss on your jaw -- who can beat that? That’s love.”

She was what the old-timers might call a card -- a fun, free spirit.

Braswell drove a Ford Mustang when she was in her 40s. In her 50s, she visited China and New Zealand. She danced at her 70th birthday party. She took computer courses at 73.

“Anybody that knew her would tell you, ‘She is what she is,’” Harris Walker, a family friend and local minister, said Thursday. “And she was a jewel.”

Hamp Swain, a Georgia radio pioneer, knew Braswell from their days at Ballard High on Forest Avenue. He also worked at WBML during Braswell’s disc-jockeying stint.

“You had to like her,” Swain said, “because of that bright personality. She had a way of attracting people to her. She was like a magnet.”

In 1960, Braswell, in her early 30s, gave up radio and left Macon to attend Teachers College at Columbia University in New York. Her chance for higher education came as part of a program that paid for blacks to earn graduate degrees. Before returning to teach in Macon, she taught for a few years in Spanish Harlem.

She retired here in 1987, having worked for the Bibb County Board of Education as director of staff development and before that as elementary-curriculum director.

In retirement, Braswell, who lived in east Macon, was a trustee for the Middle Georgia Regional Library.

She served on the state board of education from 1995 until 2001, championing early-childhood learning and funding for impoverished school districts.

“We could do more about eradicating poverty,” she once said.

Braswell was also a past member of the Cherry Blossom Festival board and was hailed as Georgia’s most influential black woman from 1995 until 2000 by the Georgia Informer newspaper.

In an interview five years ago, she spoke of her travels in New Zealand, where she toured an underground cavern. There in the dark were fireflies by the thousands. They lit up the rock walls.

“I was awestruck,” she said, “because I was thinking: God’s kingdom. Even in the depths of the earth there is life and there is beauty.”

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.

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