The mainstream press and the civil rights eraWhen people imagine the past, they do so with benefit of hindsight, according to which the past had a good side and a bad side, and some people out of habit, obstinacy, selfishness, or sheer badness, took the bad side Others were on the side of good by virtue of their suffering or their care for the sufferers Actually, though, the past was full of noise, confusion, mixed messages, and various assumptions, just like the present, and lacked the perspective of the present The outcome wasn t set in advance, as it can seem in retrospect There was no guarantee that civil rights would emerge the winner.What made the difference In the 40s, Gunnar Myrdal had the vision that the white press was the missing link in bringing about change in American race relations Well, his vision, first, was that something was wrong and change was needed The black press was full of the dilemma, but of course the majority populace didn t read the black press The majority populace was at home in the status quo The issue of segregation was under their radar When it came to racial issues, the white press was silent The contingent of liberal editors and reporters who eventually would become the conduit for change over the next several decades often started out as gradualists or accomodationists who thought the South wasn t ready for change and who looked negatively at outside interference How they themselves changed was part of the process.Gunnar Myrdal had believed that if the facts got out, people would change How, though, to get the white press writing that separate was not equal and about the conditions under which people on the other side of the color line were having to live One of the reasons for the successes of the Civil Rights era, then, must be that silence on the subject of race came to an end silence within the majority community, that is.Misinformation and twisted news in the service of the status quo had to be overcome, for example, the meme that the desire for equality among black people was somehow communistic That got started around the time of the first World War when Negroes were expected to put their desire for equality on the back burner in order to defend the country.This book describes numerous reporters and editors, often from the South, and highlights some of the most influential One of the early ones was Harry Ash, who, in the 40s, taking a cue from Myrdal, eventually spearheaded the writing of a book and a sort of targeted news service, the Southern Education Reporting Services, to make sure facts were available to the press.We sometimes think that twisting the truth and turning it upside down is specific to the Trump era But it went on during the civil rights era too A segregationist editor wrote that the Citizens Councils formed in 55 to resist Supreme Court school desegregation orders were mobilizing to guard whites and Negroes andprotect the rank and file of Negroes from the wrath of ruffian white people who may resort to violenceLater when the boycotts began, there was the implication that black goons were forcing docile Negroes to participate And so forth, on into the early 60s, when segregationist writers made heroes of resisters and ridiculed those who wanted change or threatened and harassed them George Wallace was a natural on TV, portraying the press as the victimizer and himself as the victim Elsewhere there also were efforts to censor the news and limit what was put on the air But mistakes were made those attempts to censor and suppress the news sometimes backfired So, somehow coming to terms with censorship of the news and with twisted news is part of the winning formula.In the early days, no Civil Rights movement could be discerned In the journalism trade, the stories about racial situations were called race stories hence, being on that beat became the race beat First there were the sit ins, the Emmet Till killing and trial, Little Rock Things had to get worse before they could get better, it seemed And silence had to end the stories had to be talked about and reported Around this time the Rev Martin Luther King Jr entered the picture.In reading this book I thought that we are talking about here than facts and reporting them In order to overcome the fake and twisted defensive news, the facts had to be presented in a certain way Moreover, the right facts or right approach to the facts had to occur Hence the importance of nonviolence, hence the discipline and dignity of the protesters in their various settings, which permitted the appropriate contrast with the violent attackers MLK Jr knew this too despite that, when interviewed on his opinion about press coverage, he decried their focus on violence, he relied on the explosive violence of sheriffs and police chiefs Without those galvanizing reactions, the press wouldn t be there, the pipeline to the public would be absent, and there would be no change in public opinion.Ralph McGill, writing in Atlanta, took his editorials beyond law and order and into morality Blowing up churches and businesses did not play well.TV news, just coming into its own, added its immeasurable impact Now what happened could be watched, so couldn t be so easily given a false spin as to who was brutal and who was polite A key example was when ABC, then the littlest network, interrupted the ongoing program to present footage of the events of Bloody Sunday in March 7, 1965, as marchers attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on their way into Selma and were attacked by battle ready troops while whites lining the highway laughed and cheered It so happens that the program interrupted was Judgment at Nuremberg, about how Germans had ignored or joined up with Nazism That fortuitous juxtaposition spread the movement geographically plus brought in religious and civic leaders from all over.I have read that the printing press was a key reason for the occurrence of the Reformation, and that radio was central to Winston Churchill s impact Could TV, the new media during the Civil Rights era, have had a similar role Once the focus changed to urban violence, the era was over Stokely Carmichael would blame the press when it reported on urban rioting He said the press was white, so was unable to interpret him Reporters who, in the South, had been protected from violent segregationists by black people, were now being attacked by black rioters in the north and west of the country To the rioters, a journalist was just another white man.But before that, the focus had not been on blame During the era, the focus was on the good people who were silent For example, King, after his Nobel peace prize, spoke about those good people If the people of goodwill of the white South fail to act now, history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition as not the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but the appalling silence and indifference of the good people.So, the existence of those good but, so far, silent people could be part of MLK s dream Was that aspect of his vision a key to the outcome Althoughsurely goodness doesn t necessarily reside in a certain individual or group or side, always and forever, just because of who they are There are errors enough so that no one is always the good one I read this book after being disturbed by the perspective of the novel Darktown I had read that author was inspired by this book By reading it I also got to go back through parts of events I missed out on in my youth The book is full of information and history that reflects on the events of today, especially the blaming of the press.Gunnar Myrdal was acutely aware of the value Americans placed on freedom of the press, yet nowadays the press can serve as whipping boy for all sides of the political spectrum I find myself thinking about the press a good bit, which is another reason I was glad to read this book I have not been comfortable with the ubiquitous blaming of the press It seems to me that we re inclined to blame it when it s reflecting us and we don t like what we see, in other words, Mirror mirror on the wall Even when the press is falling into moral equivalence which journalists during the Civil Rights era were getting at by reference to a cult of objectivity , I think the press is giving us a reflection of where society is stuck, not the cause Society these days just loves to assign blame and in so doing to distance itself from its failings but that is a subject for the review of another book I m reading, So You ve Been Publicly Shamed.Leonard Pitts, in his January 16, 2018, column, says all journalists can do is give the reader accurate facts But I think sometimes the news has to stray into the territory of right and wrong, or otherwise, as this book says, they are saying the truth is at some point half way between the segregationists and the civil rights proponents a society we often come down hard on the press, but where would we be without it Here are some cases of persecution of the media in other countries that I came across while reading this book or subsequently are fortunate to have our much maligned media.I also found this PolitiFact article supporting that Trump s fake news delegitimization strategy is inspiring dictators around the world Race Beat won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for History. This is another significant work on the Civil Rights era Its overriding theme is how the media newsprint and T.V played an essential role in presenting to the general public the sordid racist state that existed in the Southern U.S and by exposing this helped to bring progress to ameliorate the conditions Without the media it is doubtful that the racial climate in the Southern U.S would have improved it certainly would have taken time John Lewis said that without the presence of the various news groups the civil rights workers felt they were struggling in isolation for instance there was no coverage when many civil rights workers were sent to Parchman Penitentiary in Mississippi.It did take the media a long time to report this struggle There had always been Civil Rights protests starting with Frederick Douglas during the Civil War It was only during the mid fifties that the mainstream white media began to recognize the Civil Rights struggle Why it started only during that period is another question perhaps it was due to the rapid growth of media outlets during that era It may also be due to persistence of people in power like Eleanor Roosevelt The reporters following a principal similar to the physicist Heisenberg who states that the observer influences reaction were becoming and involved in the Civil Rights struggle As they observed the conflicts and many of these conflicts were vociferously rabid and bloody their reporting became less and less neutral They recognized the justice and the inherent morality of the Civil Rights workers They themselves were frequently assaulted by the white southerners They were seen as trouble makers on southern soil The reporting but so the images pictures and film exposed to the world what was occurring The bombings of churches, the beatings of Civil Rights protesters in restaurants and during peaceful marches these made the front pages of major newspapers and the top story on the six o clock news of the major networks It also made it to the desks of the White House When The New York Times courtesy of Claude Sitton published front page news of African Americans attempting to register to vote in Mississippi who were set upon by police dogs or pistol whipped by law enforcement officials, the White House was forced to take action.In a very real sense the reporters many of them white southerners took up the crusade for justice They became convinced over time that the south had to change.No matter how often one reads of accounts of Southern racism and brutality against their fellow country men, it is always a shock to re read this hatred This book offers a new and fresh perspective from the reporting side. The final quote of the book sums it up well If it hadn t been for the media the print media and television the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings, a choir without a song The book is amazing many viewpoints are explored, as well as key events, the roles of the president, Supreme Court, the states, governors, law enforcement, marshals, FBI, preachers, editors, reporters, photographers, students, Martin Luther King, the Ku Klux Klan it s all here The nonviolence King preached and how he worked hard to get the press to cover rallies, sit ins, the Freedom bus ride, black students integrating into schools and colleges, and any other event where nonviolent black protesters were met with violent law enforcement who used dogs, fire hoses, tear gas and clubs to beat anyone who got in their way I was stunned at the number of murders not just white racists, but also police sheriffs and deputies got away with even in court, even after white witnesses testified to the murderer s guilt I also didn t realize the extent of the danger to the reporters and photographers covering all of these events, as well Many of them were brutally beaten and their cameras and film destroyed An in depth, eye opening and deeply moving book. In this Pulitzer Prize winning book on race and the media, the final quote sums up the premise well If it hadn t been for the media the print media and television the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings, a choir without a song Many viewpoints and key events are explored in The Race Beat We understand the roles of the President, Supreme Court, Governors of states, law enforcement, Marshalls, the FBI, preachers, editors, reporters, photographers, students, the Ku Klux Klan, Martin Luther King, John Lewis and many others King preached nonviolence and encouraged and participated in sit ins, marches, and Freedom Rides and worked tirelessly to get the press to cover it all Integration started slowly and with resistance of the southern states with Brown vs the Board of Education Case in which the Court declared state laws establishing separate schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional This paved the way for the Civil Rights movement and national desegregation But it wasn t easy The nonviolent protests were met with violent law enforcement who used dogs, firehoses, tear gas and clubs to beat anyone in their way It was stunning and horrendous to read about the numerous murders that they got away with And the danger to the reporters and photographers covering these events John Lewis, a congressman representing King s birthplace, Atlanta, reflects about this time period, and on how he survived and the movement kept going He thinks about how the segregationists worked to keep the prying eyes of the press away He called these reporters sympathetic referees and felt safer His greatest fear, and his greatest understanding of the press was when officers hauled Freedom Riders away from reporters and hauled them to prison and the guard s sneered, Ain t no newspapermen out here But Selma was the catalytic moment in the relationship between civil rights movement and the news media The media was prepared to write the words and take pictures and capture the sound and spread the news and change the south and the nation.This is a significant work on the civil rights era The media was in the middle of it and in many ways took up the struggle as a crusade for justice They knew and tried to convey that the racist south had to change No matter how many times I read accounts about Southern racism and the brutality against our fellow human beings, it is always a shock to re read this hatred This was a very in depth, eye opening book and is recommended reading about this era. This Is The Story Of How America Awakened To Its Race Problem, Of How A Nation That Longed For Unity After World War II Came Instead To See, Hear, And Learn About The Shocking Indignities And Injustices Of Racial Segregation In The South And The Brutality Used To Enforce It It Is The Story Of How The Nation S Press, After Decades Of Ignoring The Problem, Came To Recognize The Importance Of The Civil Rights Struggle And Turn It Into The Most Significant Domestic News Event Of The Twentieth CenturyDrawing On Private Correspondence, Notes From Secret Meetings, Unpublished Articles, And Interviews, Veteran Journalists Gene Roberts And Hank Klibanoff Go Behind The Headlines And Datelines To Show How A Dedicated Cadre Of Newsmen First Black Reporters, Then Liberal Southern Editors, Then Reporters And Photographers From The National Press And The Broadcast Media Revealed To A Nation Its Most Shameful Shortcomings And Propelled Its Citizens To Act We Watch The Black Press Move Bravely Into The Front Row Of The Confrontation, Only To Be Attacked And Kept Away From The Action Following The Supreme Court S Decision Striking Down School Segregation And The South S Mobilization Against It, We See A Growing Number Of White Reporters Venture South To Cover The Emmett Till Murder Trial, The Montgomery Bus Boycott, And The Integration Of The University Of Alabama We Witness Some Southern Editors Joining The Call For Massive Resistance And Working With Segregationist Organizations To Thwart Compliance But We Also See A Handful Of Other Southern Editors Write Forcefully And Daringly For Obedience To Federal Mandates, Signaling To The Nation That Moderate Forces Were Prepared To Push The Region Into The MainstreamThe Pace Quickens In Little Rock, Where Reporters Test The Boundaries Of Journalistic Integrity, Then Gain Momentum As They Cover Shuttered Schools In Virginia, Sit Ins In North Carolina, Mob Led Riots In Mississippi, Freedom Ride Buses Being Set Afire, Fire Hoses And Dogs In Birmingham, And Long, Tense Marches Through The Rural South For Many Journalists, The Conditions They Found, The Fear They Felt, And The Violence They Saw Were Transforming Their Growing Disgust Matched The Mounting Countrywide Outrage As The New York Times, Newsweek, NBC News, And Other Major News Organizations, Many Of Them Headed By Southerners, Turned A Regional Story Into A National DramaMeticulously Researched And Vividly Rendered, The Race Beat Is An Unprecedented Account Of One Of The Most Volatile Periods In Our Nation S History, As Told By Those Who Covered It If it hadn t been for the media the print media and television the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings, a choir without a song John LewisThe Race Beat is an excellent recounting of the experiences of the media in the South as the civil rights movement grew and reporters and editors discovered the importance of the race beat There were many names, few of which I had heard of in other books on the civil rights movement The book covered journalists from segregationist papers in the South who attempted to ignore events, to liberal Southern editors and reporters who faced great risk by reporting the truth, to mainstream national papers who struggled to cover a part of the country that they had previously ignored, both black and white newspapers and reporters During the main time period covered, from 1954 to 1964, television moved from 15 minute news broadcasts to 30 minutes with additional documentary coverage and finally to breaking news as it was possible.One added benefit to reading the book was it added significant depth to my understanding of many of the main events in the movement that I knew of from other books I highly recommend it, especially if you have read about the civil rights movement The Race Beat will add a dimension to your understanding. This is an expansive, wide ranging telling of how journalists told the stories of civil rights crimes and the civil rights movements Disclosure of bias my mother s father was a print journalist and editor who knew most all of the journalists of this generation He does not appear, though you get a healthy dose of his peers Harry Ash, Ralph McGill, et al The cast is large, and it is fair to say the emphasis here is on the messengers and their coverage than the civil rights message I paused after the Little Rock chapters, then returned to a familiar retelling of 1960s events There is a lot here, a lot of personal and archival narrative, and I want to follow up with a reading of Doug Cumming s related book, The Southern Press Literary Legacies and the Challenge of Modernity As we lose some journalists to a changing economy, it s useful to look at how we got to now More, there is nuance and courage and shading we get some of the black press, some of the segregationist press, and a whole lot of deeply researched stories Interestingly, the book chooses a beginning point with Gunnar Myrdal rather than, say, W.E.B DuBois End of 60s is telescoped and feels rushed, but those were the times, and the book is compelling.Also compelling is the Peabody Award winnning podcast Buried Truths from author Klibanoff, of Emory University and WABE FM, found online at I read about author Roberts covering the Battle of Hue in 1968 Vietnam in Hu 1968 A Turning Point of the American War in VietnamI plan to reread Race Beat, too Highly recommended. This Pulitzer Prize winning book examines the role that the media had on the modern Civil Rights movement In the late 40s and into the 50s, little coverage in newsprint was given to the issues of African Americans in the southern United States The stories of beatings, lynchings, and mistreatment were detailed in segregationist newspapers printed for and sold to southern Black Americans As key figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X began to gain national attention, media sources picked up the stories In print and eventually in television and radio, the Civil Rights movement garnered headline news and breaking stories The role of the media during this time should not be overlooked Indeed, the media brought these issues to the forefront of the nation s mind and helped in the fight to bring about much needed legistlation, such as the Voting Rights Act Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff recount the events of the civil rights struggle from Brown V BOE to Selma and beyond through the eyes of the journalists, photographers, and newscasters, both black and white These were the people working what came to be known as the Race Beat Many put themselves in harm s way to get the stories that needed to be told to the nation and it is these stories that helped give a voice to civil rights issues in America If it hadn t been for the media the print media and television the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings, a choir without a song John Lewis A great history of how the black and white press covered the civil rights movement It was a hard book for me to get through because there isn t too much new information here It s a useful and great history for what it is which is the history of a movement through a specific lens , but it s sort of just a history of events as opposed to much analysis. The subtitle of The Race Beat reads The press, the civil rights struggle, and the awakening of a nation. The genius of Jim Crow and key to its longevity was its ability to operate undetected Many of the defenders of the fortress segregation of the South lent support without ever knowing the true shape of the institution Most Southerners were like people with their noses pushed up to the edge of an iceberg From their vantage point, they had no way of knowing the hulk s true size and shape This does not absolve them from all complicity, but it does explain how good people can balance a great evil in their collective heart In short, a great many people didn t actually see how bad segregation was.Likewise with people living outside the South.One of the first tactics of the civil rights movement was to gain a high visibility in the media Unfortunately, fortress segregation was not going to be changed from within The stormtroopers of segregation lacked the foot soldiers ambivalence and took a aggressive role in advancing their cause of white supremacy Without publicity, all those clashes in the cities of the former Confederacy would have resulted in nothing than bloodshed and broken bones It was important that the scenes be published to audiences elsewhere in the country Only then, only through top down legislation and federal protection would Jim Crow be spun out.Whether the scenes portrayed were the contents of condiment bottles being emptied onto the heads of students waiting for service at a lunch counter, children marching past pickets to attend school in Little Rock, churchgoers pinned to the wall by high pressure fire hoses in Birmingham, or the mutilated corpse of Emmett Till, the documentary evidence of segregation galvanized the decency of the country.To do so placed organizers like the NAACP and SCLC in harm s way Fortunately, there was another important corps of news men and women who braved physical violence to report a story of great moral and national importance This, than the actual narrative, is the point of the authors work in The Race Beat. In many ways, the generations to come of age after 1965 are as ambivalent and misunderstanding about fortress segregation as those Southerners who lived in its huge lee Though I have since studied the civil rights era and Southern politics, I grew up one of those people I found The Race Beat a startling lens back to a generation we are in danger of forgetting.
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- 528 pages
- The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation
- Gene Roberts
- 15 July 2018 Gene Roberts