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The Press and Race

The Press and Race: Mississippi Journalists Confront the Movement

Edited by David R. Davies
David L. Bennett
Ginger Rudeseal Carter
Caryl A. Cooper
David R. Davies
Laura Nan Fairley
Arthur J. Kaul
Jùdy Smith
Lawrence N. Strout
Susan M. Weill
Copyright Date: 2001
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    The Press and Race
    Book Description:

    For southern newspapers and southern readers, the social upheaval in the years following Brown v. Board of Education (1954) was, as Time put it in 1956, "the region's biggest running story since slavery." The southern press struggled with the region's accommodation of the school desegregation ruling and with black America's demand for civil rights.

    The nine essays inThe Press and Raceilluminate the broad array of print journalists' responses to the civil rights movement in Mississippi, a state that was one of the nation's major civil rights battlegrounds. Three of the journalists covered won Pulitzer prizes for their work and one was the first woman editorial writer to earn that coveted prize.

    The journalists and editors covered are Hodding Carter, Jr. (Greenville Delta Democrat-Times), J. Oliver Emmerich (McComb Enterprise-Journal), Percy Greene (Jackson Advocate), Ira B. Harkey, Jr. (Pascagoula Chronicle), George A. McLean (Tupelo Journal), Bill Minor (New Orleans Times-Picayune), Hazel Brannon Smith (Lexington Adviser), and Jimmy Ward (Jackson Daily News). Their editorial stances run the gamut from moderates such as Minor, Smith, and Carter, Jr., to openly segregationist editors such as Ward and Greene.

    The Press and Racefollows the press from the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to 1965, when Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. Those years saw some of the most important events of the civil rights movement-the South's resistance to school desegregation throughout the 1950s and 1960s; the Freedom Rides of 1961; James Meredith's admission into the University of Mississippi in 1962; the assassination of Medgar Evers in 1963; and the events of Freedom Summer in 1964. These essays present an in-depth analysis of the editorials, articles, journalistic standards, and work of Mississippi newspaper reporters and editors as they covered this tumultuous era in American history.

    While a handful of Mississippi journalists openly defended blacks and challenged the state's racial policies, others responded by redoubling their support of Mississippi's segregated society. Still others responded with a moderate defense of black Americans' legal rights, while at the same time defending the status quo of segregation.

    The Press and Racereveals the outrage, emotion, and deliberation of the people who would soon be carrying out the nation's command to end segregation. The journalists discussed here were southerners and insiders in a crisis. Their writing made journalism history.

    David R. Davies is chair of the department of journalism at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. A former reporter for theArkansas Gazette, he has been published inAmerican Journalism, theChicago Tribune, and theJournal of Mississippi History.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-910-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)
    David R. Davies

    For Southern newspapers as for American Southerners, the social upheaval in the years followingBrown v. Board of Educationwere, asTimemagazine put it on 20 February 1956, the “region’s biggest running story since the end of slavery.” The Southern press struggled with the region’s difficult accommodation with the school desegregation ruling and with black Americans’ demand for civil rights before and after. Desegregation would indeed prove a difficult story to tell.

    In Mississippi newspapers did no better. This volume illuminates the broad array of print journalists’ response to the Second Reconstruction in Mississippi, a state that was one...

  5. Mississippi’s Daily Press in Three Crises
    (pp. 17-53)
    Susan M. Weill

    “The majority of Southern editors and publishers have been cynically defending a myth they know to be untrue,” media analyst Ted Poston wrote in 1967, “—white superiority, Negro indolence, and a baseless contention that the region’s magnolia-scented values would triumph over the moral and legal might of the federal government” (Race and the News Media, p. 63).

    Hodding Carter III, a reporter and editor at the Greenville (Mississippi)Delta Democrat-Timesduring several decades of the civil rights movement, had a different interpretation. He defended his fellow editors in 1968 as people who were products of their time. “My point...

  6. Percy Greene and the Jackson Advocate
    (pp. 55-83)
    Caryl A. Cooper

    Percy Greene aroused disparate reactions among colleagues during his turbulent career as editor of theJackson Advocate, Mississippi’s leading black newspaper during the state’s strife-filled struggle for civil rights. From 1939 until his death in 1977, Greene charted an editorial path that earned him both high praise and passionate loathing. Accused of being a traitor to the black cause and a foil for the white man, he was revered and hated, celebrated and vilified.

    InPercy Greene and the Jackson Advocate(1994), historian Julius Thompson asked Greene’s friends to talk about the editor. Ruby E. Stutts-Lyells described Greene as a...

  7. Jimmy Ward and the Jackson Daily News
    (pp. 85-109)
    David R. Davies and Judy Smith

    TheColumbia Journalism Review, looking back on the civil rights era in summer 1967, concluded that the Mississippi capital’s two daily newspapers had performed terribly in covering the social upheaval of desegregation. Jackson’sClarion-Ledgerand theDaily News, theReviewconcluded, were “quite possibly the worst metropolitan newspapers in the United States.” Similarly, a 1967 critique described both theClarion-Ledgerand theDaily Newsas ardent segregationist journals that had misrepresented the civil rights movement at every turn. “[T]heDaily Newsfreely paints Negroes as baboons and apish clowns, sees communists in every anti-poverty program not controlled by the local...

  8. J. Oliver Emmerich and the McComb Enterprise-Journal
    (pp. 111-135)
    David R. Davies

    J. Oliver Emmerich knew that trouble lay ahead. In the tense spring that preceded Mississippi’s long, hot summer of 1964, Emmerich, editor of the McCombEnterprise-Journal, predicted that the impending arrival of out-of-state civil rights workers could easily provoke a violent white backlash in his conservative southwest Mississippi town. Mindful of McComb’s turbulent racial history, Emmerich wrote a series of signed, front-page editorials outlining community preparations for the “invasion” and pleading with McComb citizens to act responsibly. “Our conclusion is that we should all try to relax,” Emmerich wrote on 29 May 1964. “… May we on Sept. 1 look...

  9. George A. McLean and the Tupelo Journal
    (pp. 137-171)
    Laura Nan Fairley

    For George Alonzo McLean, publisher of theTupelo Journal, one thing mattered first and foremost—his community. The modest McLean was a hard-driving civic booster who worked methodically to bring agricultural and industrial diversification to Northeast Mississippi from the 1930s to the 1980s. As Tupelo prospered, largely through his leadership in community and economic development, he earned respect from leaders in Tupelo, Jackson, Washington D.C., and beyond.

    In the cause of improving Tupelo, McLean had an impact in areas ranging from education to race relations. His leadership on community issues—including race—is credited with keeping Tupelo peaceful even as...

  10. Ira B. Harkey, Jr., and the Pascagoula Chronicle
    (pp. 173-207)
    David L. Bennett

    In a place and time when men preached hate and killed for no reason but skin color, Ira Brown Harkey, Jr., stood at history’s crossroads and cursed the evil of racism. As he watched his state sink into a moral and ideological abyss, Harkey remained a voice of passion and courage during Mississippi’s bloodiest civil-rights battles of the early 1960s. Harkey, publisher and editor of the PascagoulaChronicle, bitterly condemned race hate and pleaded for compassion in the face of the racial hysteria fueled by James Meredith’s admission into the University of Mississippi.

    As this chapter will show, Harkey was...

  11. Wilson F. (Bill) Minor and the New Orleans Times-Picayune
    (pp. 209-231)
    Lawrence N. Strout

    Decades after the passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965), Wilson F. (Bill) Minor recounted in a 15 September 1999 interview how the two pieces of federal legislation, after years of struggle, unrest and violence in Mississippi, changed the state forever.¹ For the ten years leading up to those pieces of legislation, Minor witnessed, reported and commented about the turmoil associated with African-Americans fighting for the same rights as whites. Minor was no radical. He saw himself as a reporter, not a crusading columnist pushing for civil rights and desegregation. However, Minor used his...

  12. Hazel Brannon Smith and the Lexington Advertiser
    (pp. 233-263)
    Arthur J. Kaul

    The editorial career of Hazel Brannon Smith resonates deeply in the popular imagination of American journalism, her story achieving a legendary status forged in the Progressive ethos of the early Twentieth Century. Academic and popular accounts of the Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of theLexington Advertiserfeature the plot line of a secularized evangelical salvation narrative: conservative Dixiecrat segregationist undergoes a life-changing conversion that transforms her into a crusading civil rights advocate and, eventually, liberal martyr to the cause of press freedom. For example, Mark Newman’s scholarly account of Smith’s career in theJournal of Mississippi History(February 1992) stresses a...

  13. Hodding Carter, Jr., and the Delta Democrat-Times
    (pp. 265-294)
    Ginger Rudeseal Carter

    Best known as the longtime owner, publisher and editor of theDelta Democrat-Times, William Hodding Carter, Jr., has received international and critical attention for his editorial work during the civil rights era. Carter wrote and edited his newspaper in the Delta city of Greenville, Mississippi, his home for most of his adult life; he remained publisher until his death in 1972.

    For years, the mythology surrounding Carter has cast him as an avid supporter of the civil rights movement. His biographer Ann Waldron suggested that Carter was a “reconstructed racist,” one who had turned against hatred and who embraced equal...

  14. About the Contributors
    (pp. 295-296)
  15. Index
    (pp. 297-302)