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Equal Time

Equal Time: Television and the Civil Rights Movement

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Equal Time
    Book Description:

    Equal Time: Television and the Civil Rights Movement explores the crucial role of network television in reconfiguring new attitudes in race relations during the civil rights movement. Due to widespread coverage, the civil rights revolution quickly became the United States' first televised major domestic news story. This important medium unmistakably influenced the ongoing movement for African American empowerment, desegregation, and equality. Aniko Bodroghkozy brings to the foreground network news treatment of now-famous civil rights events including the 1965 Selma voting rights campaign, integration riots at the University of Mississippi, and the March on Washington, including Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech. She reveals how TV executives worked through the ethical dilemmas they faced, how reporters and camera operators dealt with very real dangers of reporting events, how reports were constructed and aired to support integration, and how interviews were selected to project an image of a South ready for change. Television networks also looked to the entertainment industry to address the question of race relations, as prime-time comedies and dramas could no longer ignore the changes in American life. Bodroghkozy examines the most high-profile and controversial television series of the era to feature African American actors-- East Side/West Side, Julia, and Good Times --to reveal how entertainment programmers sought to represent a rapidly shifting consensus on what blackness and whiteness meant and how they now fit together.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09378-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Performing Arts, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Montgomery, Alabama, March 17, 1965. The black voting rights campaign led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was into its third month of marches and protest fifty miles east in the small city of Selma. On this day a group of black and white college students accompanied by priests and rabbis had decided to bring the movement’s demands to the state capitol. Perhaps because there were so many white youths in the demonstration, television news reporters were out in force.

    Suddenly, the peaceful march filled with “freedom songs” turned ugly. Out of nowhere a sheriff’s posse on horseback and brandishing...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Propaganda Tool for Racial Progress?
    (pp. 17-38)

    In June 1950, Ebony magazine had good news for its African American readers about television: the new medium looked to be a strong ally to the black community in its struggle for racial equality and opportunity. Pointing out the popularity and frequency of black performers on television programming, Ebony argued this was “a sure sign that television is free of racial barriers. Negro footlight favorites are cast in every conceivable type of TV act—musical, dramatic, comedy. Yet rarely have they had to stoop to the Uncle Tom pattern which is usually the Negro thespian’s lot on radio shows and...


    • CHAPTER 2 The Chosen Instrument of the Revolution?
      (pp. 41-60)

      Seventy-five newsmen convened at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism in 1965 to grapple with ethical dilemmas arising from television news and its coverage of the civil rights movement. To what extent was broadcast journalism actively participating in events it was supposed to be observing? One CBS reporter affirmed: “The Negro revolution of the 1960s could not have occurred without the television coverage that brought it to almost every home in the land.”¹ NBC Washington Bureau Chief William B. Monroe went even further: “Negroes are the architects, bricklayers, carpenters, and welders of this revolution. Television is their chosen instrument.”...

    • CHAPTER 3 Fighting for Equal Time: Segregationists vs. Integrationists
      (pp. 61-88)

      Mississippi Congressman John Bell Williams was deeply troubled by the state of network television and its regulatory body in 1963. To him, most of the FCC’s commissioners were supporters of “race mixing,” a matter he wanted investigated by the Communications Committee chairman. He was also alarmed at the way those clearly biased commissioners were wielding the power of the Fairness Doctrine against local Mississippi broadcasters, demanding that they physically go out into their communities to find representatives with views opposed to segregation. Congressman Williams said, “We know of no responsible person in Mississippi who would go on the air and...

    • CHAPTER 4 The March on Washington and a Peek into Racial Utopia
      (pp. 89-114)

      On a sunny, humid day in late August 1963, a quarter of a million civil rights marchers converged on the nation’s capital to press for “jobs and freedom.” Television cameras and reporters focused on the demonstrators’ placards and signs. One in particular caught the attention of the TV cameras. It read: “Look Mom! Dogs have TV shows. Negroes don’t!!”¹

      On that day Negroes did, in fact, have their own TV show. All three networks gave over large chunks of the broadcast day and, in the case of CBS, a significant portion of prime time to the March on Washington. With...

    • CHAPTER 5 Selma in the “Glaring Light of Television”
      (pp. 115-152)

      Network television in the 1960s had no more powerful lineup than Sunday night. CBS’s perennial favorite, The Ed Sullivan Show; NBC’s Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color; and the powerhouse western, Bonanza, were all among the Nielsen’s top twenty-five most-watched shows. ABC countered the consistently number-one rated Bonanza with its popular ABC Sunday Night Movie. No other night of prime-time entertainment drew larger audiences.

      On Sunday, March 7, at 9:00 pm, about one third of all American households tuned in to Bonanza, as they did every week. But ABC lured approximately 48 million viewers to its premier telecast of the...


    • CHAPTER 6 Bringing “Urgent Issues” to the Vast Wasteland: East Side/West Side
      (pp. 155-179)

      In May 1961, the National Association of Broadcasters, the powerful trade group for American commercial television and radio broadcasters, held its annual meeting in Washington, D.C. As was customary, the NAB invited the new head of the FCC to address them. The recently appointed chairman, Newton Minow, was a lawyer and former aide to Adlai Stevenson with little broadcast law experience but plenty of passion for television. A quintessential Kennedy “New Frontiersman,” Minow was smart, idealistic, and confident that government, including its regulatory powers, could improve the lives of Americans. He hoped to prove it in his speech that night....

    • CHAPTER 7 Is This What You Mean by Color TV?: Julia
      (pp. 180-202)

      “Annus horribilis” would be one way to label America in 1968. The country lurched through a series of calamities and shocks that suggested a wholesale rending of the sociopolitical fabric of the land. Early in the year, what remained of Americans’ faith that victory was possible in Vietnam suffered a body blow as the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive. Television viewers saw the U.S. embassy in Saigon briefly overrun by enemy troops; sometime later Walter Cronkite declared to his nightly news audience that the war was hopelessly stalemated. Shortly after that, President Johnson went on national television and stunned...

    • CHAPTER 8 Prime Time, Good Times
      (pp. 203-224)

      On September 12, 1974, the first day of school for the Boston public school system, yellow buses rolled out from the black ghetto Roxbury, ferrying poor black students to white, working-class South Boston in order to integrate the stubbornly segregated schools of the “cradle of liberty.” According to the court order handed down over the summer, students, both black and white, were to be forcibly bused all over the city in order to comply with the now twenty-year-old Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court ruling mandating school integration “with all deliberate speed.” As one bus drove to “Southie’s...

  8. EPILOGUE: The Return of Civil Rights Television: The Obama Victory
    (pp. 225-230)

    On March 5, 2007, television cameras returned to Selma, Alabama. CNN’s viewers saw footage of the day that looked similar to what viewers watching Selma coverage forty-two years ago saw night after night: shots of black people singing “We Shall Overcome”; individualized portraits of dignity, such as an elderly black man presented in a low-angle tilt, marching while holding an American flag; black and white crowds pouring over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. But this was not file footage hauled out of the archives. CNN and the other television news organizations were in Selma that day because Hillary Clinton, husband Bill,...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 231-252)
    (pp. 253-258)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 259-266)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-271)