Best Investigative Reporting: "Civil Rights and the Press" Alabama Public Radio
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Alabama Public Radio spent a year producing and airing stories on the 50th anniversary of key events during the civil rights movement in Alabama. This includes reporter Ryan Vaquez three part series "Civil Rights and the Press" which looked back on how the media covered these moments, or failed to.
CIVIL RIGHTS MEDIA – PART 1 04-22-13
NWS RV01 RUNS: ALL YEAR LONG HERE ON ALABAMA PUBLIC RADIO, WE’RE LOOKING AT THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF PIVOTAL MOMENTS IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS ERA. LAST WEEK, YOU HEARD APR’S DOCUMENTARY CALLED CIVIL RIGHTS RADIO. IT WAS ABOUT AN ANTI SEGREGATION PROTEST BY TEENAGERS IN BIRMINGHAM IN 1963. PART OF WHAT GAVE THE CHILDREN’S MARCH NATIONAL IMPACT WAS HOW IT WAS COVERED BY THE PRESS. THERE ARE ALSO QUESTIONED BEING VOICED NOW ON HOW THE PROTEST WAS COVERED FIFTY YEARS AGO. ALABAMA PUBLIC RADIO’S RYAN VASQUEZ HAS THAT SIDE OF THE STORY….
IMAGES OF YOUNG BLACK PROTESTERS BEING HIT WITH FIRE HOSES AND POLICE DOGS IN 1963 BIRMINGHAM ARE CONSIDERED ICONIC. HANK KLIBANOFF SAW THEM TOO. HE WAS A FOURTEEN YEAR OLD PAPERBOY IN FLORENCE WHEN THE CHILDREN’S MARCH TOOK PLACE. HE’S A PULITZER PRIZE WINNER NOW. AND WHAT STRIKES HIM NOW IS WHERE CIVIL RIGHTS COVERAGE WOUND UP IN THE DAILY PAPER…
HB-EXCEPT BHAM (24)“MY HOME TOWN NEWSPAPER AND ALL OF THE NATIONAL MEDIA ARE VERY MUCH FOCUSING ATTENTION ,PAGE ONE ATTENTION AND LEAD NEWS ITEM ATTENTION ON THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE AND COMMISSIONER BULL CONNOR’S DECISION TO UNLEASH THE DOGS AND THE HOSES ON THE ADMINISTRATORS IT MAKES PAGE ONE NEWS EVERYWHERE EXCEPT IN BIRMINGHAM.”
KLIBANOFF SAYS NOT ONLY WAS THE CHILDREN’S MARCH RELEGATED TO LESSER NEWS IT WAS DELIVERED WITHOUT MANY PICTURES. HK-STENOGRAPHIC (17)
“YOU KNOW 42 NEGROES WERE ARRESTED YESTERDAY DURING A DEMONSTRATION AT KELLY INGRAM PARK VERY STENOGRAPHIC VERY COOL AND NO IMAGES OF THE DOGS AND THE HOSES SO I COULDN’T HELP BUT NOTICE THE NEWSPAPER I’M DELIVERING DIDN’T PUT THAT ON PAGE ONE.”
BY STENOGRAPHIC, KLIBANOFF MEANS REPORTS STATED THINGS FACTUALLY. THAT RAISES A QUESTION AMONG CRITICS OF NEWSPAPERS IN THE 1960’S. DID THE BIRMINGHAM PAPERS NOT COVER THESE EVENTS, OR DID THEY HAVE THE STORIES AND CHOSE NOT TO RUN THEM?
BW-NEGLECTED (21) “THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF PHOTOGRAPHS THE NEGATIVES WERE PUT INTO A FILE CABINET IT WAS UNCOVERED BY AN INTERN. SO THE PHOTOGRAPHS; THE ICONIC IMAGES OF THE MOVEMENT WERE NOT PUBLISHED BY THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS. NOW IF THEY DIDN’T PUBLISH THE PHOTOGRAPHS NOW THAT TELLS ME A LOT OF THE NARRATIVE WAS ALSO IGNORED OR NEGLECTED.”
BUT THAT DOESN’T SIT RIGHT WITH DONALD BROWN. HE WAS A GENERAL ASSIGNMENT REPORTER FOR THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS DURING THE EARLY 60S. BROWN SAYS WHEN MARTIN LUTHER KING TOOK HIS MOVEMENT TO BIRMINGHAM IN APRIL OF ’63, THE LOCAL PAPER RESPONDED.
DON BROWN-24-7 (18) “THE NEWS STAFF AT THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS WERE JUST GIVEN A SORT OF OPEN ASSIGNMENT. IF WE NEED YOU TO COVER A MARCH, IF WE NEED YOU TO COVER A RALLY, IF WE NEED YOU TO COVER A BOMBING WHATEVER WE NEED YOU TO COVER BE AVAILABLE 24/7.”
BROWN SAYS THE NEWS STAFF AND PHOTOGRAPHERS WENT OUT ON ALMOST EVERYTHING FROM MARCHES TO BOMBINGS BUT SOMETIMES COVERING AN EVENT IS NOT ENOUGH. DB-MY CALL (13) “IT WASN’T MY CALL AS A LOWLY REPORTER, IT WAS THE EDITORS WHO RAN THE NEWSPAPER AND THEIR CALL WAS TO PUT IT IN THE PAPER IF IT’S A BIG ENOUGH DEAL BUT LET’S NOT MAKE A BIGGER DEAL OF IT.”
VINCENT TOWNSEND BROWN’S BOSS. HE WAS THE GENERAL MANGER AND EDITOR FOR A TIME AT THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS IN THE EARLY 60S. BROWN SAYS TOWNSEND HAD OUTSIDE INFLUENCES FORCING HIM TO KEEP THE COVERAGE TO A MINIMUM.
DB-KEEP IT DOWN (20) “THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY WHICH OF COURSE WERE AT THE TIME WERE THE PRIMARY ADVERTISERS OF THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS AND WERE WHAT UNDERGIRDED THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS’ INFLUENCE FINANCIALLY KEPT THE PRESSURE ON MR. TOWNSEND AND THE MANAGEMENT OF THE NEWS…KEEP IT DOWN, KEEP IT DOWN, KEEP IT DOWN.” BROWN SAYS THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS WAS ABLE TO DO THAT FOR A FEW MONTHS BUT NATIONAL NEWS STARTED TO DICTATE WHAT AND HOW MUCH OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT SHOULD BE COVERED. AGAIN BARNETT WRIGHT…
BW-TURNING POINTS (24) “ONE OF THE TURNING POINTS MANY BELIEVE IS WHEN HARRISON SALISBURY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES CAME DOWN TO BIRMINGHAM AND HE COVERED OR HE TALKED ABOUT THE HATRED, TALKED ABOUT THE SEGREGATION, TALKED ABOUT THE PROBLEMS THAT WAS HAPPENING HERE IN THE CITY AND FOR MANY PEOPLE IN THE CITY THEY WERE SHOCKED BECAUSE THAT WASN’T THE IMAGE THAT THEY GOT OF BIRMINGHAM READING THE LOCAL PAPERS.”
WHILE THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS AND THE POST HERALD MAY HAVE KEPT THE NEWS OFF THE FRONT PAGES, STORIES ABOUT THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT MADE THE NIGHTLY NEWS ON TELELVISION. HANK KLIBANOFF WENT FROM HIS PAPER ROUTE TO BECOME A WINNER OF THE PULITIZER PRIZE. IT WAS A BOOK HE AND CO-AUTHOR GENE ROBERTS WRITE CALLED RACE BEAT. THE BOOK WAS ABOUT THE ROLE THE PRESS PLAYED IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS STRUGGLE…
HK-CHANGE (22) “IF THE WHOLE NATION HAD RESPONDED IN THEIR NEWS ORGANIZATIONS THE WAY THE BIRMINGHAM NEWSPAPERS DID BY DECIDING THIS IS NOT NEWS THIS IS NOT IMPORTANT. IT WOULD HAVE BEEN MANY, MANY, MANY MORE YEARS OF TURMOIL, DEHUMANIZATION, AND DEATH IN THE SOUTH BUT ULTIMATELY IT WAS THE MERE PRESENCE OF THAT MEDIA COVERAGE THAT LED TO THE CHANGE.”
THE MEDIA’S ROLE IN BRINGING MANY OF THE SIGNIFICANT EVENTS OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT TO LIGHT HELPED THE NATION TO PROGRESS TOWARDS MORE EQUALITY. IN THE COMING WEEKS, WE’LL EXPLORE THE MEDIA’S INVOLVEMENT IN OTHER SIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN 1963 LIKE THE STAND IN THE SCHOOLHOUSE DOOR AND THE 16TH STREET BAPTIST CHURCH BOMBING. I’M RYAN VASQUEZ, APR NEWS IN BIRMINGHAM.
Civil Rights Media Part 2 07-31-13 NWS RV01 Runs: Thanks to media coverage of significant events 50 years ago people today have access to momentous moments in our nation’s history. Alabama Public Radio is taking a look at the importance of media in covering the significant events in 1963 and how it helped push the United States to pass the Civil Rights Act a year later. Alabama Public Radio’s Ryan Vasquez continues the series with a look at how the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church put Birmingham back in the national spotlight.
September 15th, 1963 started off just like any other Sunday for Barbara Cross with morning Sunday school class down in the basement of 16th Street Baptist Church. Cross remembers that day’s Sunday school lesson…
BC-18 “Our Sunday school lesson that day was “A Love That Forgives” I’ll never forget that as long as I live. In my class particular we discussed the scripture from Matthew the fifth chapter talking about a godpaying love the godly type of love and a god pay is the Greek word for godly love.”
It was the first time Pastor John Cross, Barbara’s father, initiated Youth Sunday under his ministry. After class the children were getting ready for their other responsibilities that Sunday. Again Barbara Cross…
BC-19 “I remember a good friend of mine came by the classroom and we were going to go to the bathroom together and my teacher stopped me, my teacher’s name was Mrs. Demann, and she gave me an assignment that literally save my life and kept me out of harm’s way.”
Cross was asked to write the names of those who would be moving up to the next age level in Sunday school. It was just a few minutes later that that Sunday would soon be marred by an explosion that would change Birmingham forever.
BC-16 “I remembered I was in the process of writing the names down. The most horrific noise I ever heard in my life. I remember the building shaking. I remembered hearing children screaming.” Four young girls died, many more injured and a community ripped apart by an act of violence on what was supposed to be a peaceful Sunday. Don Brown was a general assignment reporter for the Birmingham News during the early 60s. He was at a church three blocks away when the bomb went off.
DB-22 “It was after the church service that I told my wife, ‘Take the car on home. I’m going to see what’s happened down the street here.’ And as soon as I saw what’s happened I got a ride to work with a photographer and stayed at work until after midnight that Sunday night.”
While local and national media outlets were slow to cover the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham, by the summer of 1963, every major news outlet had someone on the ground. After the explosion that rocked the country, news spread fast. At the Cross residence the phone was constantly busy right after the explosion from reporters to family members like Cross’ uncle.
BC-26 “I remembered my mother telling me he had to interrupt the line because there was a broadcast an NBC report or one of the major networks that said the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama and my uncle said that’s my brother in law’s church you got to get me through to that line I need to make sure my family is okay.”
It wasn’t long until everyone that Sunday knew what had transpired in Birmingham. CA-09 “ I was preparing to get ready for church because I went to Sunday School and my brother yelled come quick, come quick something has happened in Birmingham. Charles Avery was living just outside of Chicago at the time.
CA-14 “When we heard it on the news we were almost compelled to get in the car and come to Birmingham then at that moment we were so excited and wanted to get back home” Avery sensed what many were feeling…something big was about to happen in Birmingham. Again Don Brown.
DB-12 nervousbreakdown “If you could equate the feeling around the city those next few days to somebody having a nervous breakdown. Birmingham was having a serious nervous breakdown.” Two young men were killed later that day and the National Guard was brought in to keep the peace in the days following the bombing. As national and international media ramped up their coverage they echoed what Don Brown would while covering the Young Men’s Business Club in Birmingham.
DB-25 “One of the lawyers whom I respected got up and told his colleagues “Birmingham is dead” this was after the church bombing. And that was the feeling that the national media and Birmingham itself had left itself with when we saw what we had done at the 16th Street Baptist Church and I say we because everybody in Birmingham was blamed for that.”
50 years later now and Chuck Morgan’s words still ring in the city. Birmingham isn’t dead but it still carries the scars of September 15th with it. It’s a constant reminder in the parks and monuments to Civil Rights leaders and at 16th Street Baptist Church where it comes up in this first Sunday service. Pastor September 15th
“We’ve got a lot coming up in the next coming month as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the church. But let me just say this, for us at 16th street don’t wait until September 15th to give God some praise every day is a day of thanksgiving. You might not be here September 15th …
The church has taken on civil rights history as a ministry offering tours of the church and basement where the bomb went off. Pastor Arthur Price Junior …
AP-23 “We’ve increased our tour ministry when we got here and we have great volunteers who don’t mind telling the story. We produced the documentary chronicling the events of 1963 and the bombing of the church and trials of bringing the perpetrators to justice so every year we know that people make a pilgrimage to come to Birmingham to see what happened here 50 years ago.”
It’s not uncommon to find visitors from all over taking in a church service on any given Sunday… Barea college welcome…fade out clapping Pastor Price says he has already received calls from over 350 people to attend service on the 50th anniversary this year including from the White House. On that day they will recreate the service from September 15th including the Sunday school lesson that day “A Love That Forgives.”
BC-Chapter 5 Matthew (Barbara Cross – Matthew Chapter 5 fade up then fade out) An ironic lesson 50 years ago and a fitting reminder 50 years later. I’m Ryan Vasquez, APR News in Birmingham.
Black Newspapers/Ryan 11-11-13 NWS RV01 Runs:
ALL YEAR LONG ON ALABAMA PUBLIC RADIO, WE’VE BEEN LOOKING BACK AT THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF KEY MOMENTS IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. THAT INCLUDES HOW THE MEDIA COVERED THOSE EVENTS. Alabama Public Radio’s Ryan Vasquez continues the series with a look at how differently black-owned and operated newspapers covered the civil rights movement compared to their white counterparts.
Let’s put you in the position of a being black person living in the South during the Civil Rights Movement.
CF-split 1 :06 “If you picked up a white newspaper you as a black person didn’t exist.” Craig Flournoy is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and professor of journalism at Southern Methodist University.
CF-split 2 :10 “There was no record of you being born, no record of you graduating from high school much less college, no record of you getting married, no record of your promotion and no record of you dying.”
IN OTHER WORDS, unless you were famous like Joe Louis or Louis Armstrong, a black person MIGHT not make it into most white newspapers unless they committed a crime. So when it came to coverage of events surrounding the Civil Rights Movement, THERE WAS LITTLE IF ANY COVERAGE AT ALL. CRAIG FLOURNOY SAYS, TAKE the Montgomery Bus Boycott AS AN EXAMPLE. CF-NY Times cover boycott
:21 “The New York Times basically missed the story. They relied on wire service copy for the first four months and the esteemed Johnny Popham, the greatest reporter covering the south during this time wrote exactly two stories about it. And the way they framed the story the story they saw was a legal contest once the NAACP came in and filed a lawsuit.”
King on Meet the Press … segregated hour
While Dr. MARTIN LUTHER King, JUNIOR felt that the church pews across the nation remained among the most segregated places in America, Flournoy says the nation's newsrooms weren't much better.
CF-long 11 “I do believe in fairness meaning you get both sides of a story and on that basis white newspapers failed abysmally. They almost never covered the black side of a story.”
That was left to black newspapers, often at great risk to THE REPORTERS. One of the unsung newsmen of the Civil Rights Era was Emory Jackson. Jackson edited the Birmingham World which served as a lifeline to blacks about what was going on around the state and world. Jim Baggett is an archivist at the Birmingham Public Library
JB-split1 :11 “You had other black newspapers here some would be around for a year, some would be around for a few years but the World was around for decades.” The Library is now home to the newspaper’s archives and a collection of Jackson’s personal papers.
JB-split2 :18 “And with Emory Jackson who always fought with the papers owners in Atlanta to have as much local content in the paper as possible it’s really an indispensable record in terms of documenting African-American life in Birmingham during that period.”
And not just a record of big events like the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Jackson’s coverage of that pivotal incident is considered some of the best around. Baggett says even earlier moments in the Civil Rights movement such as the 1948 Freedom Train visit made black papers.
The Freedom Train nat sound and under
JB-freedom train :15 “The Freedom Train was sponsored by the American Heritage Foundation it was traveling the country stopping in cities. People could go onto the train; you could see the Emancipation Proclamation a copy of the Declaration of Independence all these important documents from history.” But in many southern cities, lines to get on the train to see the documents were segregated. That didn’t sit well with Jackson.
B-Jim crow lines :17 “Jackson was one of the people who first raised the issue and really led the fight here in Birmingham to not have Jim Crow lines outside the Freedom Train. Jackson said we shouldn’t have to stand in a segregated line to see the Emancipation Proclamation.”
It was this type of reporting that contributed to Jackson’s fearless reputation. He would take on Bull Connor and other segregation minded officials in his articles, print full names of those he interviewed and always tried to get both sides of the story. But this also invited danger for the intrepid newsman. Joe Dixon who worked with Jackson and later bought the Birmingham World remembers one instance where Jackson went to cover the Dixiecrat convention in 1948 in Birmingham.
JD-Dixiecrat1 :12 “And they told him that he couldn’t participate. He told them he was with the press representing the journalists and he had just as much right to be there as anybody else. They threw him out.”
The Dixiecrat party was a segregationist faction of the Democratic Party that split off because they were unhappy with President Harry Truman and their own party’s national plank calling for civil rights. They certainly didn’t want a black journalist especially one of Jackson’s tenacity covering their event.
J D-Dixiecrat2 :12 “Emory went back and they put him out again and told him to run. But he didn’t run and I asked him, ‘Why didn’t you run’ and he said ‘If I had run they would have shot me saying I was running around trying to steal stuff.’” Jackson would go on to cover many of the significant events in Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement from the Children’s March to the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door. Always a believer in justice and going through the courts Jackson would later find himself on the wrong side of the demonstrations brought on by Fred Shuttlesworth and Martin Luther King Jr.
JB-EJsplit1 : 03 “He was bothered by street protests…” Again Jim Baggett.
JB-EJsplit2 :12 “He called the demonstrations here a flash dance. He didn’t believe it would work and he didn’t believe it was the best approach in terms of trying to bring about change.”
Nat sound outside of Nelson Brothers Café fade under
The Birmingham World is long gone and all that remains is a plaque dedicated to Emory Jackson outside of Nelson Brothers Café which sits near the World’s old headquarters. Partially due to his differences on the Birmingham Campaign, Jackson’s impact on Birmingham gets overlooked today. Joe Dixon, who helped get the plaque dedicated to Jackson, feels Emory has been unfairly remembered by history.
JD-Emory’s due :21 “The sad thing about all of this is the treatment that the community has given Emory since he passed. Three people that I don’t think really was covered: Emory Jackson, Jesse Walker, Fred Shuttlesworth. They never got what they should’ve gotten. Fred Shuttlesworth and Martin Luther King Jr. may rightfully be credited as being great Civil Rights leaders, but without people like Emory Jackson their role in history might be drastically changed. In Birmingham, I’m Ryan Vasquez, APR News.