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Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press Hardcover – February 17, 2015

4.7 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“…James McGrath Morris lifts Ethel Payne from relative obscurity revealing a fearless, intrepid journalist who covered practically every important event of her day…” (Herb Boyd, National Association of Black Journalist, Hall of Fame, inductee)

Ethel Payne was a pioneer who experienced the challenges but little of the glory that comes with the title. With this book, her legacy is assured. (Paula J. Giddings, author of Ida, A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching)

“A deeply researched, skillfully written biography about a previously underappreciated individual.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“James McGrath Morris’s eloquent book - quite a feat of historical excavation into the black press as well - should bring her many new admirers.” (Wil Haygood, author of the bestselling,The Butler: A Witness to History)

In Eye on the Struggle James McGrath Morris lifts Ethel Payne from relative obscurity revealing a fearless, intrepid journalist who covered practically every important event of her day, whether at home in the heat of the civil rights movement or traveling abroad to Africa and Asia. ” (Herb Boyd, author of Brotherman and Baldwin's Harlem)

Eye on the Struggle is an incredibly important act of historical recovery. James McGrath Morris’ penetratingly insightful biography of Ethel Payne takes us into the world of the civil rights era black press through the eyes of one its trailblazing journalists.” (Peniel E. Joseph, author of Waiting Til the Midnight Hour and Stokely Peniel E. Joseph, author of Waiting Til the Midnight Hour and Stokely )

“A debt of gratitude is due James McGrath Morris for bringing the remarkable life of Ethel Payne out of the shadows.” (Pamela Newkirk, author of,Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga)

The rich use of sources and glimpses of Payne’s personal life will engage readers interested in civil rights, journalism, and women’s history.” (Library Journal)

“[An] important...absorbing new book.” (New York Times)

“A well-researched, detailed look at the life of a pioneering journalist.” (The Washington Independent Review of Books)

“[A] groundbreaking biography” (KamWilliams.com)

Eye on the Struggle is a fast-paced tour through the highlights of 20th-century African-American history, with Payne as witness.” (Boston Globe)

“It is through Payne’s eyes that author James McGrath Morris deftly shows us the history of post-World War II America.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“[A] compelling biography” (O, the Oprah Magazine)

“[A] beautifully written and carefully researched new book.” (Chicago Tribune)

“Morris’s research on Payne is meticulous…” (Washington Post)

“Morris is not only insightful, but also wise…” (Dallas Morning News)

“Morris has written a fast-paced, engrossing biography…” (New York Times Book Review)

“Biographer James McGrath Morris pulls back the curtain on an often overlooked figure of the civil rights movement with Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press.” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

From the Back Cover

In this groundbreaking biography, celebrated author James McGrath Morris skillfully illuminates the life and accomplishments of pioneering journalist Ethel Lois Payne, while also bringing to the fore the critical role of the black press in the civil rights era.

Payne used her journalistic skills as the Washington correspondent for the Chicago Defender to elevate civil rights issues to the national agenda. In the 1950s and 1960s, she raised challenging questions at presidential press conferences about matters of importance to African Americans and the emerging civil rights movement. A self-proclaimed "instrument of change," she publicly prodded President Dwight D. Eisenhower to support desegregation, and her reporting on legislative and judicial civil rights battles enlightened and motivated black readers. At some considerable personal risk, Payne covered such events as the Montgomery bus boycott, the desegregation of the University of Alabama, and the Little Rock school crisis. She also traveled overseas to write about the service of black troops in Vietnam and accompanied American leaders on diplomatic missions to Africa.

President Lyndon B. Johnson recognized Payne's seminal role by presenting her with pens used in the signing of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. As a trailblazing black woman in an industry domi-nated by white men, she capped her career by becoming the first female African American radio and television commentator on a national network, working for CBS.

Ethel Payne's unassuming style of journalism was a key to her success. From Alabama to Ghana, from Indonesia to Vietnam, Payne's reporting eschewed the emotionless objective style coveted by mainstream publications of her time. She became for many black Americans their eyes on the frontlines of the struggle for equality in Washington, in the South, and in Africa.

The white and black presses, operating in parallel worlds, saw events differently. The white press was quick to portray civil rights legislation as munificent gifts bestowed on American blacks, while Payne's reporting focused on the failures of legislation to grant African Americans the equality that rightfully belonged to them. Ethel Payne's life and work offers readers an opportunity to see the historic events of the civil rights era through her eyes. Inspiring and instructive, moving and enlightening, Eye on the Struggle celebrates this extraordinary woman and her achievements—and reminds us of the power one person has to transform our lives and our world.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Amistad (February 17, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062198858
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062198853
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #601,481 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on November 28, 2015
Format: Hardcover
A friend told me I knew too little about the black press of the 20th century and, with my interest in mass media, that it was silly of me to be so ill-informed. He recommended a forthcoming book which is now on my bookshelf, the life of Ethel Payne, the queen of American journalism. Folks called her the queen of back journalism, but after reading even a few chapters she jumps across racial boundaries and takes on the title from peers from her white counterparts. Yet she is hardly celebrated at all. Is there a reason for this? McGrath Morris does his best to make us understand what it might have been like for the young Ethel Payne, growing up in a racist society and struggling for every meal, yet driven by parents who believed fervently in education as the way out for an embattled race.

Payne herself was sometimes—not her worst enemy, that's a cliche—but sometimes she was not her own best advocate, and time after time in the book McGrath Morris shows her getting tired or frustrated with this or that plum job and then moving on, sometimes without a clear vision of what she wanted to do next. Periods of joblessness ensued, but like a cat she always managed to use her extensive network of friends and business contacts to find something worthy of her talents. She was a journalist who learned quickly, and she could put away scruples when she had to, and best of all she stood up for what she believed in, and risked the ire of many powerful forces of evil. Her personal life? Well, it isn't easy at the top, especially for a successful woman, and especially, or so she believed, for a black woman.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This important book weaves seminal civil rights events into the biography of Ethel Payne, a pioneer reporter who not only covered but represented the African American community during an era in which black Americans were still denied, by law and custom, many of the rights to which they were entitled. She worked for the Chicago Defender, as close to a national newspaper as could be found informing the black community, in Chicago and Washington, where as a member of the White House press corps she incurred the indignation of President Dwight D. Eisenhower at a time when he regarded black Americans as little more than an interest group. Payne was simultaneously an investigative reporter, world traveler (with the emphasis on Africa) and an advocacy journalist. Her work and exploits both inside and outside of journalism provide a road map to both minority journalism of the era as well as a chronicle of the civil rights movement and many of its triumphs and setbacks. After President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1964 Public Accommodations law and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 following the Selma-Montgomery march, LBJ gave pens to Payne. Biographer James McGrath Morris, who has earned his bones with biographies of Joseph Pulitzer and the infamous but entertaining Charles E. Chapin, the "Rose Man of Sing Sing," presents an impeccably researched and well written book with an unusual understanding of both newspaper journalism and the modern history of the civil rights movement. Famous names march through these pages, including Joseph McCarthy, President Richard M. Nixon and even Lena the Hyena of Lower Slobbovia, a character created by cartoonist Al Capp of Li'l Abner fame.Read more ›
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A biography of a woman of commitment, purpose, and focus, this book reflects on history as the USA and world upgraded equality and opportunity. While I had known many of the historical events, I did not know of Ethel Payne. Now I do, thanks to James Morris who appreciates Ethel Payne as a person, a journalist, and lifelong humanitarian. Payne did not seek wealth, and made-do by managing what she earned. Payne did not seek notoriety, but she actively found proximity with notorious people worldwide. Payne kept her focus until her health gave out. So glad I saw the review of this book and decided to read it.
I do wish the Kindle version had more active links to references. The idea of working backwards by searching for a particular word, then moving between reference or index section and narrative, is awkward at best.
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Format: Hardcover
So many times we focused on what we can't do or haven't done instead of thinking ahead to what we can do.

That is what I think about as I reflect on reading EYE ON THE STRUGGLE by James McGrath Morris. It chronicles the amazing career of Ethel Payne and how she made a point to use her gift of sharing stories to write her place in history.

Payne's work and her life are both fascinating, and Morris does an amazing job of bringing you into her life, into her words and into the journey to share them with the world. She was a woman and a person of color: two things that didn't make it easy---at a time when things were difficult enough as it was---but she was not to be stopped and because of her example there are people around this country and around the world that have been able to tape into their inner courage and do work that others might have seen as impossible.

I don't think we always consider how much the press has worked to inform individuals and bring them into stories that matter, which is why the freedom of the press is so important as well. This book reminds us of that and that voices should be heard, even if you believe what they have to say might not be what you want to hear.

This is the kind of book that should inspire us all. EYE ON THE STRUGGLE showcases the life of a woman that would not be stopped.
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