From Publishers Weekly
Faced with "a flying wedge of white toughs coming at him" as he interviewed a black woman after the 1955 Emmett Till lynching trial, NBC reporter John Chancellor thrust his microphone toward them, saying, "I don't care what you're going to do to me, but the whole world is going to know it." This gripping account of how America and the world found out about the Civil Rights movement is written by two veteran journalists of the "race beat" from 1954 to 1965. Building on an exhaustive base of interviews, oral histories and memoirs, news stories and editorials, they reveal how prescient Gunnar Myrdal was in asserting that "to get publicity is of the highest strategic importance to the Negro people." The New York Times
and other major media take center stage, but the authors provide a fresh account of the black press's trajectory from a time when black reporters searched "for stories white reporters didn't even know about" through the loss of the black press's "eyewitness position on the story" in Little Rock to its recovery with the Freedom Rides. Although sometimes weighted by mundane detail and deadening statistics, the book is so enlivened with anecdotes that it remains a page-turner. (Nov. 21)
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Before the civil rights movement, coverage of race was almost exclusively the purview of the black press, which reported on the plight of southern blacks facing brutality and Jim Crow laws and northern blacks facing a watered-down version of the same racism. Drawing on interviews, private correspondence and notes, and unpublished articles, Roberts, a journalism professor, and Klibanoff, managing editor of theAtlanta Journal-Constitution
, describe the personal and professional difficulties faced by southern-born white reporters as they took up the coverage, mostly for northern publications. They chronicle the coverage of the Emmett Till case, Selma march, Montgomery bus boycott, and bombings and sit-ins that constituted the civil rights movement. Roberts and Klibanoff also recall the hatred and threats of violence against white reporters as they dared to report on the turbulence in the South. By retelling the civil rights story from the perspective of the white reporters who covered it, Roberts and Klibanoff demonstrate the profound changes the movement wrought not only on U.S. social justice but also on American journalism. Vanessa BushCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved