The Press and Race: Mississippi Journalists Confront the Movement

Article excerpt

The Press and Race: Mississippi Journalists Confront the Movement. David R. Davies, ed. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2001. 302 pp. $30 hbk.

The words "Mississippi" and "racial justice" were antonyms through approximately two-thirds of the twentieth century. When life and social relations were legally defined along racial lines in the United States, Mississippi epitomized the hard line drawn between blacks and whites. Journalism in Mississippi suffered from similar splits as The Press and Race: Mississippi Journalists Confront the Movement illustrates. This volume, edited by David R. Davies, associate professor and chair of the Department of Journalism at the University of Southern Mississippi, presents nine essays on journalism in the Magnolia State. Davies and eight other scholars examine how the state's press in general, six general circulation (read that white) newspapers, one black newspaper, and one white journalist reacted to the dismantling of American apartheid during the decade between the Supreme Court's 1954 Broun v. Topeka Board of Education decision and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The book is organized somewhat topically and ideologically. The book leads off with Susan Weill's overview of Mississippi's major dailies that had to cover events that threatened the status quo: the "southern" way of life and Mississippi's "closed societv." The remainder of the book consists of profiles of individual journalists who fall along the segregationist-moderate racial continuum with one liberal/integrationist as a notable outlier.

Caryl Cooper examined Percy Greene, the only black publisher profiled, who began his Jackson Advocate in 1939. Greene championed black voting rights in Mississippi but was an opponent of integration and many of the major civil rights organizations and personalities of the time. Davies and Judy Smith follow with "Jimmy Ward and the Jackson Daily News," a profile of the most openly white supremacist of the newspapers covered by the book.

The reader is then introduced to two publishers/editors who tried to walk the fine line between Mississippi's historical racial attitudes and the challenge to them. Davies' "J. Oliver Emmerich and the McComb Enterprise-Journal" and Laura Fairley's"George A. McLean and the Tupelo Journal" are portraits of men who were trying to catch the knife of change but somehow keep it away from the heart of Mississippi.

David Bennett's "Ira B. Harkey Jr. and the Pascagoula Chronicle" makes a convincing case that Harkey was the exception to the editorial voice at most of the Mississippi newspapers. From before the Brown decision and throughout his tenure with the newspaper, Harkey warned his readers that Mississippi's color line was wrong, was based on a false premise, was harming the state, and that blacks deserved equal opportunity.

Lawrence N. Strout's essay on "Wilson F. (Bill) Minor and the New Orleans Times-- Picayune" is the only chapter devoted to someone who was reporter-columnist only. …

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