Objectivity and "The Journalist's Creed": Local Coverage of Lucile Bluford's Fight to Enter the University of Missouri School of Journalism

Article excerpt

This article examines how local newspapers covered the attempted enrollment and subsequent legal fight that African American journalist Lucile Bluford waged against the University of Missouri, the birthplace of journalism education, in 1939. The case rose in the shadow of the U.S. Supreme Court's better known Lloyd Gaines decision, which was the NAACP's most significant challenge of the separate but equal doctrine arising from Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. The school's first dean and patriarch, Walter Williams, called for reporters to battle injustice and to remain objective in "The Journalist's Creed." This became a hallmark of the school and journalists worldwide, and reporters covering the Bluford case learned the creed from Williams' disciples. However, this study shows they failed to follow it.

No one paid attention when twenty-seven-year-old Lucile Bluford stood in line to register for classes at the University of Missouri on January 30, 1939. It was slightly more than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled against the university in its effort to deny Lloyd Gaines' entry into its law school.1 Now, Bluford's attempt to be the first African American to enroll at Missouri was one step away. She had submitted her transcripts from the University of Kansas, where she had received a B.S. degree in journalism in 1932, and she had a letter from Missouri officials instructing her how to enroll in the master's program at the School of Journalism. No one acknowledged her presence until she approached the end of the registration line. After checking her records, a secretary escorted her to the office of the university registrar, who informed her that because Gaines' case had not been finalized, the state's separate but equal law was still in effect and she would not be allowed to enter the school. Bluford talked to journalism Dean Frank Mar-tin, who said that without an enrollment permit she could not take classes.2 Thus ended the opening salvo of her fight to enter the world's first School of Journalism.

The School of Journalism, founded in 1908, had graduated students from all over the country and from several foreign countries. In fact, a Canadian man had been in the school's inaugural class.3 However, because Missouri was a Midwest state with Southern traditions, its African Americans lived under Jim Crow conditions; separate but equal was the law of the land, and Missouri legislators worked hard to keep it that way. Bluford and two of her brothers earned degrees from the University of Kansas, thanks to scholarships that they received from the state of Missouri. That is how Missourians kept their professional schools (law, medicine, nursing, and journalism) white only.4

There was not a lot of fanfare accompanying Bluford's attempt to enter the School of Journalism. The local press was not contacted, and the two lawyers for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who went with her to Columbia, were not present when she tried to register.5 Both local newspapers, the Columbia Missourian and the Columbia Daily Tribune, ran the story on their front pages, but there were no banner headlines. The Daily Tribune story consisted of only five paragraphs, most of which was the registrar's statement that he had given to Bluford, and the Missourian, which served as a laboratory newspaper for the school, ran a similar article.6 While it was not uncommon for such events to receive minimal attention in 1939, more thorough coverage might have been expected from the Missourian because of the high democratic ideals espoused by those who founded the School of Journalism.

This article examines how the two local papers covered the attempted enrollment and subsequent legal fight that Bluford waged against the University of Missouri and the School of Journalism. This study is significant because the university was the birthplace of journalism education.7 It also is important because the school's first dean and patriarch, Walter Williams, wrote in 1908, in what he called "The Journalist's Creed," that a journalist should be "quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance and, as far as law and an honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance. …

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