Academic journal article Journalism History

Missing Pages: Black Journalists of Modern America: An Oral History

Academic journal article Journalism History

Missing Pages: Black Journalists of Modern America: An Oral History

Article excerpt

Terry, Wallace. Missing Pages: Black Journalists of Modern America: An Oral History. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2007. 375 pp. $16.95.

On a recent trip from my home in northwest Georgia to Chattanooga, Tennessee, just across the state line, I traveled essentially the same route followed more than fifty years ago by James Hicks, a reporter for the National Newspaper Publishers Association. My trip was uneventful. However, for Hicks, a black man traveling alone through Dalton, Georgia, in 1955, it was anything but, and I have Wallace Terry's valuable oral history of black journalism to thank for an awareness and appreciation of what Hicks and his contemporaries had to overcome simply to do their jobs.

Stopping to fill up on the way north from Atlanta, Hicks did what many of us do during a pit stop: he asked for the location of the nearest restroom. "We don't have a rest room for niggers," the roadside gas attendant said, according to Hicks' diary-like entry in Terry's book, which covers World War II through the civil rights movement. Hicks threw $2 on the concrete in anger, jumped in his car and sped off Only a few miles down the empty road, a patrolman pulled Hicks over and arrested him for failing to stop for a phantom school bus, and he had to spend the night in a makeshift warehouse jail.

Hicks' is one of twenty accounts of black journalists that as a collection accomplish Terry's stated goal of filling in some of the missing pages in the history of modern American journalism. Of interest to even general readers, the book is especially valuable to journalism history and black press history instructors because, in addition to offering human perspectives on race and racism in America, the often visceral firsthand accounts establish, or re-establish, an emotional connection to events that are often presented in history courses as fossilized artifacts of a distant past.

Telling these memorable stories are many well-known voices, such as Bernard Shaw, William Raspberry, and Carole Simpson. Just as important are the lesser-known voices, such as Austin Scott, who covered the civil rights movement for the Associated Press, and Ethel Payne, the "First Lady of the Black Press" and a long-time reporter for the black Chicago Defender.

It is Scott, for example, who perhaps best articulates one of the unifying themes of the collection, which is the question of how a black journalist in America during that period should consider himself or herself. …

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