Watching Jim Crow: The Struggles over Mississippi TV, 1955-1969

Article excerpt

Classen, Steven D. Watching Jim Crow: The Struggles over Mississippi TV, 1955-1969. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004. 248 pp. $21.95.

This book is an original, important work that provides a detailed social history of media activism and communications policy during the civil rights era through its focus on the civil rights movement in Mississippi and television stations WLBT-TV and WJTV in Jackson. Both became the focus of efforts by the NAACP and the United Church of Christ for inclusion of integrationist perspectives and African American personalities in their programming as well as the introduction of non-white station personnel. As illustrated in this well-documented and insightful book, their efforts ultimately resulted not only in programming changes but also in station ownership, which reflected the many influences of the broader social concerns of the 1950s and 1960s.

Thus, this book should be of interest to students of the media as well as historians and others focusing on the civil rights era.

During the 1990s, Steven Classen conducted extensive oral histories with more than two-dozen African Americans in Jackson, many of whom had fought to integrate television programming of the two local stations, WLBT and WJTV. Both stations had actively excluded shows featuring African American perspectives while promoting segregationist activities and policies. These oral history interviews comprised much of the research for his doctoral dissertation, "Broadcast Law and Segregation: A Social History of the WLBT-TV case," which won the 1996 Broadcast Education Association's Kenneth Harwood Outstanding Dissertation Award.

As a member of the committee that chose him for that award, I applaud the extensive effort and additional research he has done to flesh out the full story of media activism in the context of the civil rights era. He provides readers interested in this volatile time a comprehensive, detailed account of the stations, their policies, the struggle to change programming, and the fight to integrate both of them. …