Ethnic Minorities and the Media: Changing Cultural Boundaries

By Simon Cottle | Go to book overview

5
THE PARADOX OF AFRICAN
AMERICAN JOURNALISTS

Clint C. Wilson II


Introduction

African American journalists in the United States exist in a professional paradox rooted in circumstances that date back more than 100 years. In 1896 the US Supreme Court ruled that segregation of the Black and White races was constitutionally valid and that ‘separate but equal’ was acceptable public policy. Although many have written and spoken about the effects of the ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson on race relations in such areas as voting rights and discrimination in housing, employment, education and public transportation, few have addressed its influence in the subsequent practices of newspaper and other mass communications media. But it is clear that following the Plessy v. Ferguson court decision, the Black press grew and flourished under the impetus of racial injustice and social degradation suffered by African Americans. At the same time, the daily ‘mainstream’ press pursued a policy of general indifference to the concerns of Black people and supported the status quo regarding race relations in the United States. The ‘separate but equal’ doctrine persisted until 1954 when the US Supreme Court reversed the policy in its decision in Brown vs. (Topeka, Kansas) Board of Education. During the nearly 60 years that elapsed between the two landmark court cases, African American journalists were almost exclusively confined to working in their own racial newspapers which, with only a handful of exceptions, were published once per week. The Black press, in fact, was extremely influential in getting the Plessy ruling overturned as part of the widespread civil rights movement. One key African American editor, Enoc Waters of the Chicago Defender, said of the era that ‘We were not only

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