The Media

Above: L. Alex Wilson being attacked by segregationists

The media played a large role in shaping the course of the Little Rock Crisis by drawing both national and international coverage to the event. The Arkansas State Press, which was run by civil rights advocates L.C. and Daisy Bates reported the violent events relating to the 1957 integration of Central High and even played a role in organizing the Little Rock Nine. Black reporter L. Alex Wilson had reported from the Korean War, but it was in Little Rock that he was badly injured, his refusal to show fear a provocation for angry whites. 

As the civil rights story got bigger and bloodier, black journalists, because of their race, became targets of the mob who did not respect them as human beings or journalists. The New York Times, which had misread the importance and scope of the Little Rock story, worked quickly to catch up. The paper sent Georgia-born Claude Sitton, whose Southern coverage would set the standard. Then there were the Southern editors who bucked local power and reader reaction with their fair coverage of "Bull" Connor's dogs and hoses and James Meredith's integration of Ole Miss. While some journalists originally favored a gradual progress and defending social separation, their view of this issue evolved as they witnessed the injustice of separate but equal. 

These newspapers—led by courageous editors—were minority voices in a Southern press that supported and often led massive resistance to change. However, while some journalists reported the efforts of integration as a way to support the cause, some reporters remained opposed to the cause. At The Charleston (S.C.) News and Courier, the editor, Tom Waring, Jr., supported the Citizens' Councils organized to intimidate blacks and reaffirm segregation after the Brown decision. James J. Kilpatrick, editor of the Richmond News Leader, led resistance efforts in Virginia. Known for his attention to the fine points of grammar and word usage, Kilpatrick had no trouble fitting the work "mongrelization" into his writing. 

In 1963, in an essay for The Saturday Evening Post, Kilpatrick wrote: "The Negro race, as a race, is in fact an inferior race .... When the Negro today proclaims or demands his 'equality,' he is talking of equality within the terms of Western civilization. And what, pray, has he contributed to it? Putting aside conjecture, wishful thinking and a puerile jazz-worship, what has he in fact contributed to it? The blunt answer, may it please the court, is very damned little." Carrying his headline "The Hell He Is Equal," this essay was spiked after the bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama church killed four little girls. 

While photographs in Life magazine and other publications gripped the world, it was the new medium of television that came of age with the movement; TV proved its power as it conveyed graphic pictures of brutality into America's living rooms.

Reporters, editors and photographers worked hard to stay outside of this story—some might say the story of their time. Eventually they realized that finding truth amid chaos is not a simple task. Their honest search, which these authors explore and describe well, is very different from the "on the one hand, on the other hand" approach to reporting that today passes for balance but too often fails to illuminate the essence of the story or why it matters.     
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