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Media and the Movement: Journalism, Civil Rights, and Black Power in the American South

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The civil rights and black power movements of the 1960s swept through the American South like a storm, leaving behind a profoundly changed environment. The boundaries drawn by racial segregation were washed away, and although those boundaries were often redrawn in less overt ways, African Americans in the South were by the late 1960s able to take unprecedented control over their public lives. As they began to seize control of their communities and reckon with their new freedoms, the national media, so crucial in publicizing the civil rights movement and encouraging widespread support for the demands of the protestors, retreated to their respective cities to begin their chronicle of the malaise of the 1970s.

The withdrawal of these media left space for a group of southerners transformed by the civil rights movement but hungry for more change and for the opportunity to tell their own stories. These southerners left behind a remarkable and largely forgotten record of what came after the more famous Montgomery-to-Memphis phase of the civil rights movement that ended in 1968. The Southern Oral History Program’s Media and the Movement project will interview roughly fifty journalists who covered, debated, and even shaped how civil rights and black power struggles transformed the South in the 1960s and 1970s. This study will be the first research project that examines a civil rights-era local southern media ecosystem in its entirety.

In addition to publishing recordings and transcripts of interviews online, project collaborators will produce referenced, interpretive commentaries for each interview. Thus, this project will provide both scholars and students with accessible, provocative, and illuminating historical analysis on an overlooked dimension of the civil rights movement and its long-term impact on southern life.

We are grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities for supporting this project. Please visit the project website for more information.

 

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  1. This is a fascinating project to me, as alternative papers, such as The Virginia Weekly, and other alternative papers across the region appeared in the late days of the Montgomery to Memphis, movement, including, later, The Great Speckled Bird, in Atlanta, now digitized, which I worked with thru the early seventies. Now, in longer perspective, and working with a black weekly, I realize the real Alternative Press has really been the black press, and I look forward to seeing how this includes this medium, which I believe has been understudied, from Daisy Bates heroic work, on, to that of Mrs. L. O. P. Perry, the publisher of The Tennessee Tribune, where I’ve had an opportunity to write again, and practice law, for the last several years. Good luck to this project, best especially to Jacquelyn, for all her work.

    January 15, 2014

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