Civil Rights Movement
The late 1950s and early 1960s the period when civil rights was the most pressing issue for African Americans. They were looking to completely integrated into the American society and fully experience the liberties presented in the U.S. Constitution. At the same time, the Civil Rights movement was in no way an easy feat. African Americans in the northern part of the United States faced extreme poverty, did not have adequate housing, suffered from unemployment and often segregation (Gore 9). Meanwhile, African Americans in the southern part of the country continued dealing with harsh Jim Crow laws, racism, and disenfranchisement. In 1954, the Supreme Court decided to outlaw segregated public schools in the U.S. and that started the sit-in movement.
African Americans hoped that through this movement racial inequalities could be addressed. It was through extensive media coverage that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the African American protesters (in particular, members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference) could conveyed their message of liberation to the wider audiences (Gore 9). Newspaper texts wrote about the civil rights movement, and media representation of Dr. King and other participants of the movement aimed to convey a positive bias to its audience. The public was biased for and against the movement. The material from two newspapers of the period covered the 1963 Birmingham Campaign and the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March, The Atlanta Constitution (or white and moderate press) and The Atlanta Daily World (or Black and conservative). Even though the press represented Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers as lawbreakers, it created an overall positive representation of the Civil Rights Movement by emphasizing the protesters’ heroic roles, and their support by young people as well through linking the protester’s activity to religion and God. Firstly, with regard to 1963 Birmingham Campaign, The Atlanta Constitution presented Dr. King and the followers of Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) as those who were breaking the law.
In headlines, for example, multiple references can be found about Dr. King and other African Americans getting arrested, being taken to jail, and getting released from jail. Headlines included: King Arrested in Birmingham;Birmingham Arrests; 700 Are Jailed In Negro Protest at Birmingham (3 May 1963); 62 Negroes Seized In Selma For Defying Sheriffs Order; Thousands Of Negroes Roam City (4 May 1963; 5 May 1963). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., returns Saturday to racially troubled Selma to keynote a new Negro voter registration drive throughout Alabama. There was speculation the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner would face arrested for violation of a state court injunction banning mass meetings. (2 January 1965) As for The Atlanta Daily World, it represented Dr. King and SCLC members as rule-breakers.
Specifically, the paper wrote, with reference to the 1963 Birmingham Campaign,Wave after wave of young Negroes marched into the downtown area and ran head-on into police roadblocks, where they were arrested simultaneously, picketed appeared in front of downtown stores with such signs as segregation sold here, and no dignity, no dollars. (3 May 1963)Likewise, when writing about the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March, the paper framed the protesters as lawbreakers. To illustrate, it wrote, Fifty state highway patrolmen under the command of Col. Al Lingo moved into Selma Tuesday where 34 more arrests were made in connection with a Negro voter registration drive (27 January 1965).
Having studied the articles from The Atlanta Constitution and The Atlanta Daily World, one can find that they appealed to religion when speaking about the protests and protesters, as well as made many references to the young people participating in the civil rights campaigns. The Atlanta Constitution, concerning the 1963 Birmingham Campaign, used such phrases as Negroes Worship at Birmingham or Connor Yields, Permits 1,000 Negroes To Sing in its headlines, as well as described how African Americans were kneeling as one or being led in their prayer by a minister, or how hymn-singing blacked students were being encouraged by their school teachers, etc. (22 April 1963). As for this newspaper’s coverage of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March, it used religious symbols and appealed to the public’s religious sense.
For instance, it described how the African American protesters knelt and prayed as they proceeded and were attacked by state troopers, as welled as covered the participation of the clergy in the march (24 April 1965). images and covered the religious elements in the campaigns, too. books and toothbrushes for the trip to jail as they emerged from the 16th Street Baptist Church (7 May 1963). Characterization of the African American protesters and Dr. King is that of heroes in both newspapers. For example, in the coverage of 1963 Birmingham Campaign, The Atlanta Constitution portrayed Dr. King as a hero in the following excerpts: Birmingham Accord in Sight: King Says and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., leader in the desegregation fight in Birmingham, said Thursday night a formula had been devised for settling the dispute. The Negro demonstrators were depicted as heroes as evidenced by the following quoted: about 150 residents of Birmingham, England Wednesday night demonstrated in behalf of Negroes in Birmingham, Alabama.
The meeting sent a telegram to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Negro leader, saying ?Citizens Birmingham, England Silent Vigil Salute Prisoners, Demonstrators. We Shall Overcome. and other protesters as heroes in its coverage of 1963 Birmingham Campaign. For instance, it wrote, Leaders announce pact: The agreement was first announced by the Revs. Fred Shuttlesworth and Ralph Abernathy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (9 May 1963) and Desegregation counters, job opportunities won – A biracial committee reached agreement on three of four of Dr. King’s desegregation demands (10 May 1963). Likewise, in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Campaign The Atlanta Constitution also depicted Dr. King as a hero, which is supported by the following examples. First, King is presented as 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner (29 January 1965) and he’s a citizen of the State of Georgia and the City of Atlanta who has a won a world-wide prize (2 February 1965) as well as a segregationist struck Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the head with his fist marring an otherwise peaceful and successful challenge to Selma’s historic segregation barriers (13 February 1965).
The Atlanta Daily World, too, made its coverage of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March full of positive references to Dr. King and protesters, who were seen as heroes. In particular, it used the following words to refer to Dr. King: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., became a prophet with honor (28 January 1965) or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Nobel Peace Prize winner was released from jail (January 1965). Also, schoolchildren protesters were depicted as heroes confronting injustice, which was evident from the following examples: 1,000 arrested nearSelma, Alabama: Many of the demonstrators were school age children who were singing freedom songs and Leon Jackson, an obscure Negro farm boy will be buried as a hero of the integration movement clad in the denim jumper and jeans that have become the movement’s trademark (2 January 1965). Overall to religion and God. It contributed to the public perception of the protesters as good and helped prevent racial bias in the public.
Gore, Shannon. Civil Rights Television Documentaries in the United States, 1960-1966.Unpublished PhD Thesis. Northwestern University, 2009.The Atlanta Constitution, May 1963, PProQuestHistorical Newspapers, https://search-pProQuestcom /pqrl/advanced?accountid=7374.
Accessed 22 April 2018.The Atlanta Constitution, January 1965/February 1965, PProQuestHistorical Newspapers,https://search-pProQuestcom /pqrl/advanced?accountid=7374.
Accessed 22 April 2018.The Atlanta Daily World, April 1963/May 1963, Proquest Historical Newspapers, https://search-proquest-com /pqrl/advanced?accountid=7374.
Accessed 22 April 2018.The Atlanta Daily World, January 1965/February 1965, Proquest Historical Newspapers,https://search-proquest-com /pqrl/advanced?accountid=7374. Accessed 22 April 2018.