Pursuing Dignity Through Three Tumultous Decades: Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1941-1973
Peter Jan Honigsberg
University of San Francisco - School of Law
Santa Clara Law Review, Vol. 44, p. 335, 2003
If you ask people what comes to mind when they hear the terms civil rights and Civil Rights Movement, they will likely reply by referring to Martin Luther King and the African American struggle for dignity and equality. Essentially, people may be making two oversimplified assumptions. The first is that Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement are one and the same. The second is that the term civil rights refers exclusively to the African American struggle. I briefly address both of these assumptions in my review of this two-volume anthology Reporting Civil Rights, published in 2003, edited by Clayborne Carson, et.al, and covering the years 1941 to 1973.
The anthology evocatively transports the reader back into the sounds and spirit of the times. The volumes provide us with stories that appeared in such publications as the Saturday Evening Post, the New York Times, and Time Magazine, as well as essays, opinion pieces and portions of novels and memoirs from some of the most astute observers of the times.
In making their choices on what to include and to exclude, the editors necessarily editorialized. But the editors for Reporting Civil Rights would have improved their compilation if they had added commentary explaining their selection process. For example, there is a strong slant favoring Martin Luther King - perhaps because Clayborne Carson is the senior editor of the Martin Luther King Papers Project at Stanford University. The contributions of more radical and underreported spokesmen such as Malcolm X, members of the Black Panthers, and the black power movement are diminished. Similarly, the volumes focus on the large issues of the era that appeared most often on the national radar screen. Substantially less attention is paid to the grassroots organizations and their heroic leaders who made huge differences in their communities, but who did not capture the national media attention.
Whether the reader lived through these times or not, he or she will find many of the pieces, all of which were written in the throes of the movement, remarkable in their evocation of time and place. The editors have provided us with a window into the major social movement of the century, a bygone era that will forever inform our American culture.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 30
Keywords: Civil rights, Civil Rights Movement
JEL Classification: K39
Date posted: November 3, 2005