The media has the power to chronicle American history by using journalism as a tool to break down stereotypes, help educate, present the truth and influence the public. The media also can educate people about other cultures and create bridges between people that would otherwise have nothing in common.
Journalists have the ability to change people’s lives every day, but how they use their power to influence is crucial. Congressman John Lewis remark about John McCain and Sarah Palin made me think about the history of the Civil Rights Movement and the impact it left on the nation.
Although I was not born in the United States, I feel I can relate to the struggles that African-Americans have endured. During the Civil Rights Movement, the media helped to show the whole country and the world the racial chaos in the South, and people began to demand changes in the laws.
Jack Nelson, a Los Angeles Times’ chief Washington correspondent who covered civil rights in the South for The New York Times, said in an article for Human Rights magazine that before the civil rights movement, the way blacks were treated by the law and most news organizations contradicted the principles lawyers and journalists claimed they believed in.
Nelson said that eventually the news media helped to influence changes in the laws to end injustices in society. Nelson complained that not enough credit has been given to the press for the coverage of the Civil Rights Movement, but plenty has been said about how the media helped end the Vietnam War by showing the public the results of the war.
Nelson also stated that except for The New York Times, the national media hardly paid attention to civil rights issues; that is until 1954 when the Supreme Court’s decision was made in Brown v. Board of Education about school segregation. Nelson said that The New York Times reported about social problems that caused injustices in the black community, but that most of the media had no interest in covering those kind of issues in the South. He claimed that the press would cover civil rights only as breaking news stories and would not consider them as stories that could expose the injustices and social problems blacks faced.
In the book “The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History,” Steven Kasher explained that before the Civil Rights Movement, the white news press did not report positive stories about the way blacks lived and their political movement. Kasher pointed out that press of civil rights changed after the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955, which received extensive media coverage.
Emmett Till was a fourteen-year-old black schoolboy, who was visiting relatives in Mississippi. Till was brutally beaten and shot because he had flirted with a white shopkeeper. His body was later found in the Tallahatchie River with a barbwire around his neck. His body was shipped back home to Chicago, where it was displayed in an open coffin for four days. More than a hundred thousand blacks stood in line to view his body.
Emmett Till before and after he was murdered.
Kasher explained that the black press, including Jet magazine and The Chicago Defender, showed photographs of Till in shirt and tie next to the picture of his bashed and bloated face. He added that Till’s story gained sympathy even by the white press.
Kasher also said that the Civil Rights Movement “flourished in the age of television.” Kasher added that in 1956, over 83 percent of American households had televisions and that the Telstar I communications satellite was able to provide worldwide television linkups in 1962. Kasher pointed out that the March on Washington of 1963 was the first event to be broadcast live around the world. He disclosed that on March 7, 1965, ABC interrupted the film “Judgment at Nuremberg” with footage from Selma of state troopers stampeding and beating peaceful marchers, which caused a heavy impression on Americans about the civil rights situation.
The media helped to chronicle the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Journalists during the Civil Rights Movement had the ability to change the way blacks in the United States lived because they were able use their power to influence the public to demand change. This is what journalism should really be about and this is why I want to pursue a career as a journalist. I hope that my work will one day change the way people view themselves and other cultures.
For more information about the media coverage of the Civil Rights Movement visit: