Media coverage of the civil rights movement eventually helped to shock the nation's conscience and contribute to change.
But the Southern press was as much part of the problem as the solution, especially early on, say two journalists who covered the movement.And the media still are far from where they should be in their own hiring and promotion of people other than whites, says a third journalist.
Carrell Ray Jenkins, Pulitzer Prize-winning former editor of the Alabama Journal, Paul Duke, moderator of the PBS show "Washington Week in Review", and Sandra E. Haggerty, assistant dean of the College of Communications at Ohio University, discussed the press' role in the civil rights movement Tuesday at the University of Utah. The discussion was part of the university's observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Human Rights Week.
In the 1950s and '60s, the problem with most Southern newspapers went further than the fact they were staffed by all whites, said Jenkins. At many papers, blacks were rarely covered in the news unless they were involved in crimes, and then they were always identified by race. Black women were not accorded the title of Miss or Mrs., as white women were.
Once, when Jenkins wrote an obituary about the town's most prominent black citizen, the publisher's wife sent instructions back through her husband that no more obituaries of black people were to be printed.
Duke said many editors and publishers in the South were among the most adamant opponents of integration.
After the Supreme Court ruled against segregated schools in 1954, "in city after city, state after state, newspaper editorials called for defiance of the Supreme Court decision."
Duke distinguished between the reporters covering the civil rights movement, many of whom accepted the status quo at first but grew sympathetic to the movement, and the editors, editorial writers and publishers who dug in their heels to try to prevent blacks from achieving equality.
Haggerty said the news media themselves historically have been "an all-white, male dominion" and still have far to go in their hiring and promotion practices.
She said the power of the press to shape people's view of the world is tremendous. "And there's a tremendous need for a much greater ethnic mixture of people evaluating and shaping reality for us."