For many years, the far right has sown public distrust in the media as a political strategy, weaponizing libel law in an effort to stifle free speech and silence African American dissent. In Sullivan’s Shadow demonstrates that this strategy was pursued throughout the civil rights era and beyond, as southern officials continued to bring lawsuits in their attempts to intimidate journalists who published accounts of police brutality against protestors. Taking the Supreme Court’s famous 1964 case New York Times v. Sullivan as her starting point, Aimee Edmondson illuminates a series of fascinating and often astounding cases that preceded and followed this historic ruling.
Drawing on archival research and scholarship in journalism, legal history, and African American studies, Edmondson offers a new narrative of brave activists, bold journalists and publishers, and hardheaded southern officials. These little-known courtroom dramas at the intersection of race, libel, and journalism go beyond the activism of the 1960s and span much of the country’s history, beginning with lawsuits filed against abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and concluding with a suit spawned by the 1988 film Mississippi Burning.