An unprecedented examination of how news stories, editorials and photographs in the American press—and the journalists responsible for them—profoundly changed the nation’s thinking about civil rights in the South during the 1950s and ‘60s.
Roberts and Klibanoff draw on private correspondence, notes from secret meetings, unpublished articles, and interviews to show how a dedicated cadre of newsmen—black and white—revealed to a nation its most shameful shortcomings that compelled its citizens to act. Meticulously researched and vividly rendered, The Race Beat is an extraordinary account of one of the most calamitous periods in our nation’s history, as told by those who covered it.
Faced with "a flying wedge of white toughs coming at him" as he interviewed a black woman after the 1955 Emmett Till lynching trial, NBC reporter John Chancellor thrust his microphone toward them, saying, "I don't care what you're going to do to me, but the whole world is going to know it." This gripping account of how America and the world found out about the Civil Rights movement is written by two veteran journalists of the "race beat" from 1954 to 1965. Building on an exhaustive base of interviews, oral histories and memoirs, news stories and editorials, they reveal how prescient Gunnar Myrdal was in asserting that "to get publicity is of the highest strategic importance to the Negro people." The New York Times and other major media take center stage, but the authors provide a fresh account of the black press's trajectory from a time when black reporters searched "for stories white reporters didn't even know about" through the loss of the black press's "eyewitness position on the story" in Little Rock to its recovery with the Freedom Rides. Although sometimes weighted by mundane detail and deadening statistics, the book is so enlivened with anecdotes that it remains a page-turner.