Covering a Protest, Rallying a People: Editor Emory O. Jackson and the Birmingham Bus Boycott

Friday, January 8, 2016: 3:10 PM
Imperial Ballroom A (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
Kimberley Mangun, University of Utah
Emory O. Jackson, the longtime militant editor of the biweekly Birmingham (AL) World, used the newspaper to record events that the white-owned press missed or chose not to cover. He editorialized against police brutality and the murder of unarmed Black men; called for the city’s leaders to put an end to intimidation tactics, including the residential bombings; criticized the poll tax and discriminatory voter-registration practices; and called attention to segregated schooling and inequities in funding for libraries and athletic facilities. He stood up to police commissioner “Bull” Connor, whose German shepherds attacked marching Negroes, and he helped Autherine Lucy integrate the University of Alabama. When Jackson died in 1975, Rosa Parks wrote, “Much of my inspiration came from knowing and working with him … before it was popular to speak out against injustice.”

Nevertheless, Jackson remains an understudied figure of the tumultuous Civil Rights Movement, and the scant mention of him in books and articles (popular and academic) underscores this gap. The World has similarly been overlooked, even though Jackson used it as a mouthpiece to rally his community and decry racism.

This study will examine Jackson’s coverage of the Birmingham Bus Boycott, the little-known protest that began soon after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. declared the Montgomery boycott over.  Jackson’s reportage is important because it created a historical timeline of events that served as both a narrative of local activism and a counternarrative to stereotypical stories in the local white papers. Moreover, Jackson’s reporting offers a more complete picture of the day-to-day, often violent struggle for civil rights in Birmingham after the radio and television crews had left the city. This research will contribute to Southern studies, the history of the Civil Rights Movement, African American studies, and other related disciplines.

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