On Monday, PBS announced that a documentary marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington would air Aug. 27, on the eve of the historic date when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
While this documentary and other commemorations will feature the recollections of white journalists and historians of the event, it might serve as a reminder that black journalists were there, too, but you have to look mostly in the black press to find them.
Even at the time, the march was big news. As Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff note in their Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation,” “the march, which ultimately drew an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 marchers, provided the single greatest exposure of a national audience to the civil rights movement.” They added, “By 1963 standards, the coverage was saturation. . . .
“As the August 28 date neared, as commentators questioned whether there would be violence or a poorly organized dud, the demand for press credentials was remarkable. The Metropolitan Police Department handled more press requests than it ever had. . . . “
But who received the credentials? Two years earlier, along with Hamilton Holmes, Charlayne Hunter integrated the University of Georgia amid segregationist protests. “I was fascinated with watching the press watch me,” she said later. “The hostility that separated me from the white students, I observed, was caused by ignorance and stereotypes. . . Early on, I resolved that anything I did (as a journalist) would be through people and their experiences.”
Known today as Charlayne Hunter-Gault, she recalled the march in last year’s “To the Mountaintop: My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement,” a book for young readers. “I was sitting in the office of The New Yorker magazine in New York City, having been hired just after graduation by the legendary editor William Shawn. I was working as an editorial assistant, typing rejection letters to would-be writers and doing other office chores. In my spare time, I worked on articles I hoped to get in the magazine. My dream of becoming a journalist was coming true. But the doors were still closed to most young black people with dreams, which is why I sat glued to the television screen with tears running down my cheeks on the day that Martin Luther King spoke with moving eloquence about his dream. . . .”
In Cleveland, meanwhile, a young Ernest Holsendolph, who would later report for the Washington Star, the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Fortune magazine, the New York Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was luckier. At a 2007 memorial service for his friend and former Star colleague David Pike, Holsendolph, now 77, told this story:
“I met David in 1963, when we were both young journalists at The Cleveland Press, the afternoon paper. He had been in the business three or four years, and I was a beginner, having served three years in the Army before starting a career. We had our very own department. Not a big deal though. It was a job nobody else in the room wanted. It was called the Community Page. A full page, no ads, of community news and notes. David, my senior, was the editor, and I was THE writer. It was what my old Times editor John Lee called ‘the blocking and tackling of journalism.’ Where you learn to turn a little nothing into something, and make a mountain out of a mole hill.
“The city desk showed us no respect. You’d hear the editors grousing: Hell that’s no story — give it to the community page. And we would leap at it, especially if there was a picture. Nobody loved us, except the people. We were their heroes. If the YMCA had a new program, they would race to our desk, because they knew we would run the story, big like a blockbuster. We had to fill, every day.
“But there was one blessed occasion, in August 1963, when a dreary day turned golden. On the wires the news desk read about this planned demonstration, something about a march on Washington for jobs and freedom.
“Sounds like trouble to me, said Lou Clifford, the city editor. Probably a riot, and everybody laughed. David heard that our neighborhood folks, together with some suburbanites, had chartered three buses and planned to journey to Washington for the march.
” ‘Why not let Ernie ride on the bus, and write a piece about their experiences?’ David asked the editors.
“Well why not, one said. There’ll be nothing but violence and we can report on it, and tell how many Clevelanders survived. Find a helmet for Ernie.
“Of course the story was about this lucky bunch of Clevelanders, who had the experience of their lives, told in the words of this misty-eyed young reporter. It was my FIRST big story, and arguably the most important story I ever covered. About the experience of a lifetime, and a hundred inner city blacks, whites from Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights, labor guys, and young people who sang ‘We Shall Overcome’ all night long on the return trip.
“It was a brilliant idea by David, who turned provincialism to advantage, and gave us a lively story compared to the straight speech story by the morning Plain Dealer.”
For Wallace Terry, who died in 2003 at age 65, covering the march as a Washington Post reporter proved a career boost. He recalled in an oral history, “Right after my coverage of the March on Washington I was approached by the editors of Time magazine [PDF], as well as representatives from the networks, all of whom were interested in hiring a black reporter for the very first time. I chose the offer from Time magazine because it would make me the first black correspondent working for a news magazine as well as the first black correspondent working in Washington for the mainstream media.”
Alice Bonner, who is writing a biography of Robert C. Maynard, co-founder and namesake of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, told Journal-isms that Maynard covered the march for the York (Pa.) Gazette and Daily. “It was his first big story. That eccentric newspaper did not allow bylines. But Maynard recounted the day as a ‘life-changing experience,’ in his Oakland Tribune column June 30, 1991,” Bonner said.
“Maynard’s coverage of the March on Washington as a black reporter for a white newspaper . . . made him a rarity in 1963,” she continued. “Although the news media had begun to express increasing concern about the need for sensitivity in coverage of racial issues, hardly anyone had yet interpreted that need as related to the employment of black journalists — until the burning of Watts, in August 1965.
“Also, Thomas A. Johnson told me in a 1996 interview that Newsday, where he had been recently recruited from the Pittsburgh Courier, refused to send him to cover the March. So, he went on his own, by bus, and contributed to coverage in both newspapers.”
The black press provided other black journalists their outlets. Longtime Ebony and Jet correspondent Simeon Booker turns 95 on the eve of next month’s march anniversary. In his new memoir “Shocking the Conscience: A Reporter’s Account of the Civil Rights Movement,” he notes, “Ebony and Jet teams of reporters and photographers from Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York joined us for the day, and when it was over, an Ebony cover photo by G. Marshall Wilson showed a sea of humanity of every hue standing in solidarity, shoulder to shoulder, behind the headline, ‘Biggest Protest March in History!’ “
Booker added, “Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. neither conceived of the march nor strategized its execution, but in the end, it belonged to him.”
Patrik Henry Bass, an editor at Essence magazine, reported the recollections of others, including black journalists, in his 2002 book, “Like a Mighty Stream: The March on Washington, August 28, 1963.”
Ed Bradley, the CBS correspondent who died in 2006 at age 65, wrote that he was “hanging around” black-oriented WDAS radio in Philadelphia then, hoping for a career in broadcasting, when disc jockey Georgie Woods decided to charter buses for the march, paying for them from his own pocket. “He asked me to be one of the bus captains,” Bradley wrote. “As a captain, you were responsible for your bus, and everyone on it. . .” When Bradley got to the Washington Monument, “I realized that the March was bigger than anything that I’d ever experienced. There’d never been a demonstration like that in our lifetime. It was a feeling that we’d done something special; we were a part of something special.”
Evelyn Cunningham, who died in 2010 at age 94, covered the march for the Pittsburgh Courier, part of the black press. “The only way I got to cover civil rights for the Courier was to cry, beg, scream, and do all of those things that female reporters did at the time,” she wrote in Bass’ collection. “I must’ve cried for an hour and [a] half at one point during the March. Part of it was sheer happiness, part of it was pride, and part of it was my family. I’m steeped in my respect for my people.” She added that “King never got all of this adulation when he was alive. . . . He got respect in his day, but the respect was based on the fact that he was so young. . . . “
Some present-day journalists were too young to be there and watched from afar. One was Bonnie Boswell, niece of Whitney Young Jr., who as leader of the National Urban League was one of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders of the day. Boswell created the documentary “THE POWERBROKER: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights,” in hopes that other civil rights leaders, such as Young, would emerge from the latter-day shadow of King. It aired on PBS in February.
“I was 12 years old when I saw my uncle speak at the March,” Boswell told Journal-isms by email. “I was in Kentucky with my grandparents, Laura and Whitney Young and other family members. I remember how everyone was calling through the house that ‘Junior’ was about to be on TV!!! We were all excited…It was the first time I really understood Uncle Whitney’s role besides being my uncle.”
She added, “Good news to report. PBS is re-broadcasting THE POWERBROKER: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights on AUGUST 27th at 10pm as part of their salute to the MOW 50th anniversary.”
Rochelle Riley, Detroit Free Press: Aretha Franklin reflects on dad’s role in ’63 Detroit Walk to Freedom (June 21)
Having been a New York Times correspondent in Africa and in China, Howard W. French can speak authoritatively about President Obama’s trip to Africa, where the Chinese have made inroads in establishing business relationships that have outstripped those of the United States.
Author of the forthcoming “China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants are Building a New Empire in Africa,” French was interviewed Friday on NPR’s “Tell Me More” and Monday on Public Radio International’s “The World.” He scored American media coverage of the continent as one reason the United States is lagging there.
“What do you most hope will come out of this visit on both sides?” Michel Martin asked French, an associate professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, on “Tell Me More.”
“I mean, recognizing that the United States is one country and that Africa is, you know, more than 50, but — what do you hope will come out of this visit?”
French replied, “Well, so one thing that is happening on this trip is that Obama has taken — and I give great credit to the administration for organizing it — apparently has taken a great many businesspeople with him on this trip. And, you know, I just completed a book which is due out next year about China’s relationship with Africa, and one of the things that I was struck by and even shocked by was to notice that through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which was created by George [W.] Bush, as you said, the United States gives guaranteed loans for development projects of various kinds all over the place in Africa.
“And as I went from country to country researching this book, I discovered that a great many of these contracts are never bid for by American companies, despite having guaranteed funding by the United States government. We’re talking $50, $75, $200 million contracts that, because the image of Africa has been so persistently negative in this country, because there is such an absolute absence of — or near absolute absence of business coverage of Africa in United States, because there’s such an ignorance of the fact that Africa is growing and growing fast, and urbanizing and urbanizing faster than any other part of the world, you know, American companies don’t even, it doesn’t enter their minds to think that maybe there’s some opportunity to do business in Africa that could be very lucrative for them.
“And so Obama taking, I don’t know, a couple of hundred or however many businesspeople with him to Africa, I think is a very welcome gesture and marks what I think of as really just the beginning of the sort of thing that needs to be done if we’re going to engage effectively. . . .”
Howard W. French, AfricaPlus: The China-Africa Convergence: Can America Catch Up? (June 16)
Howard W. French, Columbia Journalism Review: Ask Obama and Romney this: Where is Africa? (Oct. 23, 2012)
Merrill Knox, TVNewser: ABC’s Jonathan Karl to Interview George and Laura Bush in Africa
DeWayne Wickham, USA Today: Africa’s young people key to democracy
“The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey found that local television news salaries actually fell 1.9% in 2012,” Bob Papper of Hofstra University reported Monday for the Radio Television Digital News Association. “With inflation a modest 2.1%, that meant that TV news salaries dropped in purchasing power by 4% last year. Radio salaries fared only slightly better, with an increase of 0.8% last year. That’s not enough to compensate for 2.1% inflation, leaving radio news salaries down 1.3% in terms of real wages.
Papper added, “In an unusual move, the poor [benefited] the most in the last year, with the biggest salary jumps (proportionally) for news writers and news assistants. Other than those two positions, only managing editors rose in both average and median salaries. . . .”
“By the time I started as ombudsman and got to talk to the principals in mid-June, the story had dropped off the table,” Robert Lipsyte, the new ombudsman at ESPN, wrote on Sunday. “No one at ESPN was particularly motivated to talk about it. But the audience, which I represent, was still interested, and so was I. . . .”
Lipsyte’s topic was the April announcement by seven-foot NBA journeyman Jason Collins that he was gay, and the resulting discussion on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”
“More than one ESPN manager told me it was ‘a learning experience’ and then couldn’t come up with what had been learned,” Lipsyte wrote. “How about this: The tricky trifecta of religion, race and sexuality exposed not only the fault-lines in ‘OTL’s’ preparation but the inconsistent performance of ESPN journalism in general. . . .”
Chris Broussard, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, said on the program that like adultery and premarital sex, engaging in homosexual acts was “walking in open rebellion to God.” Broussard was responding to a statement from fellow panelist LZ Granderson, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine who is gay.
Broussard was rebuked. An ESPN statement said, “We regret that a respectful discussion of personal viewpoints became a distraction from today’s news. ESPN is fully committed to diversity and welcomes Jason Collins’ announcement.”
Lipsyte’s account cast blame more evenly. “Granderson told me that ‘the conversation went too far — not too far for where it needs to go but too far for that news story,’ the ombudsman wrote. ‘It was not necessarily a conversation for ESPN, which is not necessarily the place to examine theological differences.’
“Could he have done something differently? ‘I could have opted to put my ego aside and remember the purpose I was there for,’ he said. ‘I’m not backing away, but I’m disappointed to put Chris in a place to be defending his Christian views and values.’
“He had his parting shot: ‘What’s heartbreaking is using God to spread hate.’
“A decade ago, Broussard and I were colleagues at The New York Times, where he was known for having given up seminary to pursue a career in sportswriting. He was forthright when we talked earlier this month.
” ‘The media in general, not just ESPN, is lopsided in its coverage,’ he said. ‘It’s a cheerleader for the lifestyle and same-sex marriage and puts those who disagree in an unfavorable light. You can see it in the eye rolling and body language of so-called objective journalists. Born-again people are made out to be bigots and intolerant even though there are Neanderthals present on both sides.’
“Broussard said he went on the show as ‘an objective journalist,’ but, because it was OTL, he was ready to let the host lead him. As it turned out, Granderson led.
” ‘I was satisfied,’ Broussard said. ‘I would do it again. It was what I believed. It was not out of hate, not in a judgmental way. It was conventional Christian doctrine.
” ‘I got a lot of support from players afterward, especially from Christians, who loved it. Others told me I had the courage to speak out. They said “You got big balls, brother, you the man.” ‘
“Broussard called Collins the next night and they talked for about 10 minutes. ‘I wanted him to know I wasn’t trying to use his announcement for my own views. He seemed OK with it.’
“As was, Broussard thought, the company: ‘ESPN did not make me feel they were against me. . . .”