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Monday, January 28, 2013

The Power of the Press is Awesome and Awful

A black and white photograph of a black male teenager being held by his sweater by a Birmingham policeman and being charged by the officer's leashed German Shepard while another police officer with a dog and a crowd of black bystanders in the background look on
Bill Hudson's image of Parker High School student Walter Gadsden being attacked by dogs was published in The New York Times on May 4, 1963. 
What's that you say?  The Birmingham news media knew of plots to kill Civil Rights leaders and didn't report it?  I'm shocked!  Shocked I tell you!  Not.
Our understanding of the “good” has expanded beyond the lone-dreamer theory to embrace other activists, like King’s partner in Birmingham, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Yet the evil segregationist archetype is fixed in the popular mind as the villainous housewife of “The Help” or the cretinous mob of “Django Unchained” — nobody we’d ever know, or certainly ever be.
But the disquieting reality is that the conflict was between not good and evil, but good and normal. The brute racism that today seems like mass social insanity was a “way of life” practiced by ordinary “good” people.
According to the Southern community’s consensus of “normal,” those fighting for rights now considered mainstream were “extremists,” and public servants could rationalize plans to murder men like Shuttlesworth, confident that they were on the right side of history.
Consider new evidence about a plan by Connor to have Shuttlesworth assassinated. Under Connor’s orders, Detective Tom Cook found a black man vulnerable to the law, supplied him with a gun and planted him by the steps of a church where Shuttlesworth was speaking one night. The plot was foiled when a passing police car frightened the hit man away.
What distinguishes this from other officially sanctioned schemes to kill Shuttlesworth is proof that it was known by the state’s largest news organization, The Birmingham News, owned by the Newhouse family, which also sponsored extensive surveillance of local citizens.
Read all about it in this article by Diane McWhorter the author of Carry Me Home. 
McWhorter grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and recounts being about the same age as the girls killed in the September 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, though she "was growing up on the wrong side of the revolution". While four black girls were murdered in that day's bombing, McWhorter recalls that the only repercussion of the killings on her white high school was the cancellation of a play rehearsal. Carry Me Home describes how bigotry was prevalent among whites and her interviews and reviews of documents from the civil rights era showed "the long tradition of enmeshment between law enforcers and Klansmen", ranging from local and state police to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.[2]
She describes how local political leaders and newspaper editors supporting segregation exercised consistently poor judgment, with police chief Bull Connor consistently rescuing the cause of civil rights demonstrators, responding to peaceful protests from local teenagers with high-pressure fire hose and police dogs. Wyatt Tee Walker of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference recounted how "Birmingham would have been lost if Bull had let us go down to the city hall and pray".'[2]
McWhorter notes the May 3, 1963, photo by Associated Press photographer Bill Hudson of Walter Gadsden, an African-American bystander who had been grabbed by a sunglasses-wearing police officer, while a German Shepherd lunged at his chest.[3] The photo appeared above the fold, covering three columns in the next day's issue of The New York Times, as well as in other newspapers nationwide.[4] McWhorter wrote that Hudson's photo that day drove "international opinion to the side of the civil rights revolution".[5]
Let's just give up on the Constitution, except for the 2nd amendment of course, and let the media run the country and decide who is guilty or innocent.

1 comment:

havealittletalk said...

Highly recommend Long Time Coming by Elizabeth Cobb, niece of Robert Chambliss, who, on the basis on her testimony, was finally convicted in 1977 of the 16th St Baptist Church.