restricted access 5. “Questionable Leanings”: The “New Crowd” Driven Out

From: Race News

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Chapter 5 “Questionable Leanings” The “New Crowd” Driven Out FrankMarshallDavis,whohadrecentlypublishedhisthirdbookofpoetry,left Chicago with his wife in December 1948 for a Hawaiian vacation and decided tostay.Daviswasastapleinblackjournalism,workingasexecutiveeditorand columnistattheAssociatedNegroPress(ANP).Hewroteaboutmusic,literature , sports, theater, and politics. During World War II, he increasingly paired hischampioningofantiracismwithzealousadvocacyoftradeunionism,arguing class inequality reinforced white supremacy. He openly praised the Soviet Union, criticized politicians and journalists who red-­baited their adversaries, endorsed the progressive politics of Vice President Henry A. Wallace, encouraged interracial cooperation among unions, and condemned Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s defense of Great Britain’s colonial empire. In 1946, Davis founded the ChicagoStar, a labor weekly funded by the American Federation of Labor(AFL)andCongressofIndustrialOrganizations(CIO).Davis’semployer, ClaudeBarnett,acosmeticssalesman-­turned-­publisherwhofrequentlysolicitedRepublicanpatronagetosupporthisnewsservice ,toleratedDavis’sleftist viewpointsfortheirnewsvaluetohissubscribers.“Irecalltellinghim,”Barnett laterwrote,“wewereinterestedinnewsaboutRepublicans,Democrats,Socialists ,Capitalists,Communistssolongasitwasnewsandthatwewouldusenews about anarchists, which was the worst word I knew, if it had a news relation to Negroes.” Barnett, though, abandoned this pragmatic outlook by early 1947 as mountinganimositytowardtheSovietUnion—andthoseharboringsympathy 118  •  Chapter 5 for the political ideology of the United States’ cardinal enemy—threatened the viabilityofhisfinanciallytenuousnewsoperation.Barnett,forinstance,steered Davisawayfromaskingblackeducators,activists,andjournalistsfortheirviews onwhatDavischaracterizedas“therisingwaveofanti-­Communisthysteriaand attemptsbymanyleadersinpoliticalandindustrialcirclestoindiscriminately condemnmilitantNegroesandNegroorganizationsas‘communistic.’”Barnett didnotwanttoprovokeanticommunistscrutiny.“Thereisanapparentattempt todrawalineonCommunism,”hewarnedDavis.“Ifthishappensweoughtnot be involved except as specific cases need to be reported upon.”1 Davis’s self-­ imposed exile to a distant American territory in the Pacific Ocean—where he could hope to escape anticipated anticommunist persecutionwhilecontinuingtoactuponhispoliticalbeliefs —symbolizedhowtheCold War transformed black journalism in the 1950s by marginalizing the progressive political critiques that over three decades had swelled black newspapers’ popularity and profitability. Leading black publishers emerged from World War II intent on taking advantage of their hard-­won status as political brokers in racial matters. They hoped to grow circulations, attract major corporations as loyal advertisers, and expand into lucrative new ventures. Anticommunists threatened to cripple any publication that tolerated progressive viewpoints, regarding its writers as subversive propagandists whose challenge to the status quo jeopardized national security. To protect their burgeoning businesses, commercial publishers made pragmatic decisions to purge their newsrooms ofjournalistswhohadadvocatedaspectsofcommunism,socialism,andblack radicalism. They replaced such writers with younger journalists who reached adulthood during World War II and the “Double V” campaign, which linked racialprotesttopatriotism.Theseyoungerjournalistsmaturedpoliticallyamid pleas for shared sacrifice and a creeping distrust of leftist politics. Many also aspired to integrate white newsrooms—a remote but suddenly viable prospect for reporters who avoided Popular Front–style politics. BeyondsideliningprogressivejournalistslikeDavis,theColdWar’spolitics reshaped how commercial publishers and reporters covered the modern Civil RightsMovement.TheU.S.SupremeCourtoutlawedsegregatedpublicschools in1954andtouchedoffafifteen-­yearperiodofescalatingblackprotestagainst unrepentantsouthernwhitesupremacy.Asthemovementunfolded,editors— who a decade earlier had promoted communists’ criticisms of the American political economy and its attendant racism—now blamed Western hypocrisy fortransformingcommunismintoanideologythatappealedtopeopleofcolor elsewhereintheworld.BlackjournaliststappedintoColdWarfearswhenthey urgedfederalofficialstostrikedownsegregationtocounterSovietpropaganda “Questionable Leanings”  • 119 and win foreign allies in Asia and Africa. Like the “Double V” campaign, Cold War civil rights worked within the prevailing political structure to foster social change.However,commercialblacknewswritinginthe1950slackedtheradical impulse—whetherexplicitorimplicit—thathelpeddrivethepress’stremendous growthduringtheinterwardecades.Readersnoticed.Circulationsplummeted at national black newspapers as white journalists and broadcasters competed tocontrolcoverageofracenews.Evenso,blackjournalismmaintainedaracial perspective that distinguished it from white reportage. A stunted, vulnerable alternative black press reemerged to again promote Marxist solutions to racial discrimination. Commercial black publishers, despite declining profitability, sent reporters into the South to cover trials and demonstrations. Compared to white reporters, black journalists expressed greater skepticism of official explanationsforracialwrongsandmoreaggressivelyinvestigatedblackclaims of injustice. While white editors treated African Americans as news subjects, blackreporterswroteaboutthemascitizenspushingforsocialchange.Scorned as outsiders and agitators, black reporters endured harassment, threats, and beatings from white supremacists.2 “Embarrassing as the Very Devil” The Red Scare and Newsroom Purges Commercialblacknewspapersenjoyedabriefmomentofflushtimesimmediately after World War II ended. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that overall newspaper circulation jumped from under 1.3 million in 1940 to more than 1.8 million in 1945—an increase of about 30 percent. By 1948, independent audits estimated the Pittsburg Courier sold 280,000 copies per week, followed by the Baltimore Afro-­American (235,000), Chicago Defender (195,000), New York AmsterdamNews(105,000),andNorfolkJournalandGuide(62,850).Opinionpolls indicated that roughly nine out of ten readers believed newspapers accurately portrayedtheirpoliticalviews.Readers’allegiancetranslatedintoprofit,power, and acclaim. Publishers met privately with presidents and cabinet-­ level officialsandreceivedappointmentstofederalcommittees .Columnistsandeditors aired their views on national radio broadcasts, and a few independent stations in major cities aired programs produced by black journalists. The Washington Post established the Wendell L. Willkie Awards in 1946 to promote interracial understanding and honor black reporters’ best work. Sports writers crusaded to integrate Major League Baseball, which occurred in 1947 when the Brooklyn Dodgers signed first baseman Jackie Robinson. War correspondents drew capacity crowds on publicity tours...


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