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  • Louis Austin and the Carolina Times: A Life in the Long Black Freedom Struggle by Jerry Gershenhorn
  • Amanda Frisken
Louis Austin and the Carolina Times: A Life in the Long Black Freedom Struggle. By Jerry Gershenhorn. ( Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018. Pp. xiv, 327. $34.95, ISBN 978-1-4696-3876-8.)

At a time when dissident journalism appears ever-more vulnerable, Jerry Gershenhorn recovers the inspiring story of Louis Austin—journalist, proprietor, and editor of the Durham, North Carolina, Carolina Times. In recounting Austin's leadership in the local African American community, Gershenhorn tells a larger tale that highlights the importance of advocacy journalism to the pursuit of truth and justice. Austin's Carolina Times, the largest-circulation black newspaper in North Carolina, published otherwise untold stories and gave voice to causes ignored by the period's mainstream (white) press, creating a space for activism and civic engagement for Durham's black community. When he purchased the paper in 1927, Austin transformed the Carolina Times into a significant force in Durham. Austin and his paper stood out for "stimulating and sustaining the black freedom struggle before the emergence of the modern civil rights movement" (p. 3). According to Gershenhorn, the paper "exemplified [its] motto, 'The Truth Unbridled'" (p. 5).

Through the Great Depression in the 1930s, Austin worked diligently to challenge segregation and inequality. While he served a term as justice of the peace as a Democrat in 1934, he was not wedded to any political party, distrustful of southern Democrats and frustrated by Republicans. Instead, in 1935, in what Gershenhorn calls a "watershed moment," Austin cofounded and steered the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs (DCNA) as a vehicle to pursue social change (p. 51). In both the Carolina Times and the DCNA, Austin promoted integration, voter registration, equal funding for existing segregated schools, and a federal antilynching bill, among other things; he also denounced police brutality. Austin "transformed the Carolina Times into a bullhorn for racial justice and equality," Gershenhorn writes, even though Austin's impatience with more cautious black leaders and white liberals sometimes cost him allies and advertising revenue (p. 22). During World War II, Austin advocated the Double V strategy (democracy both abroad and at home), which came at a cost: his enthusiasm for the March on Washington movement, his outspoken attacks on racist practices, his support for workers and farmers, and his protests against the abuse of black soldiers all brought him to the attention of the FBI.

In the postwar years, Austin and the Carolina Times embraced the period's emerging activist spirit. Unlike many middle-class counterparts, Austin praised direct action—for example, walkouts by high school students and other protests. He supported legal actions geared toward equal facilities and access, which saw some success (such as the 1951 McKissick v. Carmichael U.S. Court of Appeals ruling, allowing admission of African American students to the University of North Carolina School of Law). As Gershenhorn shows, Austin continued to fight on many fronts, including pushing voter registration drives, lobbying for employment rights and opportunities, and advocating the integration of sports teams (such as minor league baseball) and medical facilities.

The Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, if anything, inspired Austin to redouble his efforts in pursuit of racial justice: he condemned racial [End Page 729] violence (notably the murder of Emmett Till), fought for black teachers and students, and championed economic protests and other direct action—including sit-ins and boycotts. His was a fiery middle ground; he censured the more cautious members of the black community who opposed the civil rights protests but was wary, in turn, about the rise of black nationalism in the late 1960s. The paper's very longevity (it is still in operation under the editorship of Austin's grandson, Kenneth Edmonds) attests to its durability as an institution in Durham. The book might have benefited from a more thematic, rather than primarily chronological, approach to Austin's long career of advocacy for social change. Gershenhorn's detailed account of Austin and the Carolina Times nonetheless sheds welcome light on the kind of uncompromising local figure that "played an essential...


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pp. 729-730
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