restricted access Epilogue: A Crusade into the Digital Age

From: Race News

University of Illinois Press colophon
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Epilogue A Crusade into the Digital Age “I SHALL CRUSADE for all things that are right and just and I will, with equal fervor, expose and condemn all things that are unjust. I shall be a CRUSADER but will not permit my fervor nor the rightness of my cause to provoke the abandonment of the cardinals of journalism, accuracy, fairness, and objectivity.” The opening paragraph of the “Credo for the Negro Press,” penned in 1945 by the Norfolk Journal and Guide’s P. B. Young Jr., perfectly captured the essential perspectiveofblacknewswritingbyjoiningtwoseeminglyirreconcilablecommitments —advancingcrusadesagainstracialinjusticewhilemaintainingjournalistic objectivity. Commercial black journalists accomplished this task by broadening the professional meaning of objectivity. Their conception of fair news coverage rejected white society’s straitlaced acceptance of a segregated and discriminatory status quo in favor of reporting that invigorated the United States’democraticimpulse.Blackjournalistsbelievedtheycouldchallengethe racism ingrained within America’s flawed institutions because they intended to witness the fulfillment of the nation’s highest ideals, as expounded in its foundingdocument,theDeclarationofIndependence.Thus,dissidentjournalism accused and condemned but also aspired. It pursued a better tomorrow by searchingforupliftingandexpansivealternativestoanexclusionaryandracist political economy that debased African American life.1 The progressiveness of commercial black newswriting in the twentieth century shifted with prevailing political currents, first enlarging and then contracting the parameters of black political discourse, amid constant pressure from impatient black radicals, suspicious government agents, and reproachful white journalists. Black newswriting grew increasingly progressive from 1900 208  •  Epilogue to 1945—a period that also witnessed record circulations and the emergence of national newspapers. During these decades, black journalists reported how PresidentWoodrowWilson’sambitionofmakingtheworldsafefordemocracy was greeted in the United States with an eruption of racial violence and rioting .TheyreportedhowtheGreatDepressionexposedtheuncertaintyofpromisedprosperity ,particularlyforalreadyimpoverishedAfricanAmericans.They reported how democratic nations reaffirmed their claims to colonial empires in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East and how fascist dictators secured power by demonizing racial and ethnic minority groups. News coverage of one incident of racial abuse after another gradually revealed a mosaic of modern state authority rooted in white supremacy. This seemingly ceaseless cavalcade of racialinjusticeimpelledmanycommercialblackjournaliststousethehumdrum ofroutinenewsreportingandopinionwritingtoscrutinizetheverystructureof American society—its cultural sensibilities, economic orientation, and political foundation. They drew inspiration and insight from more radical writers within black print culture—the communists and socialists, Black Nationalists andPan-­Africanists,literaryauthorsandartistswhoalsounmaskedthenation’s hypocrisyanddisputeditslegitimacy.Fairlywell-­definedpoliticaldistinctions between the alternative and commercial black presses blurred and diminished betweentheworldwarsasjournalistsandotherwritersadvancedthisleftward turn. Thecommercialblackpress’spronouncedprogressiveness,though,imperiled its survival as the actual war against fascism morphed in the late 1940s into an ideological contest against communism. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the prospect of American bloodshed on foreign battlefields had guaranteed increased vigilance of black journalists’ words by zealous military censors and cautious federal bureaucrats. However, such state scrutiny was tempered by the urgent need to fully and effectively mobilize all of the nation’s resources to defeat a warring enemy. Progressive newswriting persisted,thanks,inpart,totheblackpress’spatrioticexhortations.Commercial black journalists condemned racism but praised the war effort. That tactic nolongerworkedinideologicalwarfarebecausetheactofdissentitselfbecame the enemy. Anticommunists and segregationists claimed hostile words about theUnitedStatesbetrayedthepresenceofinsidiousfifthcolumnistsadvancing theinterestsoftheSovietUnion.Commercialpublishersandjournalistspragmaticallyprotectedtheirprofessionallivelihoodsbyretreatingfromtheirmore radical suggestions. In essence, black journalists again redefined the meaning of objectivity in the 1950s and 1960s. This time they excluded the discourse of A Crusade into the Digital Age  • 209 radical black politics. In doing so, they diluted the impact of commercial black newswriting by stimulating the reestablishment of an alternative black press. Blacknewswritingremainedmeaningful(regardlessofthestaggeringcirculation declines experienced by national newspapers), but the renewed bifurcation of black journalism undermined the legitimacy of black radicalism just as protests across the South fused into the modern Civil Rights Movement. By condemning the Black Power Movement, commercial publishers overwhelminglysacrificedradicals ’loftieraimsoffullsocialandeconomicequalityforthe more immediate and practical gains of desegregating public places and securing voting rights. The publishers’ gravitas, burnished by decades of editorial crusading, amplified the rightfulness of their narrowed perspective, no matter the angry denunciations penned by youthful alternative editors. Debates about the meaning of objectivity extended into white-­ led newsrooms in the 1970s as black journalists integrated daily newspapers. White editors expected black reporters to establish contacts in—and provide details about—African American communities. However, they did not intend for those reporters to challenge how management framed stories about race relations , either locally or nationally. But black reporters drew upon experiences and perspectives informed by black print culture and professional training to defy an understanding of objectivity that readily advanced a narrative of racial enlightenment amid entrenched discrimination and inequality. Black reporters saw a societal retreat from earlier civil rights gains where supervisors saw continuedracialprogress.Whiteeditorsdisputedblackreporters’conclusions becausetheydoubtedaperspectivethatwasneithervoicedbytraditionalinstitutionalauthoritiesnorrecognizedbyawhitereadership .Theseeditorialconflicts undermined the sense of mutual trust needed to...


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