History

REPORTING CIVIL RIGHTS

Volume One: American Journalism 1941-1963

Library of America. 996 pp. $40

Volume Two: American Journalism 1963-1973

Library of America. 986 pp. $40

‘Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1963-1973’ by Clayborne Carson, David J. Garrow, Bill Kovach and Carol Polsgrove ( Library of America)

Encompassing two volumes, overseen by a distinguished board of editors and drawing upon hundreds of eyewitness accounts, this hefty anthology takes readers back to the tumultuous years when African Americans and their supporters tried to make the self-evident truth of the Declaration of Independence — that all men are created equal — into a reality. Reporting for the New York Amsterdam News in September 1957, James L. Hicks begins with this harrowing vignette: “This reporter and three other Negro newsmen were kicked, beaten and chased away from the Little Rock Central High School here Monday at the exact time that nine Negro children slipped into the school under the very nose of the mob. . . . Although it was not planned, the four newsmen actually served as the decoy which got the nine Negro children into the school.”

Writing for the Washington Star (before he came to The Washington Post) in July 1965, the late Haynes Johnson captured one of those periods when a movement stalls — in this case, when “the voter registration drive [in Selma, Ala.] has lost its momentum.” Nonetheless, Johnson’s sources believe that a corner had been turned: “The white counterattack on voter registration underscores what is perhaps the most basic change in Selma today: a recognition on both sides that despite their present troubles the Negroes are going to exercise power in the future. While the whites, generally speaking, are determined to keep that power at a minimum . . . they tacitly acknowledge — if not accept — the changes to come.”

The second volume ends on a note reaffirming that sense of optimism, with novelist Alice Walker writing for the New York Times Magazine: “If I leave Mississippi — as I probably will one of these days — it will not be for the reasons of the other sons and daughters of my father. Fear will have no part in my decision. . . . It will be because I have freed myself to leave; and it will be My Choice.”

Dennis Drabelle