Story Of Their Lives

By Wil Haygood
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 26, 2006


Sometimes they'd arrive quiet as spies in those segregated towns and grab a place at a rooming house. It wouldn't take long to find out which neighborhood it might be wise to avoid come nightfall.

But then the story would ignite and they'd be right in the center of the mayhem. Full of adrenaline and with a deadline to beat.

Emmett Till raised from swampy Mississippi waters.

Freedom buses afire on the scuffed dirt of Alabama.

Those black children in Little Rock -- solemn, in saddle shoes and skirts -- ducking the rocks thrown at them.

"The children were magnificent, just magnificent," recalls Moses Newson, one of the black reporters who covered civil rights battles in the Deep South before the phrase "civil rights" imprinted itself onto the American mind.

Newson was one of many reporters assigned to one of the most riveting stories in American journalism (though not every newspaper realized it at the time) -- the epic battle for equal rights. The tales from those dangerous, sometimes life-threatening assignments get told in a new book, "The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation," by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff.

Some names -- such as white reporters Claude Sitton and John Herbers and Karl Fleming -- have gotten elevated from those times. But a lot of other names didn't. Bylines vanished; old reporters died.

As the story wound down, Moses Newson took a few of his clips, which he keeps in a big manila folder, and went home to Baltimore. Now 79, he still dresses in suit and tie every day. And he still carries burn scars from riding on that Freedom Bus with his notebook and pen and camera down in Alabama.

Learning the Ropes

When he was growing up in the small town of Leesburg, Fla., Newson loved getting his bundle of Negro newspapers from up North to deliver. There was the Pittsburgh Courier and the Baltimore Afro-American, the Amsterdam News and the Chicago Defender. "They'd send you 10 to 15 copies of each and you'd sell them in the community," he says.

The papers were full of stories of black life, the goings-on in big cities, stories about black politicians such as Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and black entertainers such as Lena Horne and Harry Belafonte.

CONTINUED     1                 >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company