Title

The "New York Times" and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954--1964

Date of Award

2006

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

Gene Wiggins

Advisor Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Abstract

Turner Catledge, the New York Times' managing editor, was born and reared in Mississippi, and several of the Times correspondents were Southerners too. The Times' Southernness and its love and concern for the South seemed to be the impetus for leading the way in covering what was happening down South with the civil rights movement. Months before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling that public school segregation was unconstitutional, Catledge had begun an emphasis in sharpening his reporters' writing skills. It was as if he knew that a proliferation of civil rights stories was about to become an integral part of his newspaper. The New York Times was the only newspaper with a person circulating the South. The most impressive of its reporting methods was Catledge sending a team, most of whom were twenty-year veterans of difficult reporting assignments, into the seventeen Southern and border states and the District of Columbia to find out the case for and against integration, and to get reactions from those in high and low places. Civil rights leaders contacted Times reporters about covering stories. Since the correspondents were friends with civil rights leaders and were frequently consulted for sources, it would not be safe to say that the New York Times was objective in its coverage. They were, however, balanced. A Times journalist's press freedom was threatened during his coverage of state troops at Little Rock. This occurred on 5 September 1957 when Benjamin Fine was warned that he would be arrested if he talked to the crowd. National reaction to the Times' coverage of civil rights was overwhelmingly positive. One should, however, keep in mind that throughout the South copies of the New York Times were scarce; therefore, most Southerners were not aware of what the Times was reporting. Each of the correspondents throughout the ten years of the study did a yeoman's job in gathering and reporting the facts. The study concludes that the New York Times gave coverage par excellence and was sui generis in civil rights coverage.