Advertise - Print Edition


Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Search


Sections


The Brandeis Hoot has moved. Please visit BrandeisHoot.com

Klibanoff covers “The Race Beat,” then and now

Published: October 9, 2009
Section: Front Page


“The race beat”: Pulitzer prize winning author Hank Klibanoff discusses how the media affected the Civil Rights movement of old in Pollack Auditorium yesterday.  Klibanoff also discussed his role as part of a project funded by the Center for Investigative Journalism that seeks to shed light on unsolved murders dating back to the Civil Rights movement.<br /><i>PHOTO BY Yuan Yao/The Hoot</i>

“The race beat”: Pulitzer prize winning author Hank Klibanoff discusses how the media affected the Civil Rights movement of old in Pollack Auditorium yesterday. Klibanoff also discussed his role as part of a project funded by the Center for Investigative Journalism that seeks to shed light on unsolved murders dating back to the Civil Rights movement.
PHOTO BY Yuan Yao/The Hoot

Pulitzer-Prize winning author and journalist Hank Klibanoff spoke to a packed audience in the Pollack auditorium on Thursday on the role of journalism in the Civil Rights movement in a lecture entitled “The Race Beat: Then and Now.” Klibanoff also covered his current involvement in uncovering evidence about unsolved crimes dating back to the early days of the Civil Rights movement.

Klibanoff won the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2007 for his book “The Race Beat,” which he wrote with fellow journalist Gene Roberts. The book examines the role journalists played in bringing the Civil Rights movement to the forefront of national attention.

As Klibanoff explained, major American newspapers were initially ambivalent about covering the movement. Aside from the black press, only a small minority of newspapers acknowledged that race was a problem in the United States.

“Most people could pretend to be ignorant about [the issue of race], and why could they be ignorant about it? Because no one was writing about it!” Klibanoff said.

The situation remained unchanged through the 1950s. It took months for major newspapers like The New York Times to report on the Montgomery bus boycott, a pivotal turning point in the Civil Rights movement. Instead, the papers focused on comparatively minor milestones in the movement, like the enrollment of the first African American graduate student, Autherine Lucy, at the University of Alabama.

The press’ major reason for covering her first day of class? “They believed they were going to see something really go bad,” Klibanoff said.

By 1957, however, the mainstream press began to change its attitude, and correspondents from major papers began flooding the South. Writers like Claude Sitton of The New York Times changed “the way Americans thought” by writing “the kinds of stories that could leave people shocked and shaken.”

The situation changed to such a degree that, by 1961, the press’ coverage of the movement actually compelled President John F. Kennedy to give his first speech on civil rights.

In addition to writing and lecturing about history, Klibanoff is now taking a role in shaping it. Since leaving his post as managing editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year, Klibanoff has joined a project funded by the Center for Investigative Journalism that seeks to shed light on unsolved murders dating back to the Civil Rights movement. The project is run by an array of investigative journalists and documentarians.

Klibanoff spoke specifically about the murder of Wharlest Jackson, a man killed by a car bomb in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1967 after accepting a position at a tire plant usually reserved for whites. The FBI generated a report which contained over 10,000 pages, yet no arrest was ever made in the case.

“They have escaped prosecution. Forget prosecution, they have escaped the judgment of history,” Klibanoff said of Jackson’s killers.

Klibanoff stressed that the project has tried to involve the families of the victims. He presented a video in which Jackson’s son states simply why he wants to know the identity of his father’s killers: “If it was your daddy, wouldn’t you want to know?”

Klibanoff, who has written for a number of papers including The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Boston Globe, was asked about his thoughts on “activist journalism”—a label which some have affixed to his latest endeavor.

“Being an objective reporter doesn’t mean you don’t try to right wrongs,” he said.