Monday, January 18, 2021

Quote of the Day (John Lewis, on the Press and the Civil-Rights Movement)

“If it hadn’t been for the press, the civil-rights movement, the whole struggle would have been like a bird without wings…. For the press, it was very dangerous, especially in the American South, to be a reporter, to be there with a pen and a pad, with a camera. I saw members of the Klan and racists turning on the media, beating people, leaving them bloody, and then turning on us.”—John Lewis (1940-2020), civil rights activist and Congressman (D-GA), quoted in Jamil Smith, “‘We Cannot Lose Hope’: John Lewis Looks Forward,” Rolling Stone, May 2019

In the last four years, the media faced new dangers, including crowds egged on by a President who called reporters “enemies of the people.” His undermining of those who dared to tell the truth culminated on January 6 with a mob aiming to overthrow the legitimate electoral victory of a multi-racial coalition.

One image lingering with me from that infamous day is of an African-American Capitol Police officer standing against an overwhelmingly white mob ready to breach the building. His presence would have been impossible without the similar courage shown decades before by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and, as the latter noted, the media that covered them.

Like many people, I have had my beefs with reporters from different outlets. But without media coverage—most crucially, during January 6 and its aftermath—most Americans would not have grasped the extent of the relentless assault on liberty occurring in the last four years.

For a long time, I have seen in local libraries a Library of America anthology, Reporting Civil Rights, containing roughly 200 eyewitness accounts of the movement from 1941 to 1973. Recent events have made it more imperative than ever, I think, that I read these two volumes.

(The image accompanying this post was Lewis’ official congressional photo, taken Feb. 13, 2006.)

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