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Media’s Influence on Civil Rights Movement Essay

“The brutality with which official would have quelled the black individual became impotent when it could not be pursued with stealth and remain unobserved. It was caught—as a fugitive from a penitentiary is often caught—in gigantic circling spotlights. It was imprisoned in a luminous glare revealing the naked truth to the whole world” – Martin Luther King (8, Kasher) The media controls the way the public views a controversial event. It can create the illusion that everything is perfect by leaving out important information, or can reveal the deplorable truth as the media did during the Civil Rights Movement.

It was not always that way though, during the Colonial Era the media glossed over the brutality African Americans faced. It was not until the photography and recorders were invented that the media could really no longer deny the awful reality of the African Americans’ lives. With the Civil Rights Movement as an example, the media has evolved into a more reliable source. As history goes on, African Americans are being reported on more truthfully; the media has evolved into a more objective source containing more factual information.

During 1700s, blacks were dehumanized and treated as animals; they cooked, gathered and did anything their master ordered. When they finally took a stance and decided to revolt they were lynched. Yet, in the eyes of the media whites were the heroes. Instead of reporting on the revolts with objectivity, the reporters commonly asserted their opinions into the articles, “In the past white news media ignored positive images of African American life” (10, Kasher). No matter what the incident was the “white man” always was superior. Through the media’s perspective, the whites were harmless and superior to the blacks.

In an article from the Colonial Era when the slave revolts occurred the slaves were portrayed to be villains. The article stated, “They conspired to murder all the Christians here and by that means thinking to obtain their Freedom… [They] put their bloody design in Execution and setting fire to a House, they stood prepared with Arms to kill everybody that approach’d to put it out and accordingly barbarously murdered the following persons that were running to the fire…This has put us into no small Consternation the whole Town being under Arms” (Boston News Letter, April 14, 1712).

Besides objectivity, the article failed to inform the public of the brutalities the slaves faced everyday. Never did the article state what happened to the slaves after the incident either. However, when slavery was abolished the black man was not always viewed as the villain. Nonetheless they were definitely not treated equally compared to whites, which fueled their fight for equal rights. Without the media, the Civil Rights Movement would have never been successful.

The pictures and videos of the violence the blacks tolerated from white supremacists helped their cause because the photos and videos were undeniable. No longer were the black people viewed as villains. “Scenes unthinkable to Americans as American were shown to America and all the world. Public Sympathy and financial support, as well as political backing, flowed to movement organizations” (8 Kasher). The Emmett Till Case was an amazing example of this, the Jet and Chicago Defender (both leading periodicals), reported on the story.

The papers both included a picture of his swollen face as the aftermath of his horrific death. His case would transform the minds of many during that decade. From the attention the pictures of Emmett Till caused, the media recognized that shocking pictures made people want to read the articles. Also, the newspapers could not produce fake pictures, which forced them to be more truthful in their stories (Kasher 8). Currently, racism is still an issue in the United States but the press has helped bring awareness to the issue.

For example, there are multiple blogs on how the world is still segregated even though there are no laws to support it. With the rise Internet, anyone is able to blog about their opinion on something or bring attention to a problem that is not being covered in the media. According to the book Blog! by David Kline and Dan Burstein, the average writer is over forty, which means there is not a lot of new and fresh ideas brought to the table for newspapers and magazines (373 Kline and Burstein). However, with the new and upcoming trend of blogging there are a variety of opinions and ideas.

Also, social networking has enabled people to communicate faster and it’s harder for the government or press to hide certain information from the public in order for our countries reputation to be protected. In respect to racism and how the media reports on it, our country still has a long way to go but has come far. There are still the inevitable reports about African Americans being in gangs and shootings; however there are also stories of African Americans doing amazing things like becoming president.

As the press learned during the Civil Rights Movement, people react more to shocking news so that’s probably why there is so many negative events that are broadcasted over the television and newspapers. The Internet has enabled the press to have more accurate and timely stories. The media has evolved into a more reliable source especially compared to Colonial Era. Also with all activity on the Internet the press is no longer the only source of information that the public can receive. That forces the media to be more truthful and value their reader’s trust.


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