Date of Graduation
Master of Arts in Journalism (MA)
Jan LeBlanc Wicks
Second Committee Member
Conflict, Framing, Integration, Newspaper, Race
For many Americans who grew up in the 1960s, the first published information about Africans came directly from Africa, in the form of exotic photographs and stories in National Geographic. Susan Goldberg, Editor in Chief of National Geographic, addressed the issue of race portrayals in the magazine, reflecting on the realization that National Geographic often provided readers “their first look at the world” while rarely acknowledging the struggles of race in the United States. The magazine displayed full-color photographs depicting Africans from many nations, dressed in native clothing and jewelry, positioned in settings that implied dignity, beauty and strength. Meanwhile, the media in America began the challenge of fair reporting on issues of race, including news about equality in housing, jobs, transportation and education.
The magazine had done almost nothing to challenge stereotypes that were fixed in American culture about race (Goldberg, 2018). The lesson from her self-analysis of the magazine’s historical view of race in America is that “How we present race matters” (Goldberg, 2018, p.4). American authors had skillfully painted a picture of black life in America through the works of James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Alex Haley, Richard Wright and others. Their literary descriptions included portrayals of blacks in American that were riddled with struggle, injustice, poverty and racism. As the Civil Rights Era unfolded in the United States, published accounts of the challenges most black Americans were facing became part of the national narrative. Newspapers and television stations would be faced with the strategic decision of how to report the news of racial conflict in America.
Framing the news from a set of commonly held public beliefs (Entman, 1993) would be particularly interesting when those beliefs differed between blacks and whites. The basic questions of equality and equal access to housing, education and accommodations were raised in public discourse during the civil rights era (Sheatsley, 1966). In what specific ways was the reporting of the civil rights era different depending on who reported it? That is the critical question of this study.
Integration at the University of Mississippi
Much public reporting has been dedicated to the integration at the University of Mississippi. Still segregated nearly 12 years after federal law supported desegregation in public education, the University of Mississippi received national attention by resisting the enrollment of a black student, James H. Meredith in 1962. Mississippi’s governor, Ross Barnett, had refused to comply with the Supreme Court ruling that would have allowed Meredith’s enrollment, and instead launched a battle between the federal government and the state of Mississippi. When Meredith arrived on campus, escorted by U.S. marshals, he was blocked by a mob of more than 2,000 protestors. In the riot that followed, hundreds were injured, and two people were killed, including a French journalist. President John F. Kennedy called out more than 30,000 National Guardsmen to restore order.
In an article how the student newspaper reported on the events, author Kathleen Wickham described the cultural environment that dominated the American civil rights scene at the time. “In 1962 the civil rights story had not yet reached the crescendo of scale that was to come, as demonstrated by the violence in Selma and Birmingham, Alabama,” Wickham said. “The Freedom Riders had made their mark the previous year throughout the South, but it appeared that school integration was the cause that would capture the attention of the news media and the public. And so it did in Mississippi” (Wickham, 2017, p. 110).
Explaining the resistance Mississippians, and campus loyalists, in particular, had to integration, Wickham wrote that many people in the state believed that the acceptance of the first black student would open the door to many more, which was considered unacceptable (Wickham, 2017). She states that “Mississippians had several core beliefs on the issue: integration would result in intermarriage, the sociological development of blacks was inferior to whites, and Southerners resented federal interference in their affairs,” noting that nearly forty faculty members resigned out of fear that the integration crisis could have a negative impact on their careers (Wickham, 2017, p. 113).
In this research, the focus and frequency of news regarding racial integration at the University of Mississippi is studied to evaluate whether or not a nationally recognized white-owned newspaper (The New York Times) and a respected black-owned newspaper (the Chicago Defender) reported on the events in the same way. Content analysis of newspaper articles from the New York Times and the Chicago Defender published between September 15, 1962 and October 15, 1962, reveal that while a similar conflict frame to highlight a disagreement between two or more people or organizations was used, the content and focus of the conflict varies significantly. The details of these conflicts focused on either governmental disputes between state and federal laws, individual disagreements between elected officials, or racial inequality between blacks and whites.
Unruh, A. (2020). Framing and Newspaper Coverage of Racial Integration. Theses and Dissertations Retrieved from https://scholarworks.uark.edu/etd/3666