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News Media Shaping Civil Rights Movement History


The social and cultural attributes experienced in the United States after the end of the Civil War created a society characterized by inequality and racial segregation. Many African Americans and other minority groups were against the existing levels of racism and injustice. These challenges led to the infamous Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. This upheaval would sweep across the country within a short time. The outcome was a transformed social environment characterized by new laws that were aimed at addressing the predicament of segregation. This paper uses different examples to explain how the news media shaped history throughout the Civil Rights Movement.

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Journalists’ Actions

According to many historians, African American journalists sacrificed their resources to support the Civil Rights Movement (Redding, 2016). They wanted to promote the best practices and ideas that could address the major predicaments that had faced the American multiracial society for many decades, such as inequality and segregation. In order to achieve their goals, most of these journalists engaged in heroic acts in an attempt to change the country’s history forever (Redding, 2016). They focused on various strategies and approaches throughout this period.

There are various forces and events that became critical sources of motivation during the Civil Rights Movement. To begin with, the boundaries that had been drawn in America led to the problem of racial isolation (Knauer, 2014). This issue led to numerous challenges, such as inequality and the lack of opportunities. The second motivation emerged from the increased use (and power) of mass media. This upheaval experienced in the United States had become an opportunity to publicize the challenges encountered by many minority groups in this nation (Knauer, 2014). The widespread movement that focused on civil rights also motivated journalists to support the agenda and improve the experiences of many citizens in the country.

By covering the ongoing civil rights upheaval, journalists would broadcast the demands of the people and key problems affecting them. The wider society would appreciate the importance of supporting the freedoms and liberties of every citizen (Callero, 2017). In order to achieve their aims, journalists used various avenues such as photography, newspapers, and television. This kind of coverage ensured that more individuals were informed about the ongoing civil rights agenda. Redding (2016) observes that many journalists were lynched and tortured by the police. They also encountered harsh treatment from different people in the South.

Consequently, the coverage resulted in increased sympathy from different groups and individuals. Many people also appreciated the fact that discrimination and racial segregation continued to affect every community. It is agreeable that many activists during this period used news media to pursue their aims (Garcia, 2014). They did so by exposing the atrocities committed against them and their cultural groups. They also won the support of different societies, thereby making it easier for them to fight for their interests and human rights. Consequently, new laws and policies were implemented in an attempt to address most of the issues raised by these activists.

Activists’ Media Strategies

Most of the Civil Rights Movement activists used various media strategies to achieve their aims. These included the use of the press, television, and mainstream media coverage. They devised them in an attempt to reach out to more citizens in the United States. This move would also make it easier for different government agencies and politicians to support the grievances outlined by these activists. The medium of television affected coverage of the Civil Rights Movement positively (Garcia, 2014).

This was the case because viewers could follow actual footage of different protests and experiences of activists who focused on civil liberties (Garcia, 2014). With more families having television sets, it was possible for different regions to follow the events of the movement.

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The black press was relevant during the Civil Rights Movement. This was the case because it focused on various events associated with this upheaval. Several black newspaper reporters outlined the harassment encountered and services denied throughout the period. They covered riots, speeches, and demonstrations. Messages presented by African American leaders such as Martin Luther King were also reported (Callero, 2017). The mainstream media was observed to deliver similar messages to the ones targeted by the black press.

Mainstream media coverage of the Civil Rights Movement appeared to affect the black press and staffing practices at mainstream newspapers. Several examples can be presented to support this fact. The first one is that the black press became a powerful and noticeable force after many years of invisibility (Redding, 2016). Secondly, the mainstream media transformed the nature of the black press.

This was the case because both black and white reporters were willing to collaborate and cover this upheaval. This development resulted in a situation whereby black reporters were lured away by white-owned media houses. This means that staffing in mainstream newspapers changed significantly (Garcia, 2014). A new staffing approach emerged whereby black and white reporters were able to work together.

Forces Influencing Journalists’ Motivations

There are numerous forces that tend to influence the motivation of a journalist. Some of these aspects include government interventions and policies, capitalism, social pressure, ethical values, and traditional morals. During the Civil Rights Movement, the first force that influenced many journalists was that of traditional morals. For many years, the existence of racism was a major challenge and traditional practice that was against ethical principles. This problem encouraged reporters to be part of the movement (Knauer, 2014). Values such as justice and equality played a critical role in motivating journalists to support the ongoing Civil Rights Movement. Social pressure also encouraged and compelled reporters to focus on this problem that appeared to affect many citizens.

Most of the policies implemented in this country had managed to address the major predicaments that American multiracial society faced. This kind of involvement compelled the government to develop superior laws to support and empower more American citizens (Callero, 2017). The wave of capitalism existing in the country had resulted in a scenario whereby individuals from minority groups were forced to provide cheap services and labor. The same challenge was witnessed in different media houses and mainstream newspapers (Knauer, 2014). With these issues in place, it was appropriate for different journalists to be part of the Civil Rights Movement.

The approach would make it easier for them to achieve their potential and transform the experiences of many citizens from minority groups in the country (Garcia, 2014). With these developments and forces in place, more black reporters and journalists took up numerous roles in order to report the events associated with this upheaval. With the desire to transform society and uphold most of the values enshrined in the country’s Constitution, such as equality, freedom, and justice, the number of journalists reporting various occurrences continued to increase during this period.

The Kerner Commission Report

The Kerner Commission Report has been studied and analyzed widely for examining and describing the major issues that had affected the United States for many years. According to this statement, the country had implemented inappropriate programs that had failed to address most of the problems affecting many Americans (Redding, 2016). As a result, the nation had continued to record numerous incidents that heightened tensions and animosities. Some of the challenges recorded in the country, such as underemployment, police brutality, and unequal social welfare, had been catalyzed by the above gap (Kiuchi, 2017). Specifically, the report went further to focus on the issue of journalism throughout the Civil Rights Movement period.

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It was revealed that the media offered distorted media during the time. Instances of inaccuracy, sensationalism, and distortion were reported throughout this period. Different media houses failed to examine the major problems emerging from civil disorders in the country. Some newspaper houses had failed to hire individuals from all racial backgrounds. These malpractices, according to the Kerner Commission, affected the effectiveness of the strategies undertaken by many journalists (Kiuchi, 2017). However, the good news was that more citizens and groups in the country were informed about the atrocities, experiences, and events that occurred during the time.

This report was important because it could be used to make appropriate changes and improve the way mass coverage was being pursued in this nation (Redding, 2016). This commission also proposed evidence-based ideas to tackle the problem of race relations in the United States (Redding, 2016). Without doing so, most of the predicaments experienced in this nation would continue to affect the welfare and outcomes of many Americans for many years.

Several suggestions were presented to news media to improve coverage of marginalized communities. The first proposal was for media houses to hire professional journalists based on their qualifications and not a race (Kiuchi, 2017).

This means that African Americans would get news and achieve their potential. The second recommendation was for media houses to appreciate the roles of different groups (including minority races) in the community and cover them without bias. Journalists should also focus on the best actions and activities with a positive attitude in order to deal with the issues affecting American society (Kiuchi, 2017). There was also the need for different media houses and newspapers to improve their relations with all community members. By so doing, the country would improve the level of media freedom and support the needs of every marginalized American citizen.


The success of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s can be attributed to the selflessness and dedication of many journalists and activists. The use of emerging mass media and television channels increased the visibility of most of the events and pains encountered by African Americans. Despite the existing challenges such as police brutality, these individuals worked harder in order to achieve their goals. The report by Kerner Commission presented meaningful insights and ideas that could transform the nature of journalism in the country. The involvement of news reporters from minority groups is something that has the potential to transform the current situation and improve race relations in the United States.


Callero, P. L. (2017). The myth of individualism: How social forces shape our lives (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Garcia, K. A. (2014). The American Indian Civil Rights Movement: A case study in civil society protest. Yesterday & Today, 1(12), 60-74.

Kiuchi, Y. (2017). The riot report and the news: How the Kerner Commission changed media coverage of Black America. Journal of American History, 104(3), 816-817. Web.

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Knauer, C. (2014). Let us fight as free men: Black soldiers and civil rights. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania.

Redding, R. (2016). Black voices, white power: Members of the black press meaning of media hegemony. Journal of Black Studies, 48(2), 143-164. Web.

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