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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Harold Fleming, January 24, 1990. Interview A-0363. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Few white journalists openly address racism

Newspapers in the South and in Georgia specifically tended to remain quiet on race issues around the time of the <cite>Brown</cite> decision through the 1960s. Journalists like Ralph McGill faced pressure from managers. Newspapers followed a general trend of avoiding criticizing racism for fear of reprisals.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Harold Fleming, January 24, 1990. Interview A-0363. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JOHN EGERTON:
Why do you think McGill never . . .
HAROLD FLEMING:
McGill didn't do it because of his precarious, his uneasy relationship with his management.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did he feel that uncomfortable with it?
HAROLD FLEMING:
Oh, shit. They leaned on him so heavily that you can't believe it. He was like Peck's bad boy. His keeper was Jack Traver, who was a son-of-a-bitch in many ways. Though he was devoted to McGill, his role was to keep McGill out of trouble. McGill just thought it was the better part of valor-we all understood it, nobody felt miffed and we weren't pressuring-and besides, we used-if at anytime we needed to exploit McGill's connection we had the record there of his role as a founder. He never repudiated and always spoke well of the Council. That was more valuable to us than having him on the Board. He editorialized all our materials and statements and so on.
JOHN EGERTON:
It seems strange to me after Foreman was gone, after the paper belonged to the Coxs, the so-called liberal Coxs from the North, the democratic liberals from Ohio . . .
HAROLD FLEMING:
Then there's Tarver, having played the protector, became the master himself.
JOHN EGERTON:
Does this say anything at all about the role that newspapers played in all of this, the essentially negative role that newspapers played? By the time we got to Brown the newspapers were not very much in any pretense of trying to help lead the South out of the morass of segregation or anything of the sort. Some of the papers earlier on, it seems to me, had been reasonably progressive.
HAROLD FLEMING:
Some of them were.
JOHN EGERTON:
They seemed to get less so as time got closer to the crunch. They got quieter.
HAROLD FLEMING:
Some of them did, but some of them were quite good. Almost none of them, with a precious few exceptions, were really fully squared on the issue. They all tended to shuffle.
JOHN EGERTON:
None that I can find came out ahead of Brown and said, "we need to address this issue." I can't find a single paper that did that.
HAROLD FLEMING:
What you can find are papers that said, "we need to prepare for whatever the court says and prepare to do it in good faith." You didn't hear them say, "God, we sure hope the court orders desegregation." I don't know of any papers that said that. Maybe the Courier Journal.
JOHN EGERTON:
No, even they didn't.
HAROLD FLEMING:
Even they didn't?
JOHN EGERTON:
No. They endorsed the Brown decision after Brown came down, but they didn't in any sense prepare people for Brown. McGill in his column once in a while do better at that than some of the others, but even McGill was not saying too much. McGill was still sort of fighting the rear guard battle on a lot of these things. He never could come around on things like FEPC or anti-lynching. It's so ironic, that newspaper in 1933 endorsed a federal anti-lynching bill.
HAROLD FLEMING:
When?
JOHN EGERTON:
1933.
HAROLD FLEMING:
I didn't know that.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, and fifteen years later you wouldn't have caught them dead saying anything like that.
HAROLD FLEMING:
Well, you can really understand that though. I'm a little surprised to hear they did endorse it in 60s. Well, what happened is that as the issue heated up the backlash really got severe. You could get away with things in 60s that you couldn't get away with in . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
That's my point.
HAROLD FLEMING:
That's absolutely true. I got away with things in the late 40s that I couldn't get away with, not with impunity, once Brown got heated up. That went on all through the 50s the more the tension built coming from all the change. The more that decended on the South the more punitive the South got and the bigger the price. You know, interracial association was if you were discrete about it you could get away with quite a bit when I first started. It got to the point where you were taking your life in your hands in someplaces.