Sunday, July 19, 2020

How The Record covered civil rights. (SAR)

Under new ownership, four times removed (first Seaboard Coast Line Railroad, then right-wing Morris Communications, then dodgy hedge fund owner GateHouse and now the newly merged, badly mismanaged behemoth, GANNETT), the weak-kneed St. Augustine Record is still unable or unwilling to confront the racism of former Publisher, A.H. "HOPPY" TEBEAULT, a racist who was later Flagler College Vice President, raising money from like-minded individuals, while arrogantly censoring student newspaper, The Gargoyle.

 This short, shallow article is nowhere near what I've been asking the St. Augustine Record to do for years -- what Marilyn Thompson did at the Lexington, Kentucky Herald Leader -- going back into photo archives and other records, and retelling the news it did not report.

Hell, the retromingent rebarbative dull Republican Record didn't even do a decent job on its former Publisher's obituary and still prefers hagiography to history when covering the scions of segregationists, like vapid St. Augustine Mayor TRACY WILSON UPCHURCH, a recovering corporation attorney whose grandfather bolted from the 1948 Democratic National Convention over civil rights, joining Senator Strom Thurmond's racist reactionary Dixiecrat Party as Chair of the Democratic Party of Florida.

From The St. Augustine Record:

How The Record covered civil rights
By Sheldon Gardner
Posted at 11:57 AM
St. Augustine Record

Editor’s note: With demonstrations taking place here and around the country in regard to racial justice, The Record decided to look back at how this publication covered the protests of 1963-64 here in St. Augustine. Please note that some racial terms that are not considered appropriate now are used in this story when quoting historical documents such as old articles.

In July of 1964, Time magazine called The St. Augustine Record “a modest little daily with more modest ambitions.”

The magazine interviewed Editor Harvey Lopez and A. H. Tebault Jr. about the paper’s coverage of the civil rights movement.

The article’s assessment was that the paper tried to ignore the issue until national attention demanded coverage.

The article says, “last October, when the first lunch counters were integrated in St. Johns County, of which St. Augustine is the seat, the Record gave the incident 1 ½ in. on an inside page.”

Record Editor Harvey Lopez told the magazine that “for a long time we didn’t even mention the situation.”

As more attention came to the city, The Record began putting articles on the front page.

But action photographs were excluded out of concerns about adding “fuel to the fire” by showing violent pictures, and the paper didn’t run “inflammatory” copy, according to Time.

Tebault told Time: “We have no intention of taking an active hand in the situation. First, because there is no single solution. Second, because for a paper to become committed, it would have to take a stand that could be interpreted as favoring one side over another.”

And Lopez added, “The only way this thing can be settled is for Dr. King to withdraw and let us work it out among ourselves.”

The current Record staff reviewed more than 30 articles, editorials and letters to the editor covering the civil rights movement in 1963 and 1964.

While leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. are quoted, perspectives of Black residents appeared to be largely absent. And there wasn’t evidence in the stories reviewed of an attempt to understand the struggles of people who were protesting.

But the perspectives of business owners, city leaders and law enforcement were covered.

The Record also included notices of Ku Klux Klan gatherings.

“Back then local newspaper publishers were part of the establishment of the community,” said Gayle Phillips, director of the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center. “St. Augustine’s establishment did not embrace the Black community at that time at all.”

“Northern ‘Scalawags’”

While the summer of 1964 saw some of the most prominent activity during the civil rights movement, demonstrations were taking place in 1963.

In July, law enforcement officers arrested children for participating in civil rights demonstrations.

The Record ran a story on the front page about people demonstrating at the county jail because children were being held in custody.

The story begins with, “A noisy demonstration that lasted for nearly six-hours took place in front of the St. Johns County jail last night staged by more than 100 Negroes when authorities refused to release seven Negro juveniles being held as delinquents following their arrest last week in connection with an anti-segregation demonstration in downtown St. Augustine.”

The story notes that Mrs. Louis Cook, the wife of the jailer, “was knocked down and was scratched during the melee.”

The Record reported that “demonstrators sang, yelled, clapped and beat pans together during last night’s noisy demonstration.”

But no demonstrators or parents are quoted.

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The Record gave space on June 21, 1964, to a letter to the editor from someone who complained about losing her job after being “condemned as an integrationist.”

The woman wrote that she was on the beach with her 2-year-old son “when the Negroes arrived.”

“Why should I leave — giving them the privilege of knowing they were the cause of it? I am certainly not an integrationist. Why should such demonstrations deny me of my everyday life?”

On March 30 and April 1, 1964, front-page articles in The Record covered demonstrations and arrests, including the arrest of Mrs. Malcolm Peabody, the mother of the governor of Massachusetts.

One article, quoting a United Press International release, says that city Mayor Joseph Shelley “blamed racial difficulties on northern ‘Scalawags’” and said racial matters were under control until “northerners came down here with the idea of getting in jail.”

Regarding civil rights demonstrations that included children, The Record also wrote that “Some Negro citizens, who asked that their names not be used, said they deplored out-of-town integrationists using children in an attempt to reach their goals.”

The paper’s leadership seemed to agree about outsiders causing trouble.

An editorial on April 5, 1964, about Peabody’s efforts in St. Augustine, said that “St. Augustine has been selected as a ‘civil rights’ target, mainly to discredit our 400th anniversary in 1965.”

An editorial in June 1964 referred to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a “racial agitator, who really isn’t interested in the rights of local citizens, but is vitally interested in their money and his personal power. St. Augustine may be the stage for the last big act of the ‘M.L. King Show,’ before Congress passes the pending so-called ‘civil rights bill.’ A ‘Crusader’ as King calls himself, has to have a cause. Without a cause ‘Crusaders’ soon find themselves looking for a job.′

“We suggest that since it is apparent that King will soon be out of work, that in his struggle to find gainful employment he might consider finding jobs for the thousands of Negro and white itinerant who have followed him around the south from jail to jail.”

An editorial on the same day praised law enforcement, saying their recent leadership had “over-shadowed” any previous mistakes.

“The brilliant leadership of Sheriff L.O. Davis, Police Chief Virgil Stuart and several staff officers of the Governor, Attorney General and Florida Highway Patrol have kept night-time demonstrations from turning into riots.”

But both Davis and Stuart “became increasingly hostile” as demonstrations progressed, according to “Racial Change and Community Crisis,” a book by historian David Colburn.

The book says that during a mass demonstration on Labor Day of 1963 in the Plaza de la Constitucion, police used dogs and cattle prods to disperse the crowd.

“Several people including the Reverend Goldie Eubanks (a civil rights activist) were struck with cattle prods or clubbed by police though no one resisted arrest,” according to Colburn.

In 1965, Tebault wrote a letter to the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, which looked into the conflict that occurred in St. Augustine.

Tebault wrote that it was the paper’s “unfortunate task to cover a series of demonstrations and public altercations between groups of racist, both Negro and white.”

Among other things, he wrote that racial demonstrations were held in the city only for national publicity.

“Within a city of 500,000 population, it would have taken at least 10,000 demonstrators to make national headlines and in our small community, an imported group of 150, provide to be most successful,” he wrote.

He blamed the national news media for stoking the fire and racist points of view.

He wrote, “on several occasions I personally witnessed newsmen urging Negro demonstrators into action on a given date and the next day, urging white demonstrators in the same manner. The entire racial panorama was staged, using the Nation’s Oldest City as theatre and world-wide television and news media readers as the audience.”

Historian David Nolan, who has helped promote the city’s civil rights history, said that was one of the standard views of the time, that the movement was staged by the media.

Nolan said one civil rights activist told him that if they wanted good coverage, they’d look to the Daytona paper.

“The Record in those days was part of the establishment that opposed the civil rights movement,” he said.

But that wasn’t just an issue at The Record.

Aimee Edmondson, a journalism professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, wrote a First Amendment Law Review article for the UNC School of Law that examined libel suits against four Pulitzer Prize winning Southern journalists.

The journalists, who covered the civil rights movement, “were revered nationally but despised by many in their own communities.”

She wrote: “When journalists treated blacks and the issue of civil rights more fairly and objectively, they sometimes paid for it.”

Her article says that “It was also common for white journalists in the South to insure a feeling of racial otherness by attaching the ‘Negro’ tag after the names of black people, instituting Jim Crowism into their news pages.”

The word Negro appears widely in Record articles from the time.

Longtime journalist Margo Pope worked at The Record in the summer of 1964 while she was in high school. Her job included proofreading stories.

She said she wasn’t part of discussions by editors or other leadership about what to cover and how it would be covered. While The Record didn’t cover civil rights activities every day, editors and reporters covered major parts of the movement, she said.

And The Record was a gathering place for out-of-town media, who would talk to people at the paper about what was happening in town, she said.

“We were their resource because they knew we were going to get the calls from both sides,” she said.

How The Record covered demonstrations will probably be a debate for years to come among historians, she wrote in an email to The Record.

“What is not up for debate is that what happened in St. Augustine in June of 1964 brought the news media to St. Augustine, and the world followed the coverage,” according to Pope.

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