James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Back from Bombingham

Posted by James McPherson on October 15, 2009

Spending most of last week in Birmingham, Ala., center of several key events in the Civil Rights movement, was a good reminder of how far we’ve come in the struggle for fairness in America. For someone who spends most of his time in the Pacific Northwest, the visit–and several of the papers and panels presented at the American Journalism Historians Association convention–also provided a good reminder of how far we haven’t come in dealing with race issues. (The ongoing health care debate also serves as a reminder of American inequities, of course.)

Known for a time as “Bombingham,” the city saw several church bombings during the 1960s. The most famous explosion killed four girls in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church (which I visited last Friday). And though I knew much of the story of the four girls, until Friday I never knew that two African American boys had been killed–one by a police officer–in race-related attacks on the same day.

Still, as LZ Granderson reminds us, the issue of equality is complicated and goes far beyond race. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (which will inevitably be killed, eventually) and the issue of gay marriage (which eventually will be approved in most, if not all, of the United States) provide current examples.

There is no denying that much remains to be done, and sometimes it may seem that the nation is becoming more polarized in the discussion of difficult issues. Thankfully, despite our many differences, we seem to keep working on it. Nowadays the most important race-baiting bombthrowers such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh typically lob their explosives figuratively, out in the open, rather than burying them beneath church steps.

Below is an interesting student-produced video history of the 1963 bombing. And lest you think race problems are behind us, note the most recent ignorant comment, “black people are dumb lol.”

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6 Responses to “Back from Bombingham”

  1. Luis Lopez said

    Sadly, however, racism isn’t exclusive to comment threads on YouTube videos. As this story out of Louisiana shows (http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/10/16/louisiana.interracial.marriage/index.html), racism is still alive and well in 2009.

  2. Morgan Feddes said

    I saw this article at Newsweek and immediately thought of this post (and several of your past posts as well): http://www.newsweek.com/id/218911?GT1=43002

    It’s a sad but true commentary on how the media covers murders and serial killers in this country; something you’ve long talked about, and something that never seems to change, despite the “advancements” in racial equality.

  3. Joy said

    I have learned more about the real issues behind the battles still to be fought after a month of teaching an almost entirely black classroom than I did in 16 years of education.

  4. James McPherson said

    Yes, the “real world” is much more complicated and messier than our sheltered academic environment. I much admire the work you’re doing, and how much you’re learning (and sharing) from it. Thanks, Joy.

  5. James McPherson said

    Thanks, Morgan, for the great example. I used to live not far from Rocky Mount, but hadn’t known about the murder victims there. Having lived for a couple of years in the South also taught me things about the complicated nature of race in this country that I might never have understood as well otherwise.

  6. […] me from commenting on issues of race or gender.  (Examples on race can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Examples relevant to gender here, here, here, here, […]

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