ST. PETERSBURG — The Florida Holocaust Museum held a panel discussion called Civil Rights and the Media Thurs., Sept. 17. Moderated by Tampa Bay Times’ Earnest Hooper, the panel included National Public Radio’s TV critic and author Eric Deggans, Gypsy Gallardo, publisher of the Power Broker Magazine and Herb Snitzer, civil rights activist, photographer and author.
Presented as a way to discuss the impact that the media had on the Civil Rights Movement, the panelists all had diverse backgrounds and professional focuses, and each brought different insights in comparing the role of the press during that era and today.
Deggans explained that what people don’t realize regarding media coverage during the movement was that there was quite a range of press coverage at the time. Southern newspapers downplayed the conflict so stories about protests, violence and unrest often were found inside the newspaper instead of on the cover. Civil rights activists were labeled troublemakers by the southern newspapers, and Klans chapters were lionized in the press.
Black newspapers, however, told a much different story and many did it aggressively. Also overseas press had the world questioning America’s ability to govern its citizens.
National newspapers at the time didn’t have a large circulation like today. For example, records show that during the Civil Rights Movement only 29 people in Birmingham, Ala., had a subscription to the New York Times. So many southerners’ views of the events were skewed.
Photographs from the movement captured the struggles that many of those newspapers downplayed. Images have helped speak the truth about the past, and will continue to speak the truth in the present and future.
“Bloody and brutal images of the Civil Rights Movement fueled the moral uprising and active energy of American voters, which in turn gave President Kennedy the impetus needed to call for Congress to pass civil rights legislation,” said Gallardo.
She went on to say that people of all ages and colors responded to the degradation seen in print and on the airwaves. Many of them would not have known the horrors taking place if it weren’t from the media.
“The media brought these images into their homes, and we’re seeing the same thing right now with the Syrian refugee crisis. We understand how powerful that single image was in bringing it into American households,” she stated.
Snitzer feels that the media isn’t doing enough. “I would like media—all media—to do more out front rather than after the fact such as Ferguson, Baltimore and other cities. We all know the issues and it’s really time to act. Miles Davis, in his autobiography remarked if white people ever knew what black people really feel, it would scare them to death.”
The panel discussion corresponds with the national tour exhibition called “This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement,” which features photographs from mostly Mississippi and Alabama documenting the civil rights struggle captured by activist photographers. The photographs show a different side of the story that isn’t told in history books.
“We have civil rights memorials and stuff but if we would make like a mass memorial of all slaves that have been killed, and take similar documents to what they have downstairs (in reference to the Holocaust victims), such as numbers, pictures and artifacts and make a museum of that then that would be blaming ourselves, and America’s not about that,” said museum visitor Selma Horozoeic.
“Then we won’t be the ‘world heroes’ even though that’s really not the case, but I think that’s why these types of civil rights exhibits are rare. It’s putting it on America, and not placing the blame on someone else.”
Horozoeic’s sister, Cici, a high school senior in New Port Richey explained that she learned more about the Civil Rights Movement through the exhibition photos than in school because the curriculum skims over African-American history.
The Florida Holocaust Museum is also featuring their first locally produced exhibition, “Beaches, Benches and Boycotts: The Civil Rights Movement in Tampa Bay.” Inspired by “This Light of Ours,” it focuses on the “Jim Crow” era in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota.
Both exhibits run through Dec. 1. For more information visit flholocaustmuseum.org.