The era of the 1960’s is recognized as a critical turning point in American History. From the year 1960 to 1968, the United States continued to be in racial turmoil over freedom and civil liberties for African Americans and people of color. During this time many fought, marched, protested, boycotted, held demonstrations, and sacrificed their lives for the right to equality. Before the notorious Brown vs. the Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act, America practiced racial segregation. Although segregation wasn’t practiced throughout the country, it was accepted as far west as Seattle, WA and as far south as Tampa, FL. In these segregated areas, people of color were not allowed to eat in public restaurants and use public bathroom facilities, and in some areas were unable to vote or live in certain neighborhoods or communities. These policies and restrictions made it difficult for many American citizens to receive equal liberties as their Caucasian counter parts. Thus, media coverage and interpretation of these events highlight public opinion of the movement and influential leaders of the Civil Rights era.
Several incidents are significant to the push for Civil Rights. These include “freedom rides, sit-downs, and boycotts” (Hoecker, 2002). January 1960, John F. Kennedy was sworn as the President of the United States of America. One month later, local students organized the first “sit-down”. Four Negro students violated segregation laws by attempting to dine-in at an White-Only eating establishment. As a result of these actions, students were met with hostility and violence. This incident was just the first of hundreds of demonstrations that would occur before the decades end. It also signifies the beginning of the movement for an equal society for Black and White citizens. As more students joined the band-wagon conducting sit-downs in protest, other students organized freedom rides. A group of Black and White college students boarded a bus in the unsegregated North and into the segregated Deep South. During this journey, students were antagonized, beaten, molested, and tormented. The bus was set fire and students forced to evacuate, their safety in jeopardy. It proved the racism pandemic throughout the Southern states which stimulated media attention. Although these were pivotal incidents pertaining to the social unrest of American society, newspapers -particularly those in the North- did not mention these events. This was the case when reviewing Wellsboro, Pennsylvania’s the Wellsboro Gazette published from 1867-1999 and the Wellsboro Agitator published from 1874-2009.
In 1963, the Wellsboro Gazette, addressed the civil rights issue directly. The article covered a discussion panel of scholars and researchers on the topic of “Civil Rights 1963”. During the discussion, the panel addressed their degrees, knowledge, personal achievements, and their relationship to the civil rights movement. When the floor was opened for questioning, topics for discussion included interracial marriage and integration within neighborhoods. In the article, the author utilized the opportunity to educate the readers, “that the current world population consist overwhelmingly of people of color. Whether it be Negro, Indian, or Oriental”, (Condesent, 1963). The discussion also included discrimination as it occurred throughout the country. As a result, the panel addressed the difference between the integration of the North and the segregation of the South. The writer documented that “it was emphasized by the panel that a more cruel discrimination exist in the north than in the south where people pay lip service to civil rights but who resist negro’s efforts to obtain better housing and schooling”, (Condesent,1963). Thus, although the Wellsboro papers don’t specifically address the climate of the civil rights era and the violence and protest involved, columnist did display awareness and cooperation with the movement. This expressed the perspective of the writer as he attempted to encourage readers to understand that “real progress has had to be made through overt acts such as picketing, boycotting, and demonstrating” (Condesent, 1963). The statement served as an eye opener on the civil rights movement; the motivating factor being that “Negros are primarily interested in obtaining equal rights opportunities” (Condesent, 1963).
The Gazette, from time to time also addressed civil rights concerns. This was documented in the December issue the day after Christmas of 1963. In the article, a columnist predicts the events for the upcoming year entitled, the “Babson Report…A Forecast for 1964”. The Gazette newspaper was very limited in its choice of news reports. It contained a general yet optimistic outlook towards the progress of African Americans and made notable statements towards the cause. The columnist announced in the fifth index, “the Negros will continue to make progress and get more” (Babson, 1963). Coincidently, the author did not iterate what the “Negros” would make progress in and what “more” they would get. It can only be assumed that Babson was addressing the civil rights issue and the rising violence and discrimination. Despite this, Babson does make an attempt to reach out to Caucasian readers. He goes on to state, “I predict that the gains will have to come largely through the changing attitudes of the people…Such reforms take place only as the minds and hearts of the people are changed for the better”, (Babson, 1963).
The Civil Rights era began under the presidency of John F. Kennedy. As commander and chief, he won favor of many Caucasians and Negros for his liberal ideas for equality. However, Kennedy was unable to finish his term. “On June11, 1963, Kennedy announced his proposal for a civil rights bill. Five months later, on November 22, 1963, he was assassinated” (Hoecker, 2002). Within 6 months of announcing his movement to reduce incidents lynchings, racism, and injustice of African Americans, he was killed. He was not the only leader to die as a result of this movement. Two years later in 1965, Muslim leader, speaker, and civil rights activist Malcolm X was assassinated. He was a pivotal leader in the community, fighting for social justice of Negros throughout the North. However, Malcolm’s death was never mentioned in either Wellsboro, Pennsylvania newspaper. His existence was not documented, his service to the movement was not acknowledged, and his death was not announced; except, however, for the announcement of his autobiography on the list of monthly book releases.
1963 thru 1968 is documented as the “long hot summers”. During this time, violence and riots broke out where “in the span of three months in 1963, the Department of Justice recorded 1,412 demonstrations” (Hoecker, 2002). African Americans were taking the streets and displaying acts of violence and outrage towards authority concerning discrimination and racism present in their communities. Yet, both the Gazette and the Agitator did not recognize the riots nor document the events. Only one article was found which described a “Poor People’s March” as a “dramatic demonstration of civil disobedience” (Scott, 1968). However, it was merely mentioned. An article written August 1, 1968 was published after the assassination of two popular and very public civil rights leaders, concluding the ending cycle of the “long hot summers”. The article, entitled, “Views from the Governor’s Office”, the writer states, “… our urban areas are still tense with prejudice and violence, and even our American cities are still with us telling us how bad our Nation is how horrible the American dream has become”(“views from the…”,1968). Noticeably, the article does not describe this violence or detail the unfolding of events that caused the admitted ‘prejudice and violence’. The country has been crippled in turmoil with rioting, violence, and social turmoil. Going as far as to compare this violence with that of “losing lives in Vietnam”, the author gives no reasoning behind these activities, (“views from the…”,1968).
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. too was rarely mentioned in the Wellsboro local newspaper. However, he received more notoriety then that of Malcolm X. Aside from the release of his book and announcement as speaker at a local leadership conference, Dr. King was mentioned twice during the civil rights era. His name was present in the paper only after his assassination in July of 1968. Like Malcolm X, his list of accomplishments to the movement was not presented. The paper did not mention is life, legacy, nor did they announce his death. However, King was mentioned by a Senator. The Senator boasted that he attended Dr. King’s funeral. He also mentioned his service to former President Lyndon Johnson’s enactment of the Worker Protection Fair Housing Act. The article, written by then Senator Hugh Scott, exclaimed that “this even inspired a deep sense of pride within all of us who in the past months worked hard to enact this equitable and workable civil rights bill”(Scott, 1968). Scott considered the bill to be reasonable and fair with concern to Dr. King and his legacy. He admits that, “if we fail, we leave the field open to destructible forces of prejudice, hatred, and violence. We must and we will deny to violence its victory” (Scott, 1968).
With concern with Wellsboro, Pennsylvania and both its newspapers, the Wellsboro Gazette and the Wellsboro Agitator, both did little to show the effect that racism and the civil rights movement had on America. The newspapers did not discuss the violence of White Americans on Black Americans in Alabama. It did not mention the riots and violence that broke out in California. Be it as it may, both newspapers did take on an opinion on the civil rights movement. All authors asked for peace among all races and for equality and liberty for all citizens no matter what creed, color, or kind. However, more could have been done to address this issue of rights and justice for all. Yet, during this time and era, it may have been the quietest and the most appropriate approach to take on such a large and controversial issue.
Babson. (1963, December 26). The babson report…a forecast for 1964. The Wellsboro Gazette. Retrieved from http://greenfreelibrary.newspaperarchive.com/PdfViewer.aspx?img=12122651&firstvisit=true&src=search¤tResult=1¤tPage=0
Candesent, N. (1963, October 31). MSC faculty wives hear panel of experts on “civil rights 1963”. The Wellsboro Gazette. Retrieved from http://greenfreelibrary.newspaperarchive.com/PdfViewer.aspx?img=18603981&firstvisit=true&src=search¤tResult=2¤tPage=0
Hoecker, R. (2002). The black and white behind the blue and white: a history of black protest at penn state. (Master’s thesis, Penn State University), Available from psu.edu. (black caucus)Retrieved from http://www.clubs.psu.edu/up/blackcaucusweb/theblackandwhitebehindtheblueandwhite-robinHOECKER.pdf
Scott, H. (1968, May 9). Scott bills aid police, elderly. The Wellsboro Gazette. Retrieved from http://greenfreelibrary.newspaperarchive.com/PdfViewer.aspx?img=12150517&firstvisit=true&src=search¤tResult=3¤tPage=0
Scott, H. (1968, July 11). Congress grapples with guns, marches. The Wellsboro Gazette.Retrieved from http://greenfreelibrary.newspaperarchive.com/PdfViewer.aspx?img=12152335&firstvisit=true&src=search¤tResult=8¤tPage=20
Views from the governors office. (1968, August 1). Wellsboro Gazette. Retrieved from http://greenfreelibrary.newspaperarchive.com/PdfViewer.aspx?img=12152861&firstvisit=true&src=search¤tResult=0¤tPage=0