Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

December 31, 1940

Guest post by Candace F. Bryson, History MA student at Arizona State University.

In 1940 integration was still years away, and the intimidation that accompanied the laws of segregation were felt throughout the United States.  The article, “NAACP Asks Justice Department to Stop ‘Terror’ in Memphis” from the December 31, 1940, issue of the Atlanta Daily World emphasizes the inequities and fear associated with these times. Without sounding naïve, it gave a glimpse into the ever-persistent struggle that African Americans battled. The First Amendment is one of the rights held most sacred today. However, in 1940, African-American journalists were threatened by local police in Memphis, Tennessee, for not printing what they deemed appropriate in regard to racial relations throughout the United States.

Tensions escalated even further when local African-American businessmen were threatened with exile from the city of Memphis at the hands of law enforcement utilizing military-like gunfire. It is not surprising that the crises with both the African-American journalists and businessmen alike are related. Based on a telegram sent by then leader of the NAACP, Walter White, the “terror” was the result of one individual. Based on the following text from White as stated in the article, the responsible party behind the mayhem was Ed “Boss” Crump: “It is suggested that this entire situation has grown out of the fact that some Memphis Negro citizens in the last election chose to support the candidate not favored by the political boss Ed Crump.” 

In today’s terms these accusations would be considered acts of terrorism. Current society has become so immune to the violence surrounding its citizens that actions such as those described above would likely get no more than a passing mention, if documented at all. Strikingly though, the very same society becomes rampant with aggression at the slightest questioning of the First Amendment. Somewhere and somehow, all injustices that people such as Walter White and other civil rights activists were laboring to eliminate became misconstrued. Perhaps if modern society was more concerned with ensuring equality rather than being politically correct, then there would be more call to action to guarantee humanity does not return to the turbulence of its past.

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