Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

January 19, 1957

On January 19, 1957, the Baltimore Afro-American’s headline read “Urge Ike to Tour Dixie Terror Spots” (click to view PDF), and the newspaper reported on efforts to end bus segregation in Chattanooga, Columbia, Nashville, Atlanta, New Orleans, Memphis, Miami, Tallahassee, and other southern cities. The recently founded Southern Negro Leaders Conference on Transportation and Non-Violent Integration—led by Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. C. K. Steele, and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth—urged Vice President Nixon to visit the South and express the same kind of solidarity he had for Hungarian refugees during a recent visit to Austria. “If you were to make the trip to explore the facts, and to talk with victims of racial oppression you could recommend to the President and the American people a course of action that might be as effective as your efforts on behalf of Hungarian refugees,” the ministers wrote. An Afro-American editorial (click to view PDF) picked up this theme, asking “Is it more urgent for a citizen of Hungary to attain freedom or for an American citizen to be allowed the identical privilege?”

Several pages later, an article (click to view PDF) addressed a different front in the battle against segregation. The paper speculated that Edge of the City, a film staring Sidney Poitier, John Cassavetes, and Ruby Dee, would not be shown in the South because it featured a black-white friendship between Poitier and Cassavetes.

“It was apparently decided by various Hollywood producers that a gradual succession of films about Negro-white relationships would have a beneficial effect upon box-office returns and audiences as well,” Albert Johnson wrote in Film Quarterly two years later, describing Edge of the City as the “most satisfactory” and “least pretentious” of these new films. Johnson continued: “The performance by Sidney Poitier (the Negro actor whose career has most benefited by the renaissance of the color theme) was completely authentic, but true to the film code, any hint of successful integration must be concluded by death, usually in some particularly gory fashion, and so, Poitier gets it in the back with a docker’s bale-hook. The most constructive contribution of Edge of the City to film history is one sequence in which Poitier talks philosophically to his white friend, using language that rings so truthfully and refreshingly in the ears that one suddenly realizes the tremendous damage that has been nurtured through the years because of Hollywood’s perpetration of the dialect-myth. The film was praised for its honesty, but its conclusion was disturbing; audiences wanted to know why the Negro had to be killed in order for the hero to achieve self-respect.”55

To read more on civil rights during the Cold War, see Mary Dudziak’s Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy and Thomas Borstelmann’s The Cold War and the Color Line: American Race Relations in the Global Arena.

To read more on representations of interracial relationships in film, see Susan Courtney’s Hollywood Fantasies of Miscegenation: Spectacular Narratives of Gender and Race.

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