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Editor Emory O. Jackson, the Birmingham World, and the Fight for Civil Rights in Alabama, 1940-1975

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Kimberley Mangun

This cultural biography tells the story of Birmingham World editor Emory O. Jackson. During his 35-year career in Alabama, he waged numerous sustained civil-rights campaigns for the franchise, equal educational opportunities, and justice for the victims of police brutality and bombings. The semiweekly newspaper was central to his advocacy. Jackson wrote editorials and columns that documented injustices and urged legislative and legal action in an effort to secure civil rights for Black Alabamians. His body of work, grounded in protest and passion, was part of the long tradition of the Black Press as an instrument to agitate for social and political change. Jackson also was a frequent speaker at NAACP branches, colleges, and churches. He was known as a commanding, even fiery, speaker who stressed first-class citizenship. Issues explored in the book demonstrate an assertion of constitutional rights in post-World War II America and a remarkable resilience. Editor Emory O. Jackson, the Birmingham World, and the Fight for Civil Rights in Alabama, 1940-1975 is the first scholarly analysis of his work and as such contributes to scholarship on the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama and the nation.

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Chapter 1. Magic City, Tragic City

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MAGIC CITY, TRAGIC CITY

Between 1926 and 1952, thousands of railroad travelers at Terminal Station were greeted by the slogan birmingham: the magic city in illuminated letters spanning a metal structure. It became “a sort of suspended ‘welcome’ mat” for visitors, noted one reporter, and “a cherished landmark” for residents. But by 1952, it was little more than a dilapidated eyesore with rotten framework and faulty wiring. Commissioner Jimmie Morgan felt the money needed for repairs would be better spent on signage at Birmingham Municipal Airport and along arterial roads leading into the city. After all, he reasoned, more folks were traveling by plane and car. The magic city sign was torn down in June 1952. In 1969, wrecking balls destroyed Terminal Station.1

If Emory Overton Jackson lamented the loss of the landmark sign, he didn’t comment publicly in the Birmingham World. Regular readers of the Black newspaper knew that its editor always thought of Birmingham as a magic city, even when atrocities there broke his heart. After writing an editorial about the seventh bombing to occur in Birmingham between 1947 and 1950, Jackson said, “Let us solve these bombings and win back the city’s decent, magic, glowing name.”2

The moniker had been associated with the town in north-central Alabama almost since its establishment on December 19, 1871. A group of speculators ← 1 | 2 → had earlier formed a land company and elected James R. Powell as its...

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