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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 2. Battle for the Ballot

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BATTLE FOR THE BALLOT

Life magazine visited Alabama in May 1944, a month after the US Supreme Court ruled in Smith v. Allwright that prohibiting Blacks from voting in primary elections violated the 14th and 15th Amendments. NAACP Special Counsel Thurgood Marshall called the decision “one of the landmarks in constitutional history.” Later he regarded it as more important than his victory in Brown v. Board of Education because it eliminated a significant barrier to Negro voting in the South. But Life reported that “most white Southerners have no intention of sharing their political rights with Negroes,” regardless of the court’s ruling. Photographs of Black voters in Mobile underscored that observation. In one, a sheriff barred entrance to the polls. In another, men wearing suits and hats were unable to vote after they had been admitted to a polling place. Blacks had better luck in Birmingham, where some fifteen hundred people cast ballots in the May 2 primary. Otherwise, Life observed, “very few Alabama Negroes got to vote” in that election.1

Local boards of registrars were another obstacle to the franchise. Jackson wrote a letter in June 1944 to J. B. Vines, chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Registrars. “We are distressed and shockingly unhappy over firsthand reports reaching [the Birmingham Branch of the NAACP] of apparent systematic, intolerable, and unnecessary racial discrimination in refusing to register ← 31 | 32 → some Negro applicants during the current” voter-registration period. Jackson added,...

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