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


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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Debilitating. Demeaning. Dehumanizing.

That, said Jackson, was how it felt to be deprived of the right to vote. Disenfranchisement was like a cage that confined people and rendered impossible their escape from the oppression of Jim Crow and second-class citizenship.1

And so the franchise was central to Jackson’s advocacy. In both the Birmingham World and public talks, he regularly urged individuals to become registered voters, pay the required annual tax until it was finally outlawed in 1966, and go to the polls. “You can’t make yourself heard unless you vote,” he often wrote. People who refused to try to register were “in worse shape” than those who had been rejected, whether due to “boswelling” or other “racial denials of the ballot.” Jackson also criticized apathetic voters. “Your one vote may make the difference today,” he wrote on election day in May 1950. In fact, the restrictive suffrage measure dubbed Boswell Jr. was ratified the following year by just 369 votes.2

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 had an immediate impact on registration across the South. Numbers nearly tripled in Alabama alone, from 92,737 Black voters in 1964 to 248,432 in 1967, or from 19.3 to 51.6 percent of the Black voting-age population in the state. Black candidates ran successful campaigns at the state and local level, and in 1971 Richard Arrington became the ← 69 | 70 → second Black elected to the Birmingham City Council. Jackson was cautiously optimistic about this rise...

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