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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 3. An Act of Civil Disobedience

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AN ACT OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE

Newsman Jackson was eager to begin promoting the Birmingham Branch’s upcoming installation of new officers on January 23, 1955. The afternoon event at Tabernacle Baptist Church was still being planned, but Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. had been confirmed as the featured speaker. Jackson typed a note to the minister in Montgomery and asked him for a glossy photo and a biographical sketch for the advance story in the Birmingham World. King had only just celebrated his 26th birthday; he hadn’t yet completed the first year of his pastorate at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. But Jackson predicted that King, whom he already was calling a powerful speaker, would deliver a message well worth hearing. Even so, Jackson was concerned about the turnout and urged readers to attend. The guest will give “a good message,” he wrote. “You should hear it.”1

King spoke about race relations and first-class citizenship. He told his listeners to join the NAACP and contribute money toward the freedom fight, use the legal system to secure equal rights, and register to vote. He said he had formed a political-action committee at Dexter whose job was to help congregants enroll in the NAACP and become qualified voters. “You must do more than pray and read the Bible” to eliminate second-class citizenship, King said. In addition, he urged people to push for school desegregation in the wake of the May 1954 Supreme Court...

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