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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 5. Free by ’63

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· 5 ·

FREE BY ’63

President John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation on December 28, 1962, in observance of the upcoming centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1. The original document, he said, along with the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution, had “made possible great progress toward the enjoyment” of equal rights of formerly enslaved people. But 100 years on, Kennedy acknowledged that the goal of equality had not been reached. “The securing of these rights is one of the great unfinished tasks of our democracy,” he said. The president called for a yearlong commemoration of the document issued by Abraham Lincoln and the principles it contained, and asked local and state officials, public and private organizations, and individuals to observe the centennial.1

Editor Jackson was promoting one of the Emancipation Proclamation celebrations that Kennedy had just endorsed. A number of churches in Birmingham annually observed the signing of the document, but the main event was always held at 16th Street Baptist Church under the auspices of the Emancipation Association of Birmingham. Festivities for 1963—the year by which attorney Thurgood Marshall predicted Blacks would be free—included “freedom song music” by a 100-member high school choir and a reading of the proclamation by an honor-roll student. Ministers from local churches recited scripture and gave the invocation and benediction.2 The guest speaker was ← 139 | 140 → Raymond Harvey, pastor of Greenwood Missionary Baptist Church in Tuskegee, Alabama, who...

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