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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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Jackson was upset that the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church was not included in Portrait of Birmingham, the book published in conjunction with the city’s centennial on December 19, 1971. He felt other incidents and individual contributions to Birmingham’s civil-rights history were similarly overlooked and he criticized officials and the book’s backers for the omissions. Jackson told a local clubwoman, “I grow sick at heart when I see … so many worthy things done by Negro persons in and for Birmingham being both excluded and buried during the Birmingham Centennial Celebration.” He gave a powerful address about this topic to her club in March 1972. His remarks were likely delivered with pauses between sentences and paragraphs so his audience could participate in call-and-response fashion. “The devaluation of a group often begins with the denial of their history,” he said. Jackson called on scholars, historians, and organizations to gather information and “rebuild and reassess the history of Birmingham” so that it more fairly and accurately reflected “the deeds, accomplishments, and achievements” of its Black residents. “One day … one day … one day,” he said, pacing his delivery, “Birmingham’s history is going to [embrace] us and our contribution[s]” that gave this city “its magic, its myth, its image.”1

Birmingham always was the magic city to Jackson. He probably would have admired a 46-foot-tall reproduction of the magic city electric sign that is the centerpiece of a trail that transformed a blighted section of an ← 173 | 174 → abandoned...

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