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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 6. Violence Has Sullied Birmingham’s Magic Name

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VIOLENCE HAS SULLIED BIRMINGHAM’S MAGIC NAME

The sign outside Terminal Station welcoming people to birmingham: the magic city was still illuminated in January 1949, but it had lost its luster. Jackson wondered whether the city was even a part of the United States, given its descent into lawlessness in 1948. “Fourteen Negro citizens were snuffed out by bullets from the guns of law enforcement officers” last year, he wrote in his first editorial of 1949. The coroner typically ruled the incidents “justifiable homicide.” Victims often were shot in the back; Jackson called them “target practice.”1 Violence in Birmingham during the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s also included 34 bombings—plus seven frightening near misses—of Black-owned homes, businesses, and churches.2 He said the acts of terrorism typically occurred in patterns. For example, court rulings outlawing racial zoning—mandated residential segregation—were followed by bombings that signaled outright defiance of law and order.3 Jackson decried the violence in editorials and columns and called for city officeholders to halt the crimes and arrest offenders. He also contacted elected officials and the Department of Justice to urge them to protect Black Birminghamians from the wanton hostility.

“The Birmingham zoning law seems to be working a housing injustice upon Negro citizens,” Jackson wrote in November 1945. Even though the US ← 177 | 178 → Supreme Court had ruled several times since 1917 that residential segregation was unconstitutional, Blacks were either “penned into undesirable sections” of Birmingham...

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