In a Texas Town

On Jan. 31, 1963, a headline in The Baytown Sun read, “ First Negro Enters Lee College Today.” There was not much fanfare, no photos of angry protesters, only a head shot photograph of a solemn Alton V. Williams.
According to the printed article, if Williams had his way, he wouldn’t be enrolled at the college if Houston's Rice University was integrated.

The big picture
For an outsider looking in and taking a glance at editions of the newspaper from January through early March in 1963, there is no resemblance to some Southern newspapers or the New York Times. Larger, big-city dailies devoted much attention (be it positive or negative) to national Civil Rights issues, protests and events, yet The Baytown Sun, in this case, put its local Civil Rights issue "below the fold."
One main issue to point out is that the integration of Lee College occurred before the integration of public elementary, middle and high schools in Baytown. In fact, until 1970, an all-black elementary school still existed and was utilized by the school district. The fact alone that Williams attendance at Lee College was the first attempt at integration in the town warranted much more attention than it was given.

Where's the coverage?
There were no other stories about blacks or or photographs of blacks. There are no birthday photographs, no wedding announcements, no coverage of predominately black areas – just a few briefs concerning James Meredith and a few other Civil Rights Movement events. The aforementioned coverage was often interspersed inside the newspaper, hidden in small pockets overshadowed by large advertisements.

The Kerner Commission
The period from 1952 through 1973 are considered by many historians as the most prominent time frame of the Civil Rights Movement. The era changed a nation; yet, the media had the opportunity to play or not play a pivotal role in shaping public opinion.
Many documentaries, books and historical interpretations have been made about the Civil Rights Movement, but there is little research concerning the media’s role during the movement.
Finding an analysis of the media’s coverage of the Gulf War or Trent Lott’s comment concerning Strom Thurmond is easy to find, but trying to find the same type of analysis of media coverage of the Civil Rights Movement is elusive. There are some references to media’s coverage of major events in large towns in the Deep South, but what about in the not-so-deep South, or the not-so-large town?
It is not enough in trying to interpret the reasoning behind newspaper personnel in their decisions to print stories. It is necessary to talk to the reporters, editors and publishers from the era – to find out how it is that they made the decisions that they did.


The Baytown Sun

"First Negro Enters Lee College Today"
was on the front page of The Baytown Sun
on Jan. 31, 1963.

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Copyright 2003 Nyree Doucette