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
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
The period from 1952 through 1973 are considered
by many historians as the most prominent time frame of the Civil
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
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
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.