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The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation

4.16  ·  Rating Details ·  982 Ratings  ·  93 Reviews
This is the story of how America awakened to its race problem, of how a nation that longed for unity after World War II came instead to see, hear, and learn about the shocking indignities and injustices of racial segregation in the South—and the brutality used to enforce it.

It is the story of how the nation’s press, after decades of ignoring the problem, came to recognize
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Hardcover, 528 pages
Published October 31st 2006 by Knopf
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Dawn
Feb 27, 2012 Dawn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The final quote of the book sums it up well: "If it hadn't been for the media - the print media and television - the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings, a choir without a song." The book is amazing - many viewpoints are explored, as well as key events, the roles of the president, Supreme Court, the states, governors, law enforcement, marshals, FBI, preachers, editors, reporters, photographers, students, Martin Luther King, the Ku Klux Klan - it's all here. The nonvio ...more
Mikey B.
Apr 07, 2013 Mikey B. rated it it was amazing
This is another significant work on the Civil Rights era. Its’ overriding theme is how the media (newsprint and T.V.) played an essential role in presenting to the general public the sordid racist state that existed in the Southern U.S. and by exposing this helped to bring progress to ameliorate the conditions. Without the media it is doubtful that the racial climate in the Southern U.S. would have improved – it certainly would have taken more time. John Lewis said that without the presence of t ...more
Annie
Dec 15, 2014 Annie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a must-read book. It's entertaining, insightful, and still relevant in 2014. I started reading this book before any of the Ferguson protests started, then took a break. The book is not a light read. I found myself going back to the book in the midst of the protests and found many parallels between pre-1968 America and 2014. The coverage of race issues in 2014 is drastically improved, but many of the problems are the same.
Craig Werner
Feb 06, 2016 Craig Werner rated it it was amazing
It's not often I read something about the African American freedom movement that adds something important to my sense of the big picture, but The Race Beat did. Roberts writes with a keen sense of the story that illuminates the larger tensions that emerge when you focus on the way that the movement was presented to its various publics: some in the places the events were taking place, but many dispersed across the US and the world. At times, the story is a heroic one of journalists (and especiall ...more
Patrick Sprunger
Mar 16, 2010 Patrick Sprunger rated it it was amazing
The subtitle of The Race Beat reads: "The press, the civil rights struggle, and the awakening of a nation."

The genius of Jim Crow (and key to its longevity) was its ability to operate undetected. Many of the defenders of the fortress segregation of the South lent support without ever knowing the true shape of the institution. Most Southerners were like people with their noses pushed up to the edge of an iceberg. From their vantage point, they had no way of knowing the hulk's true size and shape.
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Alice
Nov 06, 2007 Alice rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2007
The Race Beat tells the story of the press, its coverage of the civil rights movement, and its importance in effecting change by bringing to the nation's attention the wrongs of segregation. The argument was compelling, exciting, not too I'm-banging-you-over-the-head, and ... it made an important point about the importance of the press.

The writing was easy to read, elegant, but nothing extraordinary. It was the content that hooked me. The stories within the larger story were fascinating.

Just a
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David
Apr 10, 2011 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-history
If you have to read this for a class or otherwise study this book, don't try to beat the system by listening to the audiobook instead, because bewilderingly long lists of people and newspapers go whizzing by fairly frequently. They're hard to keep track of.

But for personal edification while driving, cooking, or exercising, this audiobook is first-rate. However, vivid descriptions of beatings and other assorted violent mayhem are wince-inducing, which might draw odd looks from the person on the
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Martha
Feb 08, 2015 Martha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-stuff
Staggeringly good (I know, they don't give out Pulitzers for nothing). Tells many now-familiar stories of the civil rights movement, but from a totally new perspective, weaving them together with stories of the men who covered them -- their backgrounds, their personalities, their struggles with the movement and what it meant to them and to the nation as a whole. And, mixed in with all that is consistently pointed media analysis, from illumination of the changing role of the African-American pres ...more
Katie Wood
Jun 10, 2013 Katie Wood rated it it was amazing
What I liked so much about this book is not only its unique perspective, but also that it tells the story of the civil right movement as a page turner. Even though we know how history turned out, at each chapter's end I was ready to read the next to see what happened. I teach Mass Communications Law and I use this book to put the New York Times v. Sullivan decision in historical context for the students.
Megan Cassella
Dec 05, 2014 Megan Cassella rated it really liked it
A vivid story of an important time, and I loved getting this alternate perspective on a period in history that's so often told only through the eyes of the protestors on the front line or flagrant racists who protested them. Journalists are trained to be neutral, trained to be good observers, so the individual stories that comprise the larger book are well-told, interesting and easy to read. More interestingly, this was a time when the reporter's role was not just important for awareness but als ...more
Darren
May 06, 2016 Darren rated it it was amazing
This is a history of the relationship between the groups, players and activists within the the Civil Rights struggle and the media that covered them. It is a fascinating critique and history of that relationship and the way both sides used the other, and I was interested in how the media was at times a de facto protector of volunteers, marchers, and activists keeping them in view lest they should disappear. At the same time the media created a stage that required agitation and even encouraged vi ...more
Robert
Dec 26, 2014 Robert rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Journalists by their nature are suppose to be neutral, impartial observers of events that are taking place. The Civil Rights Movement always left me wondering, can someone be neutral and impartial about the violation of basic human rights? It's an extremely tough subject, and it left many journalists thinking as we entered the 1950s. The Race Beat explores the newspapers that would cover African Americans and the individuals who eventually would cover the major stories themselves. From Brown to ...more
Wes Baker
Aug 31, 2014 Wes Baker rated it really liked it
Shelves: journalism

As the title suggests, this provides a history of the civil rights movement through the lens of the news coverage of it--primarily newspaper and, to a lesser degree, television and the wire services.


I read it mainly for the information on the media and especially because one of my J-school profs was Bill Emerson, who was the Atlanta bureau chief for Newsweek during the early days of the coverage. He does get a handful of mentions, though his favorite "war story" doesn't show up. As the book mak

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Jesse
May 11, 2008 Jesse rated it it was amazing
An impressive achievement. Covering how the media covered the civil rights movement actually has a whole lot to tell us, not least in revealing how concerted the invisibility was at the most basic level: there were no national media with bureaus in the South until 1947, when the NYT stationed someone there, and not a second one until the LA Times in 1965. So for years the whole movement was left to the vagaries of whatever liberal-minded editors might wish to actually talk about what was going o ...more
Lauren
Jul 08, 2010 Lauren rated it it was amazing
Two things that always make me inclined to like a book even more than I normally would: (1) When it lives up to a friend’s recommendation, and (2) When it lives up to the awards it has received. This book is a well-deserved winner of the Pulitzer Prize, but it is by no means an easy read, and I never would have found it if not for a friend’s recommendation. I began this book in December 2009 and had to return it to the library when I was about a quarter of the way through it. I finally got aroun ...more
Matt
It begins talking about the work of a Sweedish researcher in the '40s who wrote that the condition of black Americans in the South in the Jim Crow era would never improve without massive publicity. People outside the South, while morally sympathetic, would never rally around and demand social change unless the immoral, uncivil, and illegal conditions blacks suffered were portrayed graphically, bluntly, and provocatively. And that's how the author portrays how the press corps - starting with news ...more
Stephanie Patterson
Sep 01, 2010 Stephanie Patterson rated it really liked it
In The Race Beat, the authors give us a history of how the press covered The Civil Rights Movement of the late 1950s and 1960s. Television had a tremendous impact making it possible for just about everyone to see what was actually happening in Little Rock, Birmingham and Selma.

The book starts with the publication of Gunnar Myrdal's "An American Dilemma." Myrdal saw the importance of the press in making any change in race relations possible Before anyone outside the American South could protest s
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Mike
Apr 29, 2013 Mike rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This book can be slow moving and very detailed but before you know it you're in the middle of the integration of Central High in Little Rock, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Bull Connor and his dogs in Birmingham, the Freedom Riders, the Emmett Till murder trial, the March on Washington and much more. I grew to enjoy the slow pacing because it showed how most often very common people were put in extraordinary situations and how many of these seminal moments weren't pre-ordained or perfectly planned. ...more
Diana
Aug 03, 2012 Diana rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in civil rights history
Recommended to Diana by: book club selection
This book is a account of how the white southern press, the black national press, and the national news media covered civil rights action in the South. The Emmit Till murder and trial, school integration, freedom riders, Selma, Birmingham, MLK, Medgar Evers, James Meredith are some of the people and events covered in the time period of the book. The book is a well researched account of the journalists' role in covering and getting out information about what was happening across the South. It is ...more
Ashley
May 19, 2009 Ashley rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: students, Southerners, reporters, media professionals
Shelves: what-i-study, history
The first 100 pages or so of this book are s-l-o-w. In part because the Southern press in the 1940s-1960s was a very large group with several key players (an era before media consolidation) the authors have to spend a lot of time setting up the people who will make the next 300 pages fascinating reading. If you can slog through all the names and "who ate lunch with whom and when" stuff you'll be in for a fascinating explanation of how the press augmented the Civil Right's Movement and how Dr. Ki ...more
Michael
This book has two important utilities. The first and more shocking is a as a new look at the brutal violence and racism of the deep South in the United States in the mid-century. Though much of this might be just a rehash for some readers with a firm knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement, many of the anecdotes and events were new to me. The details of the Emmett Till trial were never clear to me before this. The authors render the court room so clearly, through first hand accounts from activist ...more
Kate
Jul 14, 2009 Kate rated it really liked it
Recommended to Kate by: Paul bought this for me at the Newseum-- thanks!
This book was very thorough and exhaustive in tackling its subject.

It examined the role of the larger black newspapers, such as the Chicago Defender, Baltimore Afro-American, and the Pittsburgh Courier, and the black press in general, as well as a focusing on a number of more moderate to liberal mainstream newspapers in Little Rock, Atlanta, and elsewhere. (It also highlighted the most pro-segregation papers, like the Richmond News-Leader and both Jackson, Mississippi, papers.) It also very brie
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Skip
Jun 20, 2007 Skip rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: All Southerns and especially journalists
This book could be thought of as one of the definitive accounts of the Civil Rights movement in the South.
It exposes the insolence, cruelty and insular nature of this part of the country up until the mid-60s. Some would argue little has changed. Maybe so. But my faith in humanity says much has changed, and part of what moved this region from lynchings to some sense of Lincoln, was opening the place up and telling the stories. And it was reporters – black and white – who did it, and often at gre
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Jonah
Feb 16, 2009 Jonah rated it really liked it
This was an incredible book. It won the Pulitzer Prize for History Book a few years back and it's especially timely as I was reading it pre-Obama and post Obama's election. It's a history of the Civil Rights movement in the South. Not only was it a more detailed review of all the riots and demonstrations that I had learned, it places the history in an interesting context by telling the stories of the reporters sent to cover the struggle and the difficulties these reporters (mostly White) had in ...more
Mary
Sep 03, 2012 Mary rated it it was amazing
Shelves: faves
A history of the Civil Rights movements through the eyes of the press. In the early days of the movement, mainstream (northern and sympathetic, and southern, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes rabidly hateful) and the Black press had access to the stories, because the southern states hadn't begun to keep Black reporters out. By the time of, say, school integration in Little Rock, however, the Black press had no direct access to the events, because police kept them out. Learn your Civil Rights hist ...more
Sam
Aug 06, 2014 Sam rated it it was amazing
Comprehensive coverage doesn't begin to do justice to this stirring exploration of the civil rights movement and the men who pursued its story and bore witness to its triumphs and tragedies. While many bylines and headlines rang familiar notes from other histories, The Race Beat brings scenes from Ole Miss, Montgomery, and Memphis into ringing clarity.

Beyond this front-line artistry, Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff delve into the newsrooms and editor's suites where decisions on what and how to p
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Pate McMichael
Jan 01, 2015 Pate McMichael rated it it was amazing
Tip of the iceberg. Book gracefully shows how media played the key role in the movement for racial change. Very important and much needed. However, Race Beat does validate some very questionable reporting that will not survive scrutiny. For example, my book, Klandestine, goes into the darker side of checkbook journalist William Bradford Huie. A must read!
Phayvanh
Oct 01, 2007 Phayvanh rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: journalists and anyone else interested in the struggle
Shelves: reviews, 2007, reportage
This is such a wonderful and engaging account of the press that helped me to understand the dynamics of media, policy, and public opinion in a way I hadn't thought of it before. It's a chronological account of press coverage, taking into account the movers and shakers in the media world and Southern politics. Gives a lot of attention to the smaller African-American papers.

I encountered this books while working at the bookstore. A local newspaper editor special ordered a copy and I was reading wh
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Emily
Aug 29, 2015 Emily rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, summer-2015
This was BY FAR the best book I read this summer. John Lewis sums it up: the Civil Rights Movement succeeded "because we had a group of men and women who were prepare to get up there to write the words or shoot the pictures, capture the sound."
Stew
Apr 23, 2009 Stew rated it it was amazing
I had always wanted to read a history book about the Civil Rights era. As a journalist, this angle on the story appealed to me. This is a thoroughly researched book that gives both sides of the story. From the dedicated black and white journalists who came from the north, to the southern segregationist editors and reporters who ended up "on the wrong side of history."
While told in a straightforward "history book" style, there are nevertheless harrowing scenes that make you keep turning the pages
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