How Martin Luther King Jr Changed Media Coverage

Prior to the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, the media paid very little attention to the abuse lodged against blacks in the South. It wasn’t until a young minister named Martin Luther King Jr, as President of the Montgomery Improvement Association, coordinated a 13-month long boycott against the bus company.  That boycott and his repeated arrests brought the Rosa Parks story to light in both the local AND national media.

Keep in mind that blacks on television at that time was an extreme rarity.  Even the blacks portrayed on TV were white actors dressed in black face.  The other fact is much of the news was about the war or the government.  Very little coverage was given to social issues of the day.

Dr. King was originally portrayed as a rebel-rowser and radical minister who only wanted to cause trouble between the races.  He, however, remained vigilant in his non-violent civil rights for all mission even when he and other marchers were attacked by the police and their dogs—even when they were repeatedly arrested and hosed down like animals.

In August 1963, Dr. King led some 200 thousand people of all races to the Nation’s Capitol for the now-famous March on Washington.  It was a spectacular media event, according to Walter Cronkite.  But a month later, the whole world got a chance to see the extreme violence targeted at the innocent for no other reason than the color of their skin when four little girls were killed in a Birmingham Church bombing. The story stayed in the headlines for weeks, with national reporters travelling to various cities in the South to examine the extent of the racism and hatred.

The media continued following Dr. King and others who had atrocities to tell.  The media also began reporting on the corruption within the various police departments and city governments.

Dr. King’s message remained consistent throughout his life, even though it wasn’t always a popular one.  Nevertheless, he and others from the civil rights movement became voices the media finally wanted to hear.

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