Title page for ETD etd-0611103-164757

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Flournoy, John Craig
Author's Email Address cflourno@mail.smu.edu
URN etd-0611103-164757
Title Reporting the Movement in Black and White: The Emmett Till Lynching and the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Mass Communication
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Ralph Izard Committee Chair
Laura Lindsay Committee Member
Renita Coleman Committee Member
Wayne Parent Committee Member
  • civil rights movement
  • media coverage
Date of Defense 2003-05-16
Availability unrestricted
This dissertation examines media coverage of two events in the Civil Rights Movement-the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 and the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955-56. The study focuses on three publications aimed primarily at white audiences (Life, Look and the New York Times) and two aimed primarily at black audiences (the Birmingham World and Jet).

The dissertation seeks to answer several questions. How did mainstream news organizations cover black Americans in the decades prior to the 1950s? In reporting on the Till murder case and the Montgomery bus boycott, did coverage by mainstream news organizations change? If so, in what ways? And, most important, which news organizations did the best job covering the Till murder case and the Montgomery bus boycott? The researcher defined best as those publications that quoted a diversity of sources, provided historical context and identified the central problem while following accepted journalistic routines such as attribution and balance.

The researcher examined every story and photograph published by the five news organizations about the Till lynching and the Montgomery bus boycott. The researcher used textual analysis as the primary methodology. The study also incorporated two mass communication theories-framing and cultural studies.

The dissertation found that the black-oriented publications produced the most accomplished journalistic coverage by providing a greater range of sources, broader context, more depth and a clear statement of the central problem. The study showed that during the first half of the twentieth century, mainstream news organizations largely ignored blacks or presented them as criminals. But this changed during the Till murder case and the bus boycott. The dissertation found that in reporting on these events, Life, Look and the New York Times adopted new frames-first presenting blacks as the innocent victims of deadly racial hatred and later as nonviolent protestors.

These findings challenge the widely held opinion that the New York Times provides the best journalistic source of information on key historical events. This study also challenges the widespread view that the black press is a "fighting" press that uses its news columns to advance a political agenda.

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