As early as 1965, NBC correspondent Bill Monroe qualified television as the "chosen instrument" of the Civil Rights Movement. More than 50 years later, news footage documenting the era has remained in near constant circulation on the nation's screens. Whether in high-profile PBS documentaries, journalist roundtables, or devoted YouTube channels, evocative black-and-white archival film serves as a mediated memory of Selma, the "Stand in the Schoolhouse Door," and the March on Washington.
In her book Equal Time: Television and the Civil Rights Movement, Aniko Bodroghkozy identifies recurring tropes within civil rights television reporting: the well-meaning white moderate, the aberrant white segregationist, and the deserving black subject. She concludes that such representational strategies validate the movement's goals as well as mollify white audiences about the "worthiness of Southern blacks" in their crusade for equality.
Bodroghkozy focuses on national network programming, but the following collection of local television news echoes and reflects much of her argument. Its chronicle of civil rights happenings publicizes demonstrations, minority initiatives, and community relations programs across Houston.
Broadcast journalists often credited television news for its auxiliary role during the Civil Rights Movement. African Americans “are the architects, bricklayers, carpenters, and welders of this revolution,” NBC’s Bill Monroe explained in 1965. “Television is their chosen instrument.” While daily reports of the ongoing struggle for racial justice certainly influenced public opinion, television coverage of the movement and its players was demonstrably more complex than Monroe’s quote indicated. In her book Equal Time: Television and the Civil Rights Movement, Aniko Bodroghkozy identifies recurring media frames used by television reporters in their coverage: the well-meaning white moderate, the aberrant white segregationist, and the deserving black subject. Such representational strategies can assist civil rights efforts, but they also carry considerable ideological implications. Bodroghkozy concludes that these media frames ultimately serve to mollify white audiences about their own virtuosity and the “worthiness of Southern blacks” in their crusade for equality.
The following video collection illustrates how this representational structure manifested in local television news from Houston. In its chronicle of civil rights happenings, some reporting publicizes demonstrations and minority initiatives. Other coverage arguably privileges the voices of white moderates, particularly in circumstances of integration and community relations.