* In 1963, when Martin Luther King led 2000 Negro demonstrators through the streets of Birmingham, the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson Mississippi noted editorially: "Now it's started in Birmingham, with the same familiar pattern. Cynical young men have once again dressed up like old women and managed to get before the fire hoses and police dogs..."
* William Higgs, counsel of the Freedom Democratic Party of Mississippi, tells the story of a group of young Vicksburg Negroes who one day marched through that town, carrying a banner emblazoned with "Thank you Commies." When confronted by a delegation of astounded city fathers, the leader of the march explained respectfully that "I don't know what Commies are but the papers give them all the credit for this civil rights business, and that's good enough for me."
* The weekly Independent of Birmingham several weeks ago published detailed "proof" that Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy were not only Communists, but also sex perverts and tax evaders.
* The lead paragraph of a recent story in the Atlanta Times read: "Did Dr. Martin Luther King's organization recruit civil rights mercenaries for the Selma-to-Montgomery march with offers of up to $14 a day, plus food and sex?
These cases are not atypical. Although the Southern press is no longer monolithic, the vast majority of Southern newspapers are owned by old white families whose histories and interests are woven tightly into the social and political fabric of segregation. The exceptions are few, though striking. Through years of tireless prodding, Ralph McGill has converted the Atlanta Constitution into a respected voice of accuracy and reason. Likewise, Hodding Carter and his sons have made the Greenville Delta-Democrat-Times the only reliable daily in Mississippi. But, outside Atlanta and Greenville, the picture is very bleak. The Northern newspapers rarely penetrate below Raleigh, and many Southern editors cut crucial paragraphs from wire service reports of civil rights activities. When it comes to local coverage and editorials, distortion is even more blatant.
It would be naive to believe that the South's problems would be solved if only the press were objective. But, to a degree, truth and understanding are linked. The Constitution has contributed to Atlanta's progress in race relations. Greenville is a safer, more open and liberal town because of Hodding Carter. A full and accurate account of the movement, its goals and tactics, might not endear Dr. King to the average white southerner, but such an account would begin to erode some of the more outlandish and dangerous tenets of racism; for instance, that the movement is riddled with communism, atheism and pansexuality.
Fair reporting would also advance the movement in the Negro community. Up to now, the civil rights revolution has been only a series of spectacular but localized flare-ups. Each local protest draws the best leaders from other areas. For instance, the Selma March and its preliminaries virtually drained Mississippi of its seasoned civil rights workers. Consequently, the Mississippi Negro community lost contact with the ideas, plans, and spirit of the revolution. However, had the Mississippi press reported the Selma situation fairly and fully this would not have been the case. An objective, Southern newspaper would go far toward knitting the various Negro communities of the South together.
A group of Harvard undergraduates, many of them CRIMSON editors, will attempt to create such a newspaper this summmer. Based in Atlanta, this paper, the Southern Courier will publish daily each day for a different Southern state. Four-man teams of reporters will be at work in each state, covering the week's civil rights news as accurately and comprehensively as possible.
The staff will of course work with only subsistence remuneration, and the whole enterprise will be non-profit. However, in view of its controversial subject matter, the paper will probably not receive tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service. This means that the large foundations will not be able to contribute. The Courier must thus raise the necessary $68,500 entirely from private sources. Yesterday the staff completed a mass mailing to possible donors. The CRIMSON urges its readers, whether or not they have been formally contacted, to support this ambitious and important project.