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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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PAUL closes in Western Market
By Ella Mitchell, Staff Writer • April 22, 2024

Press missed the mark 50 years ago in March on Washington coverage, black leaders say on Kalb Report

White journalists fell short in their coverage of the civil rights movement, black leaders and journalists said Tuesday at the National Press Club on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

The taping of “The Kalb Report,” a public television show that GW helps produce, included Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., former NAACP chairman Julian Bond, PBS NewsHour anchor Gwen Ifill and journalist Dorothy Gilliam.

Ifill, who is also a political analyst, said black members of the press dedicated more column inches to the growing civil rights movement than white journalists. “The white press missed the story,” she said.

And Gilliam, the first black reporter to work at The Washington Post, said black journalists filled the vacuum.

“Many black journalists and black newspapers paid a huge price to tell the story of the segregated South, before the South had been discovered by the other newspapers,” Gilliam said.

Instead, many members of the press focused on the violence predicted for the March.

Bond said he remembered that D.C. hospitals shut down scheduled surgeries to free up beds for riot-related emergencies. Police officers worked 18-hour shifts, and the city deployed cranes to remove broken-down buses. Hundreds of inmates left D.C. jails to make room for rioters, and the government also banned liquor sales.

“If you look at the preparations for the March, you will see the racist notions of what black people will do when they’re together,” Bond said.

The taping was part of a host of events commemorating the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech around the District this week.  The remembrances will culminate in a speech by President Barack Obama on Wednesday at the Lincoln Memorial.

The tributes come a half-century after the March on Washington, which helped spark civil rights progress in the decade. The movement gained traction once the press started paying attention, the panelists said.

“The civil rights movement without media is a bird without wings,” said Lewis, who was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at the time of the 1963 March on Washington.

Ifill tried to sum up the impact of the March and its coverage, saying the images “changed hearts and minds” across the nation. “The genius of the civil rights movement was knowing how to get our attention,” she said.

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