Writer’s Voice: Ethel Payne: The First lady of The Black Press

The great civil rights struggles of the mid-twentieth century, with their emphasis on non-violent political action, depended crucially on press coverage to gain impact -- and, ultimately, success. But their stories may have gone untold were it not for newspapers like the Chicago Defender and other organs of the black press. Perhaps no reporter was more important than Ethel Payne. Dubbed “the First Lady of the black press,” she told the world about a young leader emerging out of the civil rights movement in Atlanta named Martin Luther King, Jr. She told the story of Emmet Till’s mother, who had to view the badly mutilated body of her 14 year old son after the brutal beating that took his life. She hammered a nail into the coffin of McCarthyism when she reported on the persecution of a lowly African-American Pentagon employee absurdly accused on being a Communist spy. The first African American woman to be part of the Washington Press Corps, she courageously buttonholed presidents with searching questions about racial prejudice and civil rights. Through Payne’s riveting personal story, he takes the reader on an inspiring journey through the civil rights movement -- and a greater understanding of issues that continue to resonate strongly today. The book is “Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press.”

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