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Television gave a lot of coverage to the Civil Rights Movement. For example, the media covered events ranging from the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott to the 1964 Democratic National Convention. When 15 year Emmitt Till was murdered there was also a lot of media coverage. All of these events were occurring while the number of American families that had television sets jumped from 56% to 92%. Television gave Americans a visual of what was occurring in our country.
Here are some other events that television covered:
1955-shots of numerous boycotted buses driving down deserted Alabama streets; 1957-angry white mobs of segregationists squaring-off against black students escorted by a phalanx of Federal Troops in front of Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi; 1965-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., leads a mass of black protesters across a bridge in Selma, Alabama; 1963 attack on young civil rights protesters by the Birmingham, Alabama, police and their dogs, and the fire department's decision to turn on fire hydrants to disperse the young black demonstrators, most of whom were children.
Without the media, the civil rights movement would not have been possible in my opinion. The whole strategy of the movement was based on getting media coverage.
The movement was really trying to persuade whites outside the South to support the cause of civil rights. These whites would not have been able to hear much about the movement without the media.
In addition, they would have been less likely to support blacks even if they had heard about it. The media coverage made support more likely because it showed things like protestors getting attacked by police dogs. This made the Southern whites look bad and got a lot of support for the movement.
The media played a vital role in being able to galvanize more Americans into witnessing for themselves the atrocious violations of individual rights that were taking place in the South. The media showing the horrendous conditions, or the pain that protesters had to endure from others helped to bring more people into the movement. This galvanizing of emotion into action was facilitated by the media. Individuals in the North who might not have been moved to action were done so through the media. When Dr. King gives his "I have a dream" speech, the broadcasts of this moment helps to give voice to the movement. It was the media that would have preempted its own programming to show the atrocities happening in America. For example, interrupting its own broadcast of "Judgment at Nuremberg," ABC News showed protesters being beaten in the South.
The media influenced the civil rights movement in key ways, and it is important to understand that the leaders of the movement understood this fact very clearly. First, the media tended to anoint leaders of the movement, particularly Martin Luther King. This had the effect of portraying King's vision of the movement, which was non-violent and essentially political (the media for a time tended to efface his statements about economic equality) as if it represented a consensus.
The other influence the media had on the movement was to televise its key events to a nationwide, and even worldwide audience. The entire nation was shocked by the shocking scenes from places like Birmingham and Selma. Not only did this lead to popular support for civil rights legislation everywhere but the South, but in a Cold War context, it created a major propaganda opportunity for the Soviet Union to portray US rhetoric about freedom as hollow and meaningless.
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