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NABJ Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the Kerner Report

 

 

NABJ Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the Kerner Report

 

Sandra Dawson Long Weaver

NABJ Founder

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I was still in high school when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

I remember watching the ensuing riots on television but not quite understanding why they were happening. But I knew there had to be more to the stories I was seeing.

Once I got to college, I joined the staff of The Black Explosion to tell the stories of the Black students on the campus of the University of Maryland. I found out the stories in the mainstream media and the campus newspaper simply weren’t being told from any other perspective except the white reporter who had very little, if any, connection to the Black community.

I didn’t know about the Kerner Commission report at that time but learned of it when I landed my first newspaper job was in Wilmington, Delaware, where I was the only black woman on the staff.           

The report was six years old at that time and the newspaper was still struggling to have diverse voices on the reporting staff. There were no Black editors. And the white editors didn’t quite know how to work with me. I longed for being able to talk with another Black reporter. The two Black male reporters were assigned to Washington, D.C.

When I learned of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, I drove to their monthly meetings. It was the first opportunity I had to talk with a group of Black people who were doing the work that we all loved.

It was there that I met Joe Davidson, Acel Moore, Chuck Stone and Claude Lewis who all encouraged me to apply for a job in Philadelphia and to also join them in first meeting of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Once news organizations outside of the Black press hired one or two Black Americans on their staffs, most did not make much effort to go further. News organizations were aware of the lack of diversity on their staffs but little effort went into making more hires of people of color. The push had to come from inside to make changes. With the support of NABJ, we started to do that. The findings of the Kerner Commission supported those efforts as well. 

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