Saturday, March 11, 2023

Thomas Aiello's "Practical Radicalism and the Great Migration"

Thomas Aiello is a professor of history and Africana studies at Valdosta State University and the author of several books, including Hoops: A Cultural History of Basketball in America; The Life and Times of Louis Lomax: The Art of Deliberate Disunity; and The Grapevine of the Black South: The Scott Newspaper Syndicate in the Generation before the Civil Rights Movement.

Aiello applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Practical Radicalism and the Great Migration: The Cultural Geography of the Scott Newspaper Syndicate, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Practical Radicalism and the Great Migration tells two different but interrelated stories. In the first, the Alabama Tribune, part of the Scott Newspaper Syndicate, describes the 1940s promises of governor-elect Chauncey Sparks who claimed to believe that “the Negro in Alabama had a right to demand justice.” The paper’s criticism of the previous governor’s race policy and its “reporting favorably without fawning on the limited concessions made by Sparks” demonstrated that “the paper was holding leaders accountable in a time and place that scholars generally assume to have been impossible.”

The second story describes the Tribune’s coverage of the Recy Taylor rape case in 1944, wherein six white men raped a black woman. All of them were acquitted of the charges by an all white all male jury. E.G. Jackson, editor of the Tribune, confronted now-governor Sparks to demand an investigation into the case, openly shared his reporting with competing papers like the Chicago Defender, and helped organize protest meetings that included leaders like E.D. Nixon and Rosa Parks, who would become more nationally prominent a decade later.

Practical Radicalism and the Great Migration spans three decades and much of the country, but page 99 does, in these two stories, encapsulate much of what can be found within its pages. On one side, the papers of the Scott Newspaper Syndicate used their coverage strategically to make a case for Black equality without drawing the ire or violence of racist demagogues and their acolytes. It was a practical radicalism that picked its spots and strategically worked to push back against an overweening Jim Crow system.

On the other side, those involved in the more than two hundred newspapers of the syndicate were more than just editors and reporters. They were Black citizens who lived the daily reality of that Jim Crow system and used their time and influence to fight against such harsh realities in protests, letters, and organizational meetings. There was a bifurcation of action in the same vein as the “double consciousness” described by W.E.B. Du Bois, wherein Black journalists in the South were careful reporters and editorialists on one hand–steering through racial waters to ensure that the message of opposition got through while the paper still managed to stay afloat–and activists on the other, taking the information they learned in the field and acting on it how they could outside the margins of the printed page to make a variety of different efforts at social justice reform.

Those efforts would look different in Michigan than they would in Alabama, different in the 1930s than in the 1940s, but the basic elements of the fight itself and the strategic way that Black journalists worked in the era remained relatively consistent throughout. Page 99, then, provides a good example of the practical radicalism that stretched north from Alabama through the Great Migration and through time in the generation before the civil rights movement.
Follow Thomas Aiello on Twitter and visit his website.

The Page 99 Test: Jim Crow's Last Stand.

--Marshal Zeringue