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Emory O. Jackson, the Birmingham World, and the Fight for Civil Rights in Alabama

In the article below, Kimberley Mangun, an associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Utah, describes her ongoing research on the Birmingham (Alabama) World and its longtime editor, Emory O. Jackson. Mangun is writing a cultural biography of Jackson and the newspaper set against the backdrop of the local and national Civil Rights Movement.

“Emory Overton Jackson was born for battle.” Those words, in the 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Race Beat, by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff, sparked what has become for me a seven-year study of the man and his newspaper, the Birmingham World. Although Jackson was never directly involved in the Alabama civil rights struggles in the 1950s and 1960s, his journalistic voice described the movement’s goals, leaders, and “foot soldiers,” and helped persuade the world that equal rights should be supported.

Emory Jackson became my research focus in 2009 after I spent several days with Klibanoff and learned more about the editor. That research has taken me to archives at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham Public Library, Atlanta University Center, and Emory University. I was granted special permission to review boxes of civil rights-era records that were discovered in the basement of Birmingham’s City Hall. I had the opportunity to spend several days in Detroit with Jackson’s last surviving sibling, Lovell, and a nephew, William. Later, I met them in Birmingham and joined them for Sunday service at Sardis Baptist Church, the Jackson family’s place of worship and birthplace of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR).

I accumulated thousands of documents during research trips that lasted as long as a month and digitized each issue of the twice-weekly Birmingham World published between 1935 and 1975, the years that Emory Jackson edited and wrote for the newspaper. Through his words, I’ve learned why the man who “was born for battle” is a significant if understudied figure in journalism history and African-American