University of South Carolina

Discovering the media’s role in civil rights history

By Megan Sexton, msexton@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-1421

Kathy Roberts Forde believes the media have often played a critical part in the country’s civil rights history -- a role that hasn’t always been acknowledged or appreciated.

That’s something the University of South Carolina is working to change, with its second Media and Civil Rights History Symposium, scheduled for March 21-23. The conference brings together civil rights and media historians to share scholarly work on the relationships between civil rights movements and various types of public communications.

“South Carolina has a rich, if often troubled, history in civil rights. It’s important, as the flagship university of this state, to promote scholarship that illuminates that past,” said Forde, an associate professor in the USC School of Journalism and Mass Communications. “The media have played key roles in civil rights struggles, and their roles have not been studied as fully as they need to be.”

Forde, who teaches media history to undergraduate and graduate students, is working on a book about writer James Baldwin, a powerful literary voice of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Forde has an abiding interest in the role of journalism in democratic struggle in the United States.

“The more historical research I undertook on this topic, the more I realized how critical journalism has been in various struggles for social justice, particularly the African-American freedom struggle,” she said. “It’s a mixed history, with journalism not always serving democratic ends. And it’s a history we need to understand more fully if our country is ever to achieve itself, as Baldwin would say.”

Forde grew up in eastern Tennessee, and did her undergraduate work at Sewanee, the University of the South. She taught middle and high school English for 11 years, before heading to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for her doctorate in journalism. While at UNC, Carol Pardun, now the director of USC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications, was one of her mentors. Forde taught at the University of Minnesota before arriving at USC in 2009.

This is the second symposium on the topic, which was started in 2011 as a way to encourage more historical work in the area. It draws scholars from across the country and the United Kingdom, and is sponsored by the university’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications in the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies. Other USC programs provide support, including the History Center, the history department and the African American Studies Program in the College of Arts and Sciences. Scholars from those areas, along with the English department, will present their work.

The conference keynote speaker is Katherine Mellen Charron, author and associate professor of history at North Carolina State University, who will discuss the life of South Carolina civil rights activist Septima Clark. Along with speaking to the symposium, Charron will discuss her book, "Freedom's Teacher: The Life of Septima Clark," at the main branch of the Richland Library at 7 p.m. Friday, March 22. The event is free and open to the public.

For the public

  • The Media and Civil Rights History Symposium keynote speaker is Katherine Mellen Charron, author and associate professor of history at North Carolina State University, who will discuss the life of South Carolina civil rights activist Septima Clark.
  • Along with speaking to the symposium, Charron will discuss her book, "Freedom's Teacher: The Life of Septima Clark," at the main branch of the Richland Library at 7 p.m. Friday, March 22. The event is free and open to the public.

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Posted: 03/21/13 @ 1:00 PM | Updated: 03/21/13 @ 1:15 PM | Permalink