King on Forde and Bedingfield, 'Journalism and Jim Crow: White Supremacy and the Black Struggle for a New America'

Kathy Roberts Forde, Sid Bedingfield, eds.
Elliot King

Kathy Roberts Forde, Sid Bedingfield, eds. Journalism and Jim Crow: White Supremacy and the Black Struggle for a New America. The History of Media and Communication Series. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2021. xvii + 344 pp. $24.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-252-08615-1.

Reviewed by Elliot King (Loyola University Maryland) Published on Jhistory (February, 2023) Commissioned by Zef Segal (Department of History, Philosophy, and Jewish Studies, the Open University of Israel)

Printable Version:

In 2019, Kathy Roberts Forde, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, working with two undergraduates, published an article in the online publication The Conversation in which she documented how Henry Grady, the editor and part owner of The Atlanta Constitution and for whom the School of Journalism at the University of Georgia (UGA) is named, worked closely with powerful politicians and business leaders to reestablish White supremacy in Georgia and throughout the South. Grady, in Forde’s view, could be seen as an architect of Jim Crow, the legal system that subjugated and disenfranchised Black citizens from the end of Reconstruction following the Civil War until the civil rights movement of the 1960s.[1]

Grady has long been remembered as a champion of the New South, calling for reconciliation with the North and reforming the southern economy, building an industrial, as opposed to an agrarian, base. His goal was to attract northern investors, and in his most famous speech, delivered in New York in 1886, Grady asserted that the relationship between the races in the South were cordial and that the South should be free to manage those relationships as it chose. What he meant, as he told a crowd at the Texas State Fair in 1889, was that White supremacy must be maintained forever.

In 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Sam Jones, an alumnus of UGA’s School of Journalism, wrote an article in the university’s independent student newspaper demanding that the school be renamed. The hashtag #RenameGrady spread through social media and more than nine thousand people signed a petition calling for the Grady name to be removed from the school. The proposed alternative was Charlayne Hunter-Gault, an award-winning journalist who was the first Black student to attend UGA.[2]

Journalism and Jim Crow is an expansion of Forde’s examination of Grady’s and The Atlanta Constitution’s complicity in, support for, and, on some level, masterminding of White supremacy and the segregationist Jim Crow regime that defined the South for more than eighty years. Edited by Forde and Sid Bedingfield, author of the groundbreaking work Newspaper Wars: Civil Rights and White Resistance in South Carolina, 1935-1965 (2017), which documents the role of White-run newspapers in South Carolina in organizing resistance to the civil rights movement, Journalism and Jim Crow describes how White-run newspapers promoted, supported, and defended the exploitation, racial violence, and disenfranchisement of Black Americans in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Its ten chapters, written by an impressive array of scholars as well as by Forde and Bedingfield, explore the role of the White press in lynching and what was called the Mississippi Plan, the systematic effort to exclude Black Americans from electoral politics, and include case studies ranging from Florida to North Carolina to Tennessee.

The chapters are not just indictments of the White press and their owners and editors but also chronicle the efforts of the Black press, which proliferated across the South in the post-Civil War era, to fight back, to expose the so-called New South for what it was, and to fight for true equality of the races and democracy. The Black press became, what D’Weston Heywood calls, in his chapter “Fight for a New America,” the “incubator of a new tide of Black activism” (p. 58). Several chapters put the spotlight not just on the work of Black journalists like T. Thomas Fortune and Ida B. Wells Barnett but also on courageous editors like John Mitchell Jr. of the Richmond Planet, who presented a powerful counternarrative to the White press’s accounts of lynchings, and Alexander Manly, editor of the Daily Record, who was driven out of town and whose press was destroyed during the coup d’etat in Wilmington, North Carolina, when the duly elected city government was violently driven from office and replaced by White supremacists.

The book’s central thesis is clearly stated. “Journalism is not a neutral institution nor a neutral cultural product,” the editors write. “Journalists engage deeply in the politics and culture of their communities.” From that insight, the editors assert that following Reconstruction “white publishers and editors used their newspapers to build, nurture, and protect white supremacist political economies and social orders throughout the South” and “Black journalists fought those regimes as they were being built” (p. 1). In short, White journalism was “dedicated to building an anti-Black, antidemocratic America and a Black journalism (was) dedicated to building a multiracial, full democratic ‘New America’” (pp. 1-2). Spoiler alert: White journalism won.

The book convincingly supports its argument. Each chapter is filled with facts and insights that every journalist and student of journalism should know. Among others, two major themes emerge that are particularly powerful. First, the notion of the New South was intrinsically linked to the development of convict leasing, in which convicted criminals were “leased” to private companies. In essence and practice, convicts became slaves, providing a cheap source of labor to the industrializing region. Throughout the South, Black men were disproportionately swept up into the convict leasing system, which the White press largely championed. In fact, newspaper publishers and editors were often economically intertwined with the biggest beneficiaries of convict leasing. Two of Grady’s closest political allies and benefactors held major convict leases, a system that Grady regularly defended. Arthur Colyar, the founder of the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company, another holder of large convict leases, vigorously defended the system through the three Nashville newspapers he owned at various times, including one that ultimately became the Nashville Tennessean. And when Henry Flager, a major force in the development of Florida in the early 1900s was investigated by the US government for his use of convict leasing and debt peonage, the Florida Times-Union and newspapers across the state came to his defense.

The links between newspapers and convict leasing calls into question a cardinal premise of the conventional telling of the history of American journalism. The usual story generally contends that the development of department stores in the 1880s and beyond gave newspapers the incentive to build their circulations to become more valuable as advertising vehicles. That led newspapers in the late nineteenth century to become more objective to avoid alienating potential readers. But as Journalism and Jim Crow demonstrates, department stores were hardly the most powerful commercial interests to emerge in the second half of the nineteenth century. Railroads, mines, oil companies, and steel mills had no interest in an “objective” press. They looked to the press to further their influence and economic interests and they had the wherewithal to ensure that it did. At the very least, this book challenges the conventional paradigm of the development of the American press.

Second, several chapters in Journalism and Jim Crow make it clear that, in general, not only did large swaths of the White-run press fail to oppose racial violence, but they also encouraged it. The most scathing indictment on this count comes in chapter 3, which suggests that in some cases, newspapers ostensibly promoted lynching as part of a marketing strategy. Episodes of the White-run press seemingly working hard to set off violence against the Black community appear repeatedly throughout the book.

And there is more. The book makes clear that much of the clash between the races revolved around sexual politics. There is an excellent account of the influence of Booker T. Washington, both positive and not so much, on the development of the Black public sphere. There are many more interesting topics explored in the book.

Journalism and Jim Crow is well researched and, for an edited volume, remarkably consistent in quality. The least compelling chapter, perhaps, is the last, which recounts the experience of Jesse Max Barber, who founded the national journal The Voice of the Negro, to reflect on the loss suffered by the silencing of Black journalists. Barber’s story is fascinating, but it is impossible to speculate about what might have been. As an unknown sage once said, if life were different, it would not be the same.

As the editors note, this book is the first word, not the last, on the issues it raises. At one point they seem to insinuate that journalism in the North was practiced differently than journalism in the South. But perhaps journalism historians have just been looking at it through too narrow a lens. What this book makes clear is that White newspapers were instruments of power for people who had power. They were at the service of the political and commercial elites. And while Black newspapers and newspapers run by progressive White editors could try to counter these elites, those efforts generally failed throughout the South.

As for the effort to rename UGA’s School of Journalism, in 2020 the University of Georgia System formed a committee to review naming across the campuses without specifically referring to monuments to the Confederacy or Black Lives Matter. The committee ultimately proposed seventy-five name changes across the system, but the Board of Regents unanimously rejected the proposal. The school’s name still honors Grady. Yes, the work has just begun.


[1]. Kathy Roberts Forde, “An Editor and His Newspaper Helped Build White Supremacy in Georgia,” The Conversation, February 15, 2019,

[2]. Maureen Downey, “An Opinion: ‘We Are Grady’ But Who Was Henry Grady?” Get Schooled Blog, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, July 6, 2020,

Citation: Elliot King. Review of Forde, Kathy Roberts; Bedingfield, Sid, eds., Journalism and Jim Crow: White Supremacy and the Black Struggle for a New America. Jhistory, H-Net Reviews. February, 2023. URL:

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