Eye on the Struggle
Eye on the Struggle
Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press
Amistad Press, Hardcover, 9780062198853, 480pp.
Publication Date: February 17, 2015
In this groundbreaking biography, celebrated author James McGrath Morris skillfully illuminates the life and accomplishments of pioneering journalist Ethel Lois Payne, while also bringing to the fore the critical role of the black press in the civil rights era.
Payne used her journalistic skills as the Washington correspondent for the Chicago Defender to elevate civil rights issues to the national agenda. In the 1950s and 1960s, she raised challenging questions at presidential press conferences about matters of importance to African Americans and the emerging civil rights movement. A self-proclaimed "instrument of change," she publicly prodded President Dwight D. Eisenhower to support desegregation, and her reporting on legislative and judicial civil rights battles enlightened and motivated black readers. At some considerable personal risk, Payne covered such events as the Montgomery bus boycott, the desegregation of the University of Alabama, and the Little Rock school crisis. She also traveled overseas to write about the service of black troops in Vietnam and accompanied American leaders on diplomatic missions to Africa.
President Lyndon B. Johnson recognized Payne's seminal role by presenting her with pens used in the signing of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. As a trailblazing black woman in an industry domi-nated by white men, she capped her career by becoming the first female African American radio and television commentator on a national network, working for CBS.
Ethel Payne's unassuming style of journalism was a key to her success. From Alabama to Ghana, from Indonesia to Vietnam, Payne's reporting eschewed the emotionless objective style coveted by mainstream publications of her time. She became for many black Americans their eyes on the frontlines of the struggle for equality in Washington, in the South, and in Africa.
The white and black presses, operating in parallel worlds, saw events differently. The white press was quick to portray civil rights legislation as munificent gifts bestowed on American blacks, while Payne's reporting focused on the failures of legislation to grant African Americans the equality that rightfully belonged to them. Ethel Payne's life and work offers readers an opportunity to see the historic events of the civil rights era through her eyes. Inspiring and instructive, moving and enlightening, Eye on the Struggle celebrates this extraordinary woman and her achievements and reminds us of the power one person has to transform our lives and our world.