Friday, August 27, 2010


Reporters on one local paper are writing about events than happened 50 years ago, before most of them were born. They say reporters for the paper were told not to cover an event that happened downtown.
I was a reporter. No one told me not to cover the event. I was there.
It was a day when a number of black citizens decided to demonstrate downtown against segregation. Some chose to "sit in" at the lunch counter at Woolworth's, next to Penney's department store west of Hemming Park, in the block where the federal courthouse is now.
This was a tactic being used all around the nation by civil rights activists.
I was a general assignment reporter for the Jacksonville Journal.
I was told to go to the scene and report what I saw. Other reporters were told to do the same.
What I saw was:
A crowd of white men, most carrying wooden ax handles, cornered a black man in the north doorway of Penney's and hit him several times. I was carrying a camera and shot several pictures but was not able to get close enough for a good shot. One of the men edged up to me and suggested that I should take my camera and leave. It was in a friendly tone but he was not kidding.
I went to the south side of the block and saw two white men stop a young (about 14) black boy who was riding his bike. One of them punched him. They told him to leave. I didn't take a picture. I could have but probably would have had my camera destroyed.
I went over to the park, where there were two or three brief clashes between white and black men. At Laura and Monroe one man was hit on the head with an ax handle and blood was streaming down his shirt. I took pictures, as unobtrusively as possible.
I telephoned the information about what I had seen to the office and a rewrite man fashioned a store that included my information and what he got from other reporters. I don't honestly remember what the published story said.
What I was told was that the paper did not plan to give the story big play because the executive editor was worried about inciting more violence.
Life magazine asked to see my pictures and I sent them my roll of film but they used photos someone else had taken.
Compared to cities in places like Alabama and Mississippi, the violence in Jacksonville was mild.
There was another occasion later, however, when a house in Lackawanna was bombed. It resulted in my first scoop.
I had become police reporter and an FBI agent called to tell me, right on deadline, that the bomber had been arrested after a nationwide hunt. I got the story in time.
There were a few people who opposed integration strenuously but as I remember it, most people in Jacksonville were like me and thought it was time for black citizens to be on an equal footing. One legitimate viewpoint was that it could be handled in each state individually better than being imposed by force at the federal level. It might have taken longer but it surely would have resulted in less violence.
On the other hand, black citizens justifiably were not inclined to wait and were willing to risk the violence.

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