Memphis Editor Says Papers Have Duty ‘To Tell Their Own story’ on Race


It was Martin Luther King Jr.’s last speech. It was perhaps the greatest speech ever given in Memphis. “I have been to the mountaintop,” thundered the civil rights leader, just a day before his assassination.

The reporter from the local Commercial Appeal newspaper on April 3, 1968, didn’t write those words. Noted instead on the skimpy, un-bylined story on page 11: the “disappointingly small crowd.”

Two years before the National Geographic opened its archives to a historian and broadcast its findings — of an appalling legacy of racist coverage and characterization — the Memphis paper did its own look back on 175 years of history. This Sunday, the Memphis paper is going deeper on its spotty record of covering civil rights in the 1960s, says Mark Russell, the paper’s executive editor.

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