people march down the street to show support for civil rights in 1964

Just like today, people used mass communication to organize their rallies and protests. Photo credit: www.vahistorical.org

One of the things that made the Civil Rights Movement operate well was the media and it’s still effective for today’s movements.

They had newspapers, photographers, and the radio, all of which were good at motivating people. The newspapers provided full stories and accounts of nearly every event that happened in the civil rights era. They added a layer of realism to the printed word by interviewing the people that were present at the events.

Sarah Collins Rudolph, a survivor of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and sister to Addie Mae Collins who did not survive the bombing, she was quoted in the newspaper, “Right after the explosion I called my sister…I said—I called about three times—‘Addie, Addie, Addie.’ Addie didn’t answer.”

Journalists were also in a dangerous situation when they went into the field to get the stories and witness the events. One thing I have found interesting on this trip is that the addresses of people were included with people’s names. It seems like a dangerous thing to write in the paper because many places were bombed during the movement by the Ku Klux Klan. Actually, they included addresses to let people know where to join up with the person and organization. Often, it would be a place of business so that homes would be safer from the KKK. To me, it seems like a big risk to take, but it was necessary so that the movements could gain more people.

And even more powerful than the printed word is the photograph. Photographs evoke a reaction and put many layers of realism into one medium that is viewable by the mass audience. The great things about photography in the 1950s and 60s were the inexpensive cameras and processing that made it possible for the average person to take photographs. The end result was a massive collection of iconic photos. The content of the photos ranged from lynchings to water hoses to important people. It’s enough to bring tears to your eyes and after looking at the entire Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, you understand how people felt during the movement.

Radio was very popular as a form of communication, news, and entertainment. It could be argued that the voice is even more powerful than the photograph. It was the widest used medium of mass communication. DJs during the movement appealed to kids because of their choice of music and because they were able to connect with the kids who listened. DJs also spoke in codes that told kids where and when they were meeting for marches and rallies.

Today’s mass communication includes a few new technologies such as computers and social media. Social media like Facebook and Twitter is the new way to organize and motivate people. Events and movements get thousands of followers and even attention from people in other countries. It’s a way to share ideas among a large group of people and it’s very effective. Imagine if the Civil Rights Movement had Facebook and Twitter.

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Jordan Gerard

Jordan graduated in 2016 with a BA in Mass Communication and a minor in Creative Writing. She is originally from Spring Grove, MN and her interests include writing, photography, reading, hunting, fishing and anything outdoors.

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