By Teri Finneman, South Dakota State University
Oral History Committee member Melita M. Garza of Texas Christian University is featured this month in the spotlight on members’ oral history projects. Garza describes her project below:
"With the help of a $1,500 Dean’s Research Grant from the Bob Schieffer College of Communication, my goal is to develop an oral history project and undergraduate research course that would examine the role journalists have played in chronicling movements for social change beyond matters of black-and-white. My project seeks to illuminate the role of journalists in civil rights reporting across fault lines of race, gender, geography, generation, and class.
"In this way, the project would contribute to the idea of the U.S. civil rights movement as “long and wide” rather than constrained to a racial binary, the geography of the South, and the time period of the 1950s and ‘60s. The traditional binary view, which historian Charles Payne called “the Montgomery to Memphis Framework,” is increasingly being challenged by scholars such as Mark Brilliant, who propose a Long and Wide Civil Rights Movement model to more accurately and comprehensively capture the conflicts and accomplishments of movements for equal rights.
"Historians have long followed the trail of journalist coverage of the Civil Rights Movement, looking among other thing, at their role as “sympathetic referees” in the black freedom struggle. As this project looks more expansively at the journalistic role in the nation’s freedom struggles, I seek answers to questions such as: How did the reporters’ background, training, and personal and journalistic outlook play into their news coverage of various struggles for civil rights not typically included in the broader accepted narrative? How did journalists report across ethnic, racial, economic, and other differences? How were their efforts accepted in the newsroom and community at large?
"This project attempts to answer these and other questions through oral history interviews with journalists across the fault lines and fissures that the late journalist Robert C. Maynard so eloquently spoke to. I’m kick-starting the project by attending Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez’s Voces Oral History Summer Research Institute this summer at the University of Texas at Austin."