Eye on the Struggle

Eye on the Struggle

Top of Mind with Julie Rose

Police Cameras, Jet Lag, Eye on the Struggle

Episode: Police Cameras, Jet Lag, Eye on the Struggle

  • Apr 16, 2015 9:00 pm
  • 50:31 mins

Guest: James McGrath Morris, author of numerous best-selling biographies and works of narrative non-fiction. His latest book is “Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, The First Lady of the Black Press.” As President Lyndon Johnson looked into the TV cameras from behind a table in the East Room of the White House on July 2, 1964, a short woman in a striped skirt and white beret sat in the crowd—unrecognized by most of the invited guests. She had good reason to be there: President Johnson was about to sign landmark legislation outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Such discrimination, he said, looking into the cameras, has been “deeply imbedded in American history. . . but cannot continue.” After signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Johnson presented one of the ceremonial signing pens on his desk to the small woman in the striped skirt—52-year-old Ethel Payne—she’d spent years leading up to that signing as an eye witness to the Civil Rights movement for one of the most respected black-newspapers in the country. She covered seven presidents and reported from around the world well into her 70s.  She broke a number of color barriers in journalism and came to be called “the First Lady of the Black Press,” all the while suffering an enormous amount of race and sex discrimination. That scene in the East Room of the Whitehouse in 1964 opens a new biography about Ethel Payne, written by New York Times best-selling author, James McGrath Morris. "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."