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Life and Religion

Newspaper reporter was soldier for labor and civil rights from 1940s-60s
Trezzvant Anderson covered Charlotte, Pittsburgh, D.C.
Published Monday, September 10, 2018 3:05 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

An increase in television access and consumption in the 1950s largely shaped the civil rights narrative.

“Unsung Civil Rights Pioneers” marks the latest subject of New South for the New Southerner, a monthly series at the Levine Museum of the New South, which takes place on Sept. 18 from 6-8 p.m. Former Levine historian Tom Hanchett will host the event, and current historian Willie Griffin will explore the role of Charlotteans, including journalist Trezzvant W. Anderson, in the larger narrative. All of this will take place over a Southern chicken dinner from Mert’s Heart and Soul. Tickets cost $20 for general admission, $15 for museum members; available now and at the door.

“We as a society have not really recognized the force that television played on our understanding of the civil rights movement,” Griffin said. “The growth of television in the 1950s just changed what we as historians began to study about the movement. In 1950, only 9 percent of American homes had televisions, but by 1955, the year Brown vs. Board of Education took off, 68 percent of American homes had televisions. That’s a huge jump, regardless of how you look at it.”

Martin Luther King Jr. became the first national civil rights leader to feel weight of television’s impact.

“Scholars begin to follow all of that documentary film through what it covered, and it started with Martin Luther King,” Griffin said. “King was sort of the first person who mainstream media had this love affair with who was an African-American. Before, mainstream media didn’t pay attention to African Americans’ issues. Once television became responsible for giving a stage to black grassroots struggles across the South, that became the primary sort of lens that we had into it, because this is something that we had never seen before.”

Anderson, by comparison, worked off-camera. His professional start came in 1927 with The Charlotte Post under Henry Houston, who purchased old printing equipment from a publication that went out of business. Houston later sold The Post to Nathaniel Tross, who took a far more conservative approach. While Houston was Anderson’s mentor, Anderson had severed all ties with the publication by the 1940s, openly criticizing it for not having enough of a militant approach to addressing issues, such as labor equality.

Upon his return from World War II, Williams started his own newspapers The Charlotte Eagle and the Charlottean in 1946 with financial help from the Alexander family of NAACP fame. However, his militant approach to addressing labor issues in Charlotte during the time of Operation Dixie, a post-war initiative to start trade unions in the South, resulted in his being forced out of town. He returned to Pittsburgh, where he was a correspondent for the Courier, by 1947.

“Anderson ruffled a lot of feathers in Charlotte, white and black,” said Griffin, who is working on a book about Anderson titled “One of God’s Angry Men.” “He did not care. He was really loyal to the profession of being a journalist, and as a journalist you have to write about the truth. He not only ruffled the feathers of blacks and whites, but the people he worked for—editors and publishers.”

Anderson died in Macon, Georgia in 1963.

“Black newspapers also began to decline in the 1960s,” Griffin said. “They are now competing with television, they’re also competing with popular print magazines that offer all these shiny, colorful images. What the black press was responsible for was in many ways just lost. It really wasn’t until over the past decade with the digitization efforts of newspapers, it really opened up a new sort of lens into the civil rights struggle.”

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Posted on January 30, 2019

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