The Coverage of the Death of Martin Luther King Jr. by the Valdosta Daily Times
By Forrest Holder
On April 4, 1968, one of the greatest tragedies of the Civil Rights Movement occurred in Memphis, Tennessee. The news media covered this tragedy far and wide from Tallahassee to Tokyo. It made the newspapers, newsmagazines, and the evening news for the next several days. That tragic event is, of course, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and it was covered by our very own Valdosta Daily Times.
King's assassination made the front page of the Valdosta Daily Times on April 5, 1968, as it did in most papers in the country, but how the story was covered is worth examining. The front-page articles relating to King's death are, for the most part, not about the actual assassination, but about various stories surrounding his death. The article "Assassination Of King Sparks Negro Violence" reports the reaction of the black public to the violent act committed against such a passive and strong non-violent leader. This article could have been moved towards the back of the paper with more pertinent information, such as the details of the assassination, being placed on the front page. Also on the front page is an article entitled, "Georgians Express Shock and Regret." This article, ironically, quotes Calvin Craig, the grand dragon of the United Klans of America. Craig is quoted as saying King's assassination was, "the worst thing that could have happened to the nation" and:
"I pray to God that the Negro citizens and the white people of the United States will retain the peace and harmony of their community and of this nation so the people of the world will understand that even though one of the best-known citizens of this country was assassinated the people of the nation will stand together and see that our government does not crumble" (A-1)
Did Craig believe the statements he was making? As the grand dragon of the Klan, of course he did not. These statements were nothing more than cries for mercy by a fearful white public. A public fearful of what blacks might do in retaliation. Along these lines comes a front page article entitled, "Johnson Makes Plea" which contains a plea from President Johnson for "all men and all races--to 'stand their ground to deny violence its victory.'" In addition, the Valdosta Daily Times spelled King's name wrong twice in the article, "Assassination of King Sparks Negro Violence." Granted, the staff may have been busy and deadlines may have been looming, but more time for proofreading would probably have been made had the subject been an affluent white.
At first glance, the coverage by the Valdosta Daily Times of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. seems to be routine; however, upon closer examination the scrupulous eye will notice subtle flaws that would have been corrected for a popular white figure. In fact, those not wishing to notice them could very easily overlook these minor flaws. If you are racist you could dismiss them as mistakes, if you are prejudiced you could call them coincidence, but if you view all people equally you call that discrimination.
Valdosta Daily Times 5 April 1968, sec. A: 1+