Be sure to read my column from this week's Western Tribune, following this post, for my take on the current Alabama legislative session.
Doing research for a historic novel uncovers all kinds of interesting stuff. Since my novel takes place in 1965, I have some memories of my own. But old newspapers tell a lot also. Sometimes they reveal more by what they don't report than by what they do.
In 1965 Bessemer had two newspapers, much like today. The Bessemer Advertiser and the Bessemer News. You know, in today's Bessemer, there are some who do not like to see the truth printed in Newspapers. Any criticism of local officials is considered to be in bad taste.
I think I know where this attitude comes from.
In 1965 Viola Liuzzo was murdered on a highway between Selma and Montgomery while transporting marchers (a scene which is recounted in my book). It was quickly learned that the 4 men who did this were members of the Bessemer Klavern of the KKK. This was announced on nationwide TV by President Johnson. I have spoken with a man who as a child in 1965 was sitting with the son of one of those KKK members when the announcement came on TV. That is a whole different story, but it does tell me that there is no doubt of a Bessemer connection.
Was there any reporting of the murder or the arrest of Bessemer KKK members in those papers? No. Now, you may say they were just local papers, but the story became local when the perps were named. Also, the papers, especially the Bessemer Advertiser, did report every week for a while on what Senators John Sparkman and Lister Hill were saying about the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (they, and the paper, repeatedly called it "the so-called voting rights bill). And the Advertiser printed articles against the actions in Selma and the "outsiders" in our state.
So maybe those papers or their publishers tried to hide what was really happening in our community and state from their readers, or maybe they were afraid of the Bessemer Klan so they avoided the subject. At any rate, the truth was not printed.
The Bessemer News did report in February 1965 that Negroes in Bessemer were suing the federal government, petitioning it to cut off funds to the city since we had not desegregated in the 9 years since the 1954 decision ordering it. "The city of Bessemer is said to be the most segregated city in the world, including Johannesburg, South Africa," the paper reported.
They danced around that issue, and later that year, Bessemer Schools were (barely) integrated (against the opinion of the paper).
They did find the space to report on issue of great importance, the Beatles Atlanta concert that year. The Bessemer News reported that Mary Charles Essman, Carolyn Virciglio, Patsy Schilleci, Alecia Hull, Sue Williamson, Norma Jean Williamson and Judy Lint all attended the Beatles concert. I would have gone, that's for sure.
I didn't do quite as good last week when I saw the BeatLads in Birmingham. I took this video with my cell phone, so the quality is not great (and its loud) but here are the BeatLads.
One last tidbit, surely to interest those of you who are crying "socialist" in regards to the president. According to the 1965 Bessemer News, in 1903 the "Southern Socialist" was printed right here in Bessemer. Now before you get all excited, the group was not about joining the commies (the Russian Revolution had not even happened by then), but was a labor movement hoping to gain better wages for workers.
The things we learn by studying history.