When I was an undergrad, one of the requirements as a print journalism major was to either double major or minor in another subject. I chose to minor in history. I believe then as I believe now that it’s important for journalists to be students of history. It’s important for us to know where we’ve been to report where we are now.
Tuesday’s election marked a historical point in our history. It was the first time in our country’s history a black man was elected as our president. The news networks did a great job in capturing the moment and the celebration around the country.
But what was missing was the historical context. Where have we been to make this moment so historical?
150 years ago slavery existed in this country.
146 years ago Abraham Lincoln issued the emancipation proclamation.
54 years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Brown vs. Board of Education, making segregation in schools illegal.
53 years ago Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on Montgomery, Ala. bus.
51 years ago Little Rock schools were desegregated.
45 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream Speech.”
40 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated (See my video from April).
For some of us, some of those events may seem like a long time ago, but not really. In fact the daughter of a slave voted in this election. And many people who marched with King or heard him speak are still alive today. For my generation, it’s our parents who lived through the civil rights movement.
During Tuesday night’s coverage, CNN showed Jesse Jackson crying after the election was called for Barack Obama. The shot in itself captured the historical context of Obama’s election. But the media never truly gave the context for us on Jackson’s background.
Jackson has been a long civil rights leader. Agree or disagree with him on some of his recent work, he has been diligent in his work for equal rights. But further, Jackson marched with King. He was there the day Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed on a balcony in
The point here is that it’s one thing to say that it was a historical moment by the media. It’s another for journalists to give us some context. Tell us where we’ve been in order for us to understand where we are.
Update: 10,000 words posted a quote from Roland Martin, of CNN, about being a journalist in the Obama campaign. He gives us some of the historical context I’m talking about.
Editor’s note: Fixed the location of King’s assassination as was pointed out by a commenter (11/30).