Va. Daily Confesses Racist Role in ‘Dreadful Doctrine’

Editor & Publisher is running a wire item (Associated Press, 7/16/09) on the Richmond Times-Dispatch‘s recent front-page editorial and website video “expressing regret for supporting the state’s fight to maintain separate schools for blacks and whites in the 1950s.”

The paper’s confession of its “central role in the ‘dreadful doctrine’ of Massive Resistance–a systematic campaign by Virginia’s white political leaders to block school desegregation“–functions as testament to both their current integrity and one of the darkest episodes of U.S. journalism. Here’s an except:

Fifty years ago Virginia had a rendezvous with destiny and came up wanting. It scorned human rights and the promise of the Declaration of Independence….

Throughout the episode, [parent company] Richmond Newspapers played a central role–but not a centering one. The hour was ignoble. Editorials in the [pre-merger] News Leader relentlessly championed Massive Resistance and the dubious constitutional arguments justifying its unworthy cause. Although not so intimately engaged, the Times-Dispatch was complicit. The record fills us with regret….

Words have consequences. Artful paragraphs promoted ugly things. Stylish sentences salted wounds. Euphemism was profligate. As members of the Fourth Estate, these pages did not keep a proper distance, either….

Yesteryear’s words cannot be revoked. They endure on newsprint yellow and brittle, on microfilm, and in the computer files into which they have been translated. They belong to history, and history lives. It is well and good that the words be remembered, as a warning perhaps best.