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A dispute over why the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wouldn't run a series on 'racial cleansing'

COMMENTARY | February 22, 2007

In his online column, Richard Prince reports on a claim by a writer in Cox Newspapers’ Washington bureau that the paper tried to undermine his work. Following is the crux of the dispute; it links to Prince’s column, where editors in DC and Atlanta respond to the allegations.

By Richard Prince

A reporter who uncovered a 60-year pattern of expelling African Americans from communities around the country and wrote a series about it last year says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the flagship of the newspaper company he works for, tried to undermine what he produced.

Using computer-assisted reporting, Elliot Jaspin of the Cox Newspapers Washington bureau documented that, "beginning in 1864 and continuing for approximately 60 years, whites across the United States conducted a series of racial expulsions. They drove thousands of blacks from their homes to make communities lily-white."

"In at least a dozen of the most extreme cases, blacks were purged from entire counties that remain almost exclusively white, according to the most recent census,” he wrote in the first installment of last summer’s series.

"The expulsions were violent and swift, and they stretched beyond the South. But they remain largely unacknowledged in standard histories of America.

"The computer analysis of thousands of U.S. census records dating back to the Civil War identified about 200 counties, most in states along the Mason-Dixon Line, where black populations of 75 people or more seemed to vanish from one decade to the next. . . . in 103 cases, the data indicated that there might have been a conscious effort by whites to drive blacks out."

The series was sponsored by Cox's Austin American-Statesman in Texas, and also ran in the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union; the Journal-News in Hamilton, Ohio; the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post; the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer and the Middletown (Ohio) Journal.

In a book scheduled to arrive in retail stores by March 5, Jaspin quotes his boss, the Cox Newspapers Washington bureau chief, Andy Alexander, speaking of Julia Wallace, editor of the Atlanta newspaper.

"Wallace's refusal to run the series rankled Alexander," Jaspin wrote. "'I think we both know what's going on here,' he told me in frustration at one point. 'They are afraid of angering white people.'"

The book, "Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America," builds upon the four-part "Leave or Die" series.

One of the communities mentioned is Forsyth County, Ga., which is part of the Journal-Constitution's circulation area. In 1987, the county drew national attention, including a tense visit by Oprah Winfrey for her television show, after whites attacked a biracial brotherhood march.

In my online column, Journal-isms, which I write for the Maynard Institute, I reported on this dispute and included Jaspin’s assertions and responses to them from Alexander and Wallace. Click here for that report.


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