How one woman and her newspaper defied the white status quo and won a Pulitzer Prize
Hazel Brannon Smith (1914-1994)
stood out as a prominent white newspaper
owner in Mississippi before,
during, and after the civil rights movement.
As early as the mid-1940s, she
earned state and national headlines
by fighting bootleggers and corrupt
politicians. Her career was marked
by a progressive ethic, and she wrote
almost fifty years of columns with the
goal of promoting the health of her community.
In the first half of her career, she strongly supported Jim Crow
segregation. Yet, in the 1950s, she refused to back the economic
intimidation and covert violence of groups such as the Citizens'
Council. The subsequent backlash led her to being deemed a social
pariah, and the economic pressure bankrupted her once-flourishing
newspaper empire in Holmes County. Rejected by the white
establishment, she became an ally of the black struggle for social
Smith's biography reveals how many historians have miscast
white moderates of this period. Her peers considered her a liberal,
but her actions revealed the firm limits of white activism in the
rural South during the civil rights era. While historians have shown
that the civil rights movement emerged mostly from the grass roots,
Smith's trajectory was decidedly different. She never fully escaped
her white paternalistic sentiments, yet during the 1950s and 1960s
she spoke out consistently against racial extremism. This book
complicates the narrative of the white media and business people
responding to the movement's challenging call for racial justice.
Jeffery B. Howell, Statesboro, Georgia, is a native of Durant,
Mississippi. He is associate professor of history at East Georgia
256 pages (approx.), 6 x 9 inches, 7 b&w illustrations, bibliography, index