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Insults for Sale: The 1957 Memphis Newspaper Boycott
Unformatted Document Text:  Insults For Sale: The 1957 Memphis Newspaper Boycott alternative to “Miss” for unmarried women and “Mrs.” for married women. Most newspapers dropped the use of the titles rather than to have to try to sort out the proper title for women. A survey conducted in 1989 showed that 75 percent of the nation’s newspapers and magazines had dropped the use of courtesy titles completely. It also showed that most readers, both white and black, no longer considered it impolite not to use them for women even in the South where common courtesies were expected to be more prevalent. 58 The boycott’s lasting impact was that it was the first time black citizens were able to affect change in Memphis, even though it achieved only modest success. It took the riots of 1968 to make the major changes in the coverage of The Commercial Appeal yet the boycott was still remembered years later. When the Rev. Benjamin Hooks, a native Memphian who was executive director of the NAACP, met with the newspaper’s editorial board in January 2009 he cited the boycott as an example of one of the early successes in the effort to fight discrimination in the city. Hooks said the citizens learned a lot about how to organize and affect change with the newspaper boycott. They learned that the black community had economic power and influence. He said when the black citizens showed they could be organized and the circulation numbers declined for The Commercial Appeal, Ahlgren had to respond. Other leaders in Memphis’s establishment would learn the same lessons in subsequent years. 59 22

Authors: Hrach, Thomas J..
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                                            Insults For Sale: The 1957 Memphis Newspaper Boycott
alternative to “Miss” for unmarried women and “Mrs.” for married women. Most newspapers 
dropped the use of the titles rather than to have to try to sort out the proper title for women. A 
survey conducted in 1989 showed that 75 percent of the nation’s newspapers and magazines had 
dropped the use of courtesy titles completely. It also showed that most readers, both white and 
black, no longer considered it impolite not to use them for women even in the South where 
common courtesies were expected to be more prevalent.
The boycott’s lasting impact was that it was the first time black citizens were able to 
affect change in Memphis, even though it achieved only modest success. It took the riots of 1968 
to make the major changes in the coverage of The Commercial Appeal yet the boycott was still 
remembered years later. When the Rev. Benjamin Hooks, a native Memphian who was executive 
director of the NAACP, met with the newspaper’s editorial board in January 2009 he cited the 
boycott as an example of one of the early successes in the effort to fight discrimination in the city. 
Hooks said the citizens learned a lot about how to organize and affect change with the newspaper 
boycott. They learned that the black community had economic power and influence. He said 
when the black citizens showed they could be organized and the circulation numbers declined for 
The Commercial Appeal, Ahlgren had to respond. Other leaders in Memphis’s establishment 
would learn the same lessons in subsequent years.

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