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Insults for Sale: The 1957 Memphis Newspaper Boycott
Unformatted Document Text:  Insults For Sale: The 1957 Memphis Newspaper Boycott By the 1950s, however, things had changed. The Commercial Appeal and the city of Memphis were in a growth spurt and relations between the newspaper and the black community were strained. In 1940, the newspaper’s average annual circulation was 120,244 daily and 148,234 Sundays. Thirty years later, it ballooned to 215,844 daily and 148,234 Sundays. The population of Memphis had swelled in the years after World War II, and the increase was coming largely from blacks who moved to the city from rural parts of the South. The 1960 census showed the city had close to half million people with more than a third of them black. The newspaper also had a growing staff of about 2,400 people by the end of the 1960s. The newspaper’s building was first enlarged in 1950 and then again in 1963. The newspaper was making profits for its owner Scripps-Howard, so the parent company allowed the local journalists to make all the decisions about content as long as it continued its profits. 9 The Commercial Appeal was the dominant editorial voice in Memphis, rivaled only by the smaller afternoon newspaper, The Press Scimitar. The Commercial Appeal was the voice of the establishment while the smaller afternoon newspaper was more likely to challenge those in authority. The issue that dominated much of the news during the late 1950s was the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that required desegregation of public schools. The Press-Scimitar was more liberal in its editorial stance on the issue of desegregation than was The Commercial Appeal. While neither paper took a pro-desegregation stance, The Press-Scimitar was more likely to support the efforts of black citizens seeking equal rights. “My take on the Commercial Appeal at that time was that it viewed itself more as a regional paper for the Mid- South or more like The New York Times of the Mississippi Delta region. It was much more of an establishment newspaper than The Press Scimitar, which was really more of a local Memphis paper,” said local historian Wayne Dowdy. 10 Both newspapers were headquartered and printed in the same building on Union Avenue in downtown Memphis. 5

Authors: Hrach, Thomas J..
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                                            Insults For Sale: The 1957 Memphis Newspaper Boycott
By the 1950s, however, things had changed.  The Commercial Appeal and the city of 
Memphis were in a growth spurt and relations between the newspaper and the black community 
were strained. In 1940, the newspaper’s average annual circulation was 120,244 daily and 
148,234 Sundays. Thirty years later, it ballooned to 215,844 daily and 148,234 Sundays. The 
population of Memphis had swelled in the years after World War II, and the increase was coming 
largely from blacks who moved to the city from rural parts of the South. The 1960 census showed 
the city had close to half million people with more than a third of them black. The newspaper also 
had a growing staff of about 2,400 people by the end of the 1960s. The newspaper’s building was 
first enlarged in 1950 and then again in 1963. The newspaper was making profits for its owner 
Scripps-Howard, so the parent company allowed the local journalists to make all the decisions 
about content as long as it continued its profits.
The Commercial Appeal was the dominant editorial voice in Memphis, rivaled only by 
the smaller afternoon newspaper, The Press ScimitarThe Commercial Appeal was the voice of 
the establishment while the smaller afternoon newspaper was more likely to challenge those in 
authority. The issue that dominated much of the news during the late 1950s was the Brown v. 
Board of Education Supreme Court decision that required desegregation of public schools. The 
Press-Scimitar was more liberal in its editorial stance on the issue of desegregation than was The 
Commercial Appeal. While neither paper took a pro-desegregation stance, The  Press-Scimitar 
was more likely to support the efforts of black citizens seeking equal rights. “My take on the 
Commercial Appeal at that time was that it viewed itself more as a regional paper for the Mid-
South or more like The New York Times of the Mississippi Delta region. It was much more of an 
establishment newspaper than The Press Scimitar, which was really more of a local Memphis 
paper,” said local historian Wayne Dowdy.
 Both newspapers were headquartered and printed in 
the same building on Union Avenue in downtown Memphis.

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