In the land of Jim Crow – Ray Sprigle

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In 1938, Sprigle made a name for himself by winning a Pulitzer for a series he wrote exposing Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black’s membership in the Ku Klux Klan. Nine years later, he once again took up the issue of white racism with an idea from the popular novel and film, “Gentleman’s Agreement,” in which a reporter poses as a Jew in order to uncover the subtle dynamics of anti-Semitism. In this case, however, the ruse was adapted to discover first-hand the forces of racism experienced by the “Negro” in the South. The results were published first as a twenty-one part series in the Gazette and thirteen other newspapers and then as a pamphlet sensationally titled “I Was a Negro in the South for 30 Days.” After receiving a Headline Club Award and several offers from publishers, a version of the series was published as In the Land of Jim Crow. The serial boosted circulation for the Gazette and was widely read on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. It even prompted a counter-series in defense of the South. Today such an experiment in “blacking up” may seem suspicious as yet another white appropriation of Black experience. But Ray Sprigle deserves credit for aiding in the post-World War-Two struggle against segregation because his daring stunt helped bring greater awareness to an issue that would soon become the focus of national attention.

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