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Alex Wilson
We Are Newspapermen The Man Who Refused To Run

Becky Shumar, Caleb Johnson, Korrina Smith, Destiny Banks, & Jasmine Lackey

Lowell Milken Center Exploring Unsung Heroes In History

The Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court Case outlawed segregation in schools. Like many schools, Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas was forced to integrate. However Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus insisted in maintaining separate schools for African American students, and used the National Guard to prevent integration. On September 23, 1957, the National Guard had been given a federal order to leave and nine African American students were on their way to attend the all white school. African American reporter L. Alex Wilson was at the scene at Central High School reporting on the news for the Tri-State Defender, and faced a large angry white mob of segregationists on the street. When Wilson decided to face this mob rather than run, he was severely attacked. The images of Wilson being attacked made the covers of nearly every national newspaper the next day. These images of one reporter led us to search out the story of this unsung hero, who stood up to injustice and ignorance in the name of reporting the news. Our research began with a reading of an excerpt from the Pulitzer Prize winning book The Race Beat, written by authors Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff. The book describes an epic scene of an African American newspaperman who covered the events of the Little Rock Nine at great personal sacrifice. We had never heard stories about African American reporters during the Civil Rights Movement, or this man who became a motivating influence towards civil rights. Intrigued by this discovery, we continued to research L. Alex Wilson.

Senior Caleb Johnson, a member of our team, read an online article from the Jackson Sun by Dylan Lovan. The article involved an interview with Emogene Wilson, L. Alex Wilsons widow. Caleb found her number and we called and set up an interview. We kept in contact with her, mailing her letters and pictures to keep her updated on our progress. We were able to call her and interview her about her late husband. She described how they met at the Tri-State Defender, the decisions he made at Little Rock, and the lasting effects of that day. Our research continued as we contacted university professors from the various schools of journalism. Our adviser often speaks at a conference at the University of South Carolina, and in March they held a Media & Civil Rights History Symposium. A speaker at the symposium happened to be Hank Klibanoff, author of The Race Beat. We were able to get in contact with Klibanoff and our team interviewed him through Skype. This interview led to two more contacts Klibanoff shared with us. He helped us contact Wilson's great nephew, Detroit News graphic artist Aaron Hightower, and also someone who was at Little Rock with Wilson, Moses Newson. We skyped Hightower, who shared stories that his grandmother, Wilson's sister, would tell as a child. We also spoke with Newson over the phone, and he shared his memories of that day and what it was like to work during the fifties as a black journalist.

The interviews, the readings, the online research, and the newspaper articles from 1957, led us to discover the legacy of L. Alex Wilson, the man who refused to run. His actions on September 23rd, 1957 and throughout the fifties not only turned the spotlight on this moment in history, but also served as an inspiration for journalists for years to come. L. Alex Wilson's decision to face his aggressors and report the stories of the Civil Rights movement opened the door for many African Americans in the future.