The late Gene Patterson, who was then editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, in 1963 wrote an editorial in response to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that was a major catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. Speaking to his fellow Southerners, he said it was too short-sighted to blame only those who blew up the church; it was the fault of everyone who allowed racism to persist in the culture:
It is too late to blame the sick criminals who handled the dynamite. The FBI and the police can deal with that kind. The charge against them is simple. They killed four children.
Only we can trace the truth, Southerner — you and I. We broke those children’s bodies.
We watched the stage set without staying it. We listened to the prologue unbestirred. We saw the curtain opening with disinterest. We have heard the play.
This column was also read aloud by Walter Cronkite on the “CBS Evening News.” It was a time when news media leaders condemned not only those who directly perpetrated acts of terror but also those in society who let racism persist. I’m saddened by the fact that today not only don’t we see this kind of condemnation from some news media leaders for systemic causes of what happened in Charleston, but instead we see from some overt attempts to find alternative explanations other than racism for this act of terrorism.
As I sit reading weak-ass editorials from some of our nation’s largest newspapers — decrying the shooting in Charleston as “tragic” and “incalculable” while barely if at all acknowledging our collective cultural complicity in allowing such racism to occur — I am relieved that at least we still have someone in the professional media who plays a role as our collective moral compass. Too bad that person is a comedian.