Eyes on the Importance of Accurate Journalism

Eyes on Mississippi, a documentary by Ellen Ann Fentress, sheds a light on the work of Bill Minor, a journalist that covered Mississippi for the Times-Picayune during the civil rights movement. The film, being shown on college campuses around the country, highlights the importance of Minor’s accurate reporting in a
turbulent time.

Testimonials in the film said that Minor “took risks,” “brought foresight” and was “more involved in Mississippi than any other reporter.” Civil rights leader Myrlie Evers said Minor “gave us hope for the future.”

The film, underlined with footage from the era and the iconic “Dixie” song, shows the influence Minor had on journalism of the time. Minor’s interview footage gives the film a psychic intimacy, Fentress said, that lends itself well to the telling of his success story.

“Mississippi was a national story,” Minor said in the film. He covered events like the first black student enrolled at Ole Miss, the assassination of activist Medger Evers and marches and riots all over
the state.

Minor was focused on uncovering a lot of the discord in Mississippi. His work was featured in the New York Times and Newsweek during a time in which many local newspapers were owned by prominent white families and biased against the change that was taking place. However, Minor never got any bylines in those big publications simply because they did not usually print bylines then. Minor said this was probably a good thing at the time because his current employer was none the wiser to Minor’s national anonymous success.

In the film, Myrlie Evers, widow of Medger Evers, said Minor helped part the “cotton curtain” that concealed the suffering of Mississippi blacks from
the public.

“The white power structure ran roughshod over the blacks,” Minor said. Minor was present for marches where he saw Jackson police officers rip American flags from the hands of young black boys; he saw the lights of the courtroom dim as Willie McGee was executed by electric chair.

Minor’s interviews show his unique perspective; he noticed the sounds and smells of the events he covered and littered his imagery throughout his articles, adding emotional
appeal as he wrote of the injustice in Mississippi.

Minor said he thought to himself, “Someone has got to get these stories out.”

Minor worked as a journalist until just weeks before his death last year. He was 94 years old and was likely the oldest working journalist in the country.

Fentress said the film still resonates today because of current issues not only in honest journalism but in race relations.

“It’s just so not over,” she said.

According to her website, Fentress has traveled to Vanderbilt University, Tulane University, Missouri School of Journalism, and the University of Alabama for documentary screenings. She hopes to acquire further rights to share her film beyond college campuses. Furthermore, she intends to continue adding to her film and eventually looks to put Minor’s story in a book.

 

 

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