Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


School of Journalism and Mass Communications

First Advisor

Kathy Roberts Forde


This dissertation contends that print culture – newspapers in particular – played a decisive role in launching the black civil rights movement and shaping the white response to it during the middle of the twentieth century. Focusing on South Carolina, this study is the first to use civil sphere theory and frame analysis to explore the role of cultural expression in the political struggle over black equality in the years immediately before and after World War II. It shows how African-American editors and other activists made strategic use of the society’s symbolic codes concerning justice, freedom, and liberty to elicit empathy from potential allies and break down opposition to political and social acceptance. At the same time, this dissertation examines how some whites employed an equally powerful “discourse of repression” to limit the black movement’s gains and help launch the modern conservative movement. By placing cultural symbolism and interpretive communication at the heart of civic life, this study reveals the inextricable link between mass media, public opinion, and formal political power. In doing so, it raises new questions about the received historical narrative of a fully emerged professionalized, independent, and nonpartisan daily press in the United States by the second half of the twentieth century. This dissertation reveals a deep connection between South Carolina’s white press and partisan politics in the state well into the 1970s. Yet it also shows how partisan journalists had begun to hide their activism from the public to maintain their status as independent sources of information and interpretation.