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Black Reporters on the Civil Rights Beat

Monica Kaufman—now known by her married name, Monica Pearson—began her career in broadcast journalism in Atlanta. As WSB-TV's first African American daily evening anchorwoman, Kaufman changed the landscape for journalists in Atlanta.

Kaufman attended Catholic schools as a child and teenager in Louisville, Kentucky. In YEAR, she graduated from the University of Louisville with a B.S. in English. Soon after completing the Summer Program for Minority Groups hosted by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, Kaufman worked as a newscaster in Louisville. In 1975, as the gains of the Civil Rights Movement continued to ease the racial tensions that disrupted many southern cities, WSB-TV hired Kaufman. Her presence added a new face that validated the efforts of those activists set on integrating America's newsrooms with African Americans and women.

NOW strike in Macon; Alice Doesn't

Since 1975 when she joined WSB-TV, Kaufman has received over twenty-eight Emmy Awards for her work. In 1988, she became the first African American and the second woman to oversee the Metropolitan United Way, a non-profit community building organization.

Originally from Perry, Georgia, Deborah Roberts graduated from the University of Georgia in 1982. She earned her degree in Journalism and immediately began work at WTVM-TV in Columbus, Georgia upon commencement from UGA. She then moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where she successfully covered state legislative proceedings for the news station WBIT-TV. In 1987, she accepted a job with ABC in Orlando, Florida, and functioned as the news station’s field anchor for NASA. Three years later, Roberts switched to NBC and worked abroad covering the 1991 Gulf War and the 1992 summer Olympics in Barcelona.

With this solid background of reporting experience, ABC News hired Roberts again in 1995 to be a correspondent for 20/20. She is most well known for her work in this position and has investigated many interesting stories during her tenure at ABC. For example, once of the first stories she worked on was a profile of the Civil Rights hero Rosa Parks. Additionally, she has chronicled African Americans searching for their heritage in Africa, and even taken an in-depth look at Rwandan refugees following the genocide. Roberts currently lives in New York and continues her excellent work at ABC News.

Lo Jelks
Macon sanitation workers strike, 1969. http://crdl.usg.edu/voci/go/crdl/dvd/viewItemc/wsbn55890/winmedia/6507
Dean Rusk at UGA:
Savannah state college merger, 1970:

Through their television reportage, Kaufman and Jelks integrated not only the newsrooms of major television and newsstations, but also the homes and institutions of the South. As trailblazers in the field of journalism, Kaufman and Jelks provided African-American and female newscasters with visible role models and opened doors that had been closed to blacks and women.

invisibility of women in history of the movement. importance of diversity to news media. CRM as base for Women's and other social movements.

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Discussion Questions

1. In 1972, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm became the first African American female to run for President of the United States. WHERE, Chisholm stated that she experienced more discrimination as a woman than as an African American. What were the conditions for women in America in the 1970s would


What were some of the challenges that Kaufman and Roberts may have faced as they strove to enter the newsroom? Do you think that these challenges were present more because Kaufman and Roberts are African American, or because they are women?

2. Kaufman and Roberts are both pioneers, yet they did not begin their respective careers until after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. What role did the Movement play in their struggle to succeed, and how might it have affected their reporting?

3. Both WSB-TV and WTVM-TV are located within the South, a hotbed of racial prejudice for many years. Discuss the differences in seeking a job in the South in the late 1970s or early 1980s as opposed to a less prejudiced area such as the Midwest or the North. Do you think that Kaufman and/or Roberts specifically chose the South because it would be more challenging, yet arguably more important? Why or why not?

4. What purpose can Kaufman and Roberts serve now that they are established African-American anchors? Is there still an impact they can have on civil rights for African Americans and for women?

                                  Take it to the Streets!

In a time of racial tension, Monica Kaufman fearlessly pursued her dream job of reporting for Atlanta’s WSB news team. In a tribute to Kaufman's 30th anniversary as a WSB news reporter, Co-anchor Jon Pruitt stated that she defeated racial prejudice with her sense of humor and naturalness on screen.  She broke barriers in the civil rights era and helped Atlanta citizens to see the person beneath skin color.

Divide into groups and, with your knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement, make a list of some issues that may have been controversial for an African-American news reporter to cover in the 1970’s. After you have a list, talk about what angle you may have taken with your story ideas, if you were in Kaufman’s shoes. What difficulties might you have had in the newsroom, on location, and in the studio? 

Monica Kaufman is known for her Emmy Award winning news stories. She has been on assignment in places ranging from the Nobel Peace Prize conference in Oslo, Norway to the safaris of Africa. Kaufman’s most widely known segment is “Close-up with Monica Kaufman,” in which she interviews nationally known celebrities and leaders. She has interviewed everyone from Britney Spears to former President Jimmy Carter. If you could switch with Monica Kaufman for a day and film “Close-up with Monica Kaufman,” who would you interview? Write a brief set of interview questions to ask your subject. When you are finished, tell the class who you would interview and why. Finish by reading 3-4 of the questions that you would ask your interviewee.

Writers: May Advincula, Hannah Hodges, Ryan Kurz, Ashley Pattison, and Allison Tonini in Professor Barbara McCaskill's ENGL 4860 (The Civil Rights Movement in American Literature), Fall 2007.

Editors and Researchers: Christina L. Davis and Professor Barbara McCaskill

Web Designer: William Weems

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