sealPurdue News

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: February is African-American History month.

January 17, 1997

Prof studies white journalists who promoted racial tolerance

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- When most Southern newspapers were either supporting or ignoring injustices against blacks, two white journalists in Virginia championed the cause of racial fairness, notes a Purdue University communications expert.

The expert, Alexander Leidholdt, assistant professor of communications, has written a soon-to-be published book about one of the journalists and is writing a book about the other one.

For many years preceding the civil rights movement, there was a small but vital group of white, progressive Southern newspaper editors who sought to improve race relations, Leidholdt says.

Both editor Louis Isaac Jaffe and his successor at the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, Lenoir Chambers, won Pulitzer awards for their efforts. Jaffe was recognized in 1929 for editorials attacking lynching, Chambers in 1960 for a series of editorials on school integration.

"The efforts of these men, and a number of other Southern liberal journalists like them, have not received adequate attention," Leidholdt says. "Well before the modern civil rights movement, these editors worked hard to advance racial justice."

Leidholdt has written a book about Chambers that will be released this spring by the University of Alabama Press. It's titled "Standing Before the Shouting Mob: Lenoir Chambers and Virginia's Massive Resistance to Public School Integration." Leidholdt also is writing a book about Jaffe.

In 1958, rather than integrate Norfolk's public schools, the governor of Virginia decided to close the city's white secondary schools. "With the exception of Chambers and his staff, all of Virginia's white press supported the state's massive resistance to public school integration," Leidholdt says. Chambers' editorial campaign provided encouragement for moderates and helped defuse racial tensions when the schools were reopened the following year.


Source: Alexander Leidholdt, (765) 494-3313; e-mail,

Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; e-mail,