Peabody Media Center launches new digital series

Peabody Spotlight is a digital series produced by the Peabody Media Center at the University of Georgia. Each piece draws from the vast Peabody Archive, which is part of the third largest repository of audiovisual materials in the United States. Peabody Spotlight will focus on significant societal issues as represented through the storytelling of Peabody winners and finalists, as well as 75 years of broadcasting’s best programming.

For Black History Month, the series examines how race has been a defining feature of the long struggle for equality and justice for all of Baltimore’s citizens; black power and creative expression in the Civil Rights era as represented by artists such as James Brown, Nina Simone and Gordon Parks; historical documentaries focused on the rich tapestry of black experience in America; and contemporary Peabody-winning programming by some of the most creative African-American storytellers working in television today.

“Baltimore: Then & Now” demonstrates how the city’s conversation about race has evolved over the years, finding that poverty, class and lack of investment in infrastructure have long been key factors in the city’s struggles.

Baltimore has been a case study of race relations in America since the mid-1950s. In 2015, Peabody Awards finalist MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes” revisited the city after the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray to deconstruct what happened. “Back to Baltimore” prompted us to search the Peabody Archive to see how racial tensions—and the city’s response to them—have evolved over the years.

What the archival footage reveals is how poverty, social class, housing segregation, and lack of investment in infrastructure—precisely the factors that stoked the fires of unrest in the 1960—remain key ingredients in the city’s struggles today.

Local station WJZ-TV documented the actions of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and its Target City Project, which sought to engage the black community in leadership training, voter registration and economic development. As a public service, the station also hosted “Conversations in Black and White,” a weekly broadcast bringing together black and white citizens for frank discussions on racial problems dividing the city.

Earlier in the decade, concern over civil rights rose to a national level, as shown in public service spots distributed by the Time-Life Broadcast Group. Leaders from across the country were asked to respond to President John F. Kennedy’s appeal for reason and understanding after an explosive summer of unrest.

Peabody Archive materials illustrate that the conversation about race in Baltimore began long before the death of a young man in police custody. Indeed, as Dwight Watkins, an author and native of East Baltimore, tells MSNBC’s Chris Hayes: “Freddie Gray was the tipping point, but there’s a whole laundry list of systemic issues that brought these things about,” he says.

· The Baltimore Sun: Map: Legacy of segregation lingers in Baltimore
· The New York Times: How Racism Doomed Baltimore
· Baltimore City Paper: Two Baltimores: The White L vs. the Black Butterfly

· “All In with Chris Hayes: Back to Baltimore” (MSNBC, 2015)
· “Baltimore: CORE Target City” (WJZ-TV, 1966)
· “Conversations in Black and White” (WJZ-TV, 1968)
· “Civil Rights Spots” (Time-Life Broadcast Group, 1963)