Ed Kosner: “History chimes in magical ways. The furore over the killing of George Floyd comes 60 years after publication of To Kill a Mockingbird.”

From an article by Edward Kosner in The Oldie headlined “Murders Most Foul: George Floyd’s death came 60 years after To Kill a Mockingbird”:

History chimes in magical ways. The furore over the killing of George Floyd comes just weeks before the 60th anniversary of the publication, on 11th July 1960, of America’s most celebrated novel about racial injustice.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of white lawyer Atticus Finch’s failed effort to save the innocent Tom Robinson, a black father of four, from conviction by a Dixie jury of the rape of a white woman. It has sold more than 40 million copies, has been made into a memorable 1960s movie and a 2018 hit Broadway play, and is required reading for nearly every American high-schooler.

Stories like George Floyd’s are painfully familiar to me. My first newspaper job, at age 20, was on the old liberal New York Post. The tabloid was a lonely sentinel in the 1950s, covering lynchings and other racial crimes in the deep South.

The Post had one of the few black reporters on any metropolitan daily – Ted Poston, who regularly risked his life to cover big race stories in Mississippi and Alabama.

The week I joined Newsweek in the early ’60s, the cover story was Dr King’s March on Washington. A few years later, I was part of the team who produced an acclaimed special report outlining a programme for ‘Negro’ advancement in America.

I was walking peacefully with colleagues, all wearing press passes, outside that infamous 1968 convention when a Chicago cop slammed his nightstick onto the skull of the only black reporter among us.

It’s facile to conclude that over the past half-century in the story of race in America only the names and details have changed. Change has been profound, even if it sometimes feels glacial. . . .

Still, a deeply resistant strain of racism persists in America. It is not new. Acts of police violence against blacks and routine racist incidents on the streets happened all the time in post-war America. Most were witnessed by a handful of people, and only a fraction were reported in the papers. Now they are captured by mobile-phone cameras and police body cams and broadcast to the world on cable news, Facebook, Twitter and the rest.

The protest marches prompted by Floyd’s death have been disfigured to a degree by the arson and looting rampages of hoodlums with their own motives.

But the huge, diverse and sustained demonstrations that have filled our great cities are incontestable proof that racism is being overrun in America – too slowly, but surely. As I finish this piece, activist Rev Al Sharpton has just electrified Floyd’s televised memorial service, crying, ‘Get your knee off our necks!’

That’s why I and so many others can’t look away.

Edward Kosner was the editor of Newsweek, New York magazine, Esquire and the New York Daily News

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