Hazel Brannon Smith
The Female Crusading Scalawag
How one woman and her newspaper defied the white status quo and won a Pulitzer Prize
Hazel Brannon Smith (1914-1994) stood out as a prominent white newspaper owner in Mississippi before, during, and after the civil rights movement. As early as the mid-1940s, she earned state and national headlines by fighting bootleggers and corrupt politicians. Her career was marked by a progressive ethic, and she wrote almost fifty years of columns with the goal of promoting the health of her community.
In the first half of her career, she strongly supported Jim Crow segregation. Yet, in the 1950s, she refused to back the economic intimidation and covert violence of groups such as the Citizens' Council. The subsequent backlash led her to being deemed a social pariah, and the economic pressure bankrupted her once-flourishing newspaper empire in Holmes County. Rejected by the white establishment, she became an ally of the black struggle for social justice.
Smith's biography reveals how many historians have miscast white moderates of this period. Her peers considered her a liberal, but her actions revealed the firm limits of white activism in the rural South during the civil rights era. While historians have shown that the civil rights movement emerged mostly from the grass roots, Smith's trajectory was decidedly different. She never fully escaped her white paternalistic sentiments, yet during the 1950s and 1960s she spoke out consistently against racial extremism. This book complicates the narrative of the white media and business people responding to the movement's challenging call for racial justice.
This work represents a notable contribution to the study of journalism history, civil rights, and southern culture. Both disheartening and inspiring, it provides a detailed study of a woman journalist wedded to the rights of free speech and free press in an oppressive society. It details with painstaking care her concern for justice in the face of massive resistance to integration in Mississippi in mid-twentieth-century America. Any reader concerned with the history of race relations in the United States will find this work illuminating and heartbreaking.- Maurine H. Beasley, PhD, professor emerita of journalism, University of Maryland, College Park and author of Eleanor Roosevelt: Transformative First Lady
Ultimately, Howell's portrait of Hazel Brannon Smith reveals both the editor's important contributions and the limitations of white southern moderation in the twentieth century.- Erin K. Devlin, The Journal of Southern History
This is a compelling biography of a woman too often forgotten.- Jason Sokol, University of New Hampshire, The Journal of American History, March 2018