Jeune Afrique 1961-1971: U.S. race relations.

Author:Sissoko, Moussa
 
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In this article, the authors look back at the African perspective on U.S. race relations in the 1960s through the lens of Jeune Afrique, a major source of news for the African continent, particularly francophone Africa. A careful reading of Jeune Afrique from 1961 to 1971 reveals that more prominent attention in this publication was given to Pan Africanism and militarism against the white establishment than to the non-violent movement, principally under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Obama's election may be the culmination of one of these movements, or both. This article concludes that the readership's interest dictated the selection made by the editors of Jeune Afrique about what to report about events in the U.S. For the reader of Jeune Afrique, although the type of non-violent civil resistance epitomized by Dr. King was inspirational, it was not practical given the historical underpinnings of race relations in Africa. The reader of Jeune Afrique was more likely to learn about the riots in Watts, the peeves of James Baldwin, or the black power movement evoked by H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael than about the march on Selma or the courage of Rosa Parks. To this readership of Jeune Afrique in the 1960s, the peaceful but resounding election of Barack Obama may not be the culmination of the events in the U.S. of the 1960s but a transformation of them.

With the election of Barack Hussein Obama as President of the United States there is renewed interest in the African/American connection both on the continent of Africa and in the U.S... This article examines the depth and breadth of coverage of U.S. race relations in Jeune Afrique during a very important decade for both Africa and America. The Sixties represented the first decade of independence for most African countries, and the decade encompassed the most dramatic moments of the civil rights struggle in America. Jeune Afrique, an independent weekly periodical published in France in French, has been a crucial voice of Africa since 1960. Bechir Ben Yamed, a former minister in the Tunisian government and the director general of Jeune Afrique since its inception, described its purpose in an editorial celebrating the journal's first decade.

A journal must accurately inform its readers, explain to them events as they happen, propose an interpretation, help the readers have a well documented opinion so that they can act as human beings and citizens in their judgment ...

Our credo at Jeune Afrique is that Africa is one in its diversity. Consequently, we make the same journal for all Africans, we react the same way for each African country; we try to interest each African in what is going on elsewhere in Africa. We support any manifestation of African fraternity: we fight and will always fight all those who consciously or unconsciously favor prejudice among Africans (Yamed, 1970, p. 13).

In other words, Jeune Afrique has been committed to serving the whole of Africa, regardless of ethnic, linguistic, and political differences that may exist among its readership. Although the journal's weekly circulation was only 8,400 in 1969, a survey conducted by SOFRES, a marketing research firm in France, estimated that 320,000 people read each issue, as most subscribers shared their copies with many others (SOFRES, 1970, p. 62).

Since the United States has one of the largest populations of people of African descent outside of Africa itself, and the U.S. has experienced a long fight against racism, it would be expected that in its earliest editions Jeune Afrique would publish significant reports about the U.S. The research questions addressed in the present study are: 1) How did Jeune Afrique cover U.S. race relations from 1961-1971 and 2) What does this tell us about how this period in American history might be understood by Africans? During the decade of the 1960s, Jeune Afrique featured political articles covering official diplomatic visits of Americans to Africa and Africans to America as well as presidential elections, civil rights news describing blacks'[1] struggles to change their status, special reports on civil rights leaders and militant black writers, sporting events involving black athletes, U.S. involvement in international conflicts and other topics of international interest such as the space program, progress in medicine and science, black entertainers and the American way of life.

Methodology and Data Analysis

The primary focus of this study was to examine how the United States race relations, in general and the civil rights movement in particular, were covered in Jeune Afrique from 1961-1971. Every Jeune Afrique from that time period was searched for the words U.S., American, race, Black and civil rights. Three hundred and thirty-one articles were identified. Using content analysis each was read and then grouped into four categories: American race relations, U.S.-Africa relations, United States relations with other nations and other U.S. issues. Of the 331 articles, 138 covered U.S. race relations. The U.S.-Africa relations category encompassed 96 articles that examined the bilateral relations between the United States and individual African countries and the continent at large. Topics in this category included visits and cooperation and U.S. elections. The U.S. and the world category included 42 articles that discussed primarily U.S. military involvement in other countries and the tensions with the Soviet Union, France and China and in the other issues category were the topics of American culture, sports, music and book reviews. In this last category there were articles that covered works by civil rights leaders and that discussed race relations briefly. They are included in our analysis of how race relations were portrayed during this decade as reported in the articles published in Jeune Afrique.

Topics of Articles in Jeune # of articles Afrique 1961-1971 United States/America 331 U.S. race relations 138 U.S.-Africa relations 96 U.S. and the world 42 Other U.S. issues 55 Of the 331 articles about the United States that Jeune Afrique published between 1961 and 1971, race relations were given substantial coverage, comprising 42% of the articles during this period. This is important to note as the combined number of U.S.-Africa and the U.S.-world articles equals the number of articles on U.S. race relations. For present purposes, the focus will be on the articles that discussed U.S. race relations. Of the 138 articles covering U.S. race relations, the major focus in general was on the struggles of Blacks for equality and justice and, in particular, the civil rights movement, the events, and the people involved. It's important to remember that during this period, many African countries also were gaining their independence through their own struggles with the colonial powers.

American Race Relations

The African-American struggle against second-class citizenship has been widely publicized in the media both in the U.S. and abroad; indeed, the struggle for black equality has become one of the most visible aspects of American life. The coverage of U.S. race-relations in Jeune Afrique from 1961-1971 demonstrated both concern for and pride in black Americans' struggle for equality and justice. The 138 articles, gathered together, provide a solid foundation in U. S. Black History focusing Africans' attention on the major civil rights events in America. The contributors to these articles tended to be reporters who were in the U.S., only some of whom were black. In some cases the articles were French translations of articles that had appeared in Time, Newsweek, or Life Magazine with an introduction by a Jeune Afrique reporter sent specifically to cover a major civil rights event, such as school desegregation, the Freedom Riders, the 1963 March on Washington, and the urban riots in the late 60s. Usually the articles bore sensational titles such as "The Funeral of Racism", "What Will Kill U.S. Racism?", "The Bloodhounds are Launched", and other provocative or polemical phrases. Although the articles were obviously supportive of the struggles of blacks, the coverage tended to be accounts of events and not editorials with anti-racism messages. A 1961 article entitled "The Freedom Riders," for example, depicted the odyssey of the freedom riders through the South. James Peck (a white man) narrates his experience with seventeen white and black males who vowed to test the enforcement of the inter-state desegregation law. Jeune Afrique readers could sense the brutality that the young men met in Birmingham, Alabama where a crowd of 100...

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