By Shreeya Agarwal

For The Diamondback

With Black History Month coming to a close, the University of Maryland journalism school paid tribute to award-winning civil rights journalist John Herbers on Wednesday at a discussion with his daughter, Anne Farris Rosen.

Rosen, a journalism lecturer at this university, co-wrote a book with her father, “Deep South Dispatch: Memoir of a Civil Rights Journalist.” The book explores some of the most famous moments of the civil rights movement Herbers covered for organizations like United Press International and the New York Times during the 1950s and ’60s.

Herbers was “at the right place at the right time,” Rosen said of her father, who died in 2017.

Rosen said her father’s work exposed her to the social climate of the time. He’d take her along with him as he covered everything from events in black churches to Ku Klux Klan rallies.

Herbers reported on the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963 and the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, two years later. Herbers even interviewed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in a one-on-one sit-down.

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“By the time I was in second grade, my family was run out of St. Augustine, Florida by a band of armed men (KKK members and white supremacists) in the middle of the night because they knew my father was there reporting on it,” she said.

These experiences helped shape Rosen into the journalist she is today. In her career, Rosen has worked for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Pew Research Center.

Rosen touched on the importance of non-objective reporting in journalism today. Her father, although a witness to many of the brutal and violent acts that occurred in the deep South, remained objective in his reporting, she said.

“If you’re John Herbers, if you’re in his position then you would try to keep it professional but straight down the middle,” said Jesse Johnson, a junior journalism major. “When it comes to being a journalist, you should keep what you hold dear … to yourself. You shouldn’t be too involved to begin with.”

Boyang Tong, a sophomore economics major, said that regardless of one’s political beliefs, non-partisanship is the key to good objective reporting, adding that the work Herbers did was monumental.

“He got the chance to interview Martin Luther King Jr.,” Tong said. “That’s impressive itself.”

More than a half-century later, the events Herbers covered and issues African Americans faced are still relevant today, Rosen said. She pointed to the killing of Laquan McDonald as an example of ongoing police brutality, and the need for journalists to continue covering them as her father did.

McDonald, a black teenager, was killed in Chicago in 2014 by Jason Van Dyke, a white police officer. McDonald was carrying a knife, but he was walking away from police when Van Dyke shot him 16 times. Last year, Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery.

“Those are our Emmett Tills,” Rosen said.

“The horrible hate spewing and racial spewing that we’re hearing today is no different from what he heard from southern officials back then,” she added. “In some ways, it’s not that different from what my father saw then and what we’re seeing now.”

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Kevin Blackistone, an ESPN writer and journalism professor at this university, moderated the event. He said the kinds of news stories are different, but the theme is the same.

“We may not have lynchings by vigilantes in communities, but we do have extrajudicial killings by police of unarmed black men throughout the United States,” Blackistone said. “So I think there are a lot of similarities between now and then.”

Blackistone noted an increase in hate crimes and violence since Donald Trump was elected president in 2016. He highlighted the 2017 killing of Heather Heyer, who was struck by a car driven by avowed neo-Nazi James Alex Fields at a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. Fields was convicted of first-degree murder, and is facing federal hate crime charges.

After Heyer’s slaying, Trump drew criticism for saying there was “blame on both sides” for the violence.

“We’ve seen this sort of language, which became infamous during the civil rights movement from elected white supremacists in government,” Blackistone said. “We got echoes of that from this administration.”

At the end of the talk, Rosen stressed the importance of continuing her father’s legacy. Rather than accepting segregation, he worked to reject that ideology through journalism and pass along those teachings to his children.

“His church, his school, his family everyone taught him that the races should be separated. That’s what he had heard all his life, and so he went through this very evolutionary process of rejecting those teachings,” she said. “He had this deep-seated, moral and religious conviction that he saw this wrong occurring in America.”