Using AAPB’s “Voices from the Southern Civil Rights movement” Exhibit for Radio and U.S. History: A How to Teach My Article Entry

This is the first post in our series, “How to Teach My Article / How to Teach My Book.” Our goal in this series is to bring academic scholarship into classrooms by asking authors to describe and recommend how their scholarship can fit into various educational contexts. The first post is written by a founding member of the RPTF’s Education Division and provides the template for future posts. For more about this series and about our overall blog, check out our open call.

Article: Allison Perlman, “Radio Silence: The Radio Preservation Task Force and the Uses of Radio History,” New Review of Film and Television Studies 16, no. 4 (2018): 434-440.

Please provide a brief description of the piece

This short article uses the “Voices from the Southern Civil Rights Movement” exhibit of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) as a case study to make three interrelated claims. It underlines the urgency of the radio preservation project of the RPTF as a means to redress archival silences that have influenced the scripting of US media history and US history more broadly. It illuminates how historians of the 20th century US, and specifically those focused on the Black freedom struggle, overlook or misrepresent the role of broadcast media in the movement. It then examines the Pacifica broadcasts from the “Voices” exhibit to identify how noncommercial radio covered southern campaigns and to contrast the content of these programs to the better-known television coverage of them. What emerges is an alternate way to understand the relationship between broadcasting and civil rights, one that insistently focused on the experiences and perspectives of activists on the ground.

Discuss the origins and purpose of the piece. How and why did you write it?

I was invited to submit a short essay to a special issue edited by Nora Patterson and Kathy Battles on “Radio Preservation as Social Activism.” I had been involved with the Radio Preservation Task Force since it was created and I had just completed a book on media activism and social movements. In addition, I had become increasingly grouchy over time that my colleagues in the discipline of history so often misrepresented, ignored, or diminished the role of media in their scholarship. And I was in the early stages of researching a history of US public media. So I thought this invitation a great opportunity to think through the import of the work that the RPTF was doing and to flag how this work could and should push us to reimagine how we script 20th century US history and the role of broadcast media within it, especially noncommercial broadcasting.

Identify the kinds of courses in which the piece could be assigned. Is the piece suitable for primary education (middle school, high school), undergraduate, and/or graduate courses?

This could be assigned in any course that addresses US radio history, US broadcasting history, history of the Black Freedom Struggle, archives and their uses, and/or public media.

I think the undergraduate classroom is probably the ideal learning environment for this article. It is short and accessible and could be assigned in both media studies and history courses.

What are your recommendations for how to teach your scholarship?

This short article could be assigned for a range of purposes. It foregrounds Pacifica broadcasts, and thus could enrich a discussion of how and why alternatives to commercial broadcasting expanded the sphere of who could speak, and what could be said, over the airwaves. In addition, it underlines how the Pacifica broadcasts offered a different perspective on the southern civil rights campaigns and could thus provide a base for a productive conversation about media and the Black freedom struggle. It could be assigned alongside one of the radio programs discussed in the piece and a clip of TV news coverage of the Civil Rights Movement. Furthermore, the article raises questions about the relationships between the existence of archives and the scripting of history – drawing on Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s work on archival silences – and could be used to facilitate discussion about how history is written.

Please provide recommendations for other works to assign alongside your article, works that could inform the lesson, and/or programs that could supplement the lesson.

Perhaps most obviously, the “Voices from the Southern Civil Rights Movement” is an excellent exhibit and could be assigned alongside this article. The exhibit offers a very strong introduction to the broadcasters and categorizes the broadcasts by place, organization, and people. It could also be brought into productive dialogue with the AAPB’s “Televising Black Politics in the Black Power Era: Black Journal and Soul!” exhibit.

All of the radio programs referred to in the piece are accessible via the American Archives for Public Broadcasting (the references in the article provide URLs). They could be contrasted with television programs on the Black Freedom Struggle, also available online, such as ABC’s “Walk in My Shoes” or WGBH’s “Perspectives: Negro and the American Promise.”

Other works of scholarship that could be put into productive dialogue with this short piece (depending on learning objectives) include Aniko Bodroghkozy’s Equal Time: Television and the Civil Rights Movement (especially chapter 2); chapter one of Trouillot’s Silencing the Past; Devorah Heitner’s Black Power TV (any chapter); Christine Acham’s  Revolution: Televised, chapter 2; Brian Ward’s Radio and the Struggle for Civil Rights in the South (especially chapter 6); and Matthew Lasar, Pacifica Radio, chapter 9.

We invite any scholars to share how to teach their articles, books, and other projects. Email rptfeducation @ and check out our first post for more details about the Education Division and our blog initiative.

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