Sunday, August 3, 2014

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 238: Anonymous, No Room in the Cemetery (#238)

Anonymous, "No Room in the Cemetery" (1966) from Reporting Vietnam: American Journalism 1959–1969:
Friends and neighbors of the 19-year-old youth, who was killed in Viet Nam May 19th when grenade fragments ripped into his body, crowded funeral rites at the Newton Church of Christ in Montgomery Sunday.
That's a hell of a sentence, and the whole of the paragraph. This short, anonymous article tends to move like this sentence, packing lots of information into spaces where you might not expect it. I can't help but think that the author threw in that bit about how Jimmy Williams died--and how visceral it was--to drive home the strangeness of this burial.

Because this piece may be in the book on Vietnam reportage, but this snapshot is of America with some deep racial problems. Jimmy was buried in Georgia because there was no room in the Alabama cemetery close to his family, a segregated cemetery.

It's curious to me that this story is written in a somewhat inflammatory style for a journalistic article. Against our current and terrible commitment to "balance" in the news, this article is pretty clear in taking a side, taking the controversial stand that a black soldier killed in an American war should be treated equally. I'm being a little facetious here--it's like when people today come out against slavery and the Holocaust--but I shouldn't be: back then, as this article makes clear, that was still an open issue. But what I'm really curious about here was the prospective audience and how they might've reacted to this piece, printed in the Baltimore Afro-American. The article's author is clearly upset by this, but how did everyone feel after reading the article? Did articles like this change people's minds or galvanize them into action and resistance?

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