Ghostwriting for equal rights

“Ghost Editor” is a well-dramatized biography of Roscoe Dunjee, who founded the Black Dispatch, the first African American newspaper in 1915 Oklahoma City.

Actor Fred Pinkard narrates the series as Dunjee in this episode of the “Destination Freedom” African American history series, which was created by journalist Richard Durham at WMAQ in Chicago in 1948-50. (Remarkably, that was also the station that introduced the long-running African-American dialect comedy hit “Amos and Andy,” started by two white actors.)

As the episode title suggests, Dunjee began working as a ghostwriter, going back and forth between white papers and a previous black paper in Tulsa — until it was blown up while campaigning against a voter suppression bill.

In a particularly dramatic scene, Dunjee fights off a group of assailants, with a last-minute assist from some oilfield workers. “The Klan’s against some of us too,” a big red-haired worker with an Irish accent tells the editor, which helps convince him not to leave Oklahoma.

In another scene, a federal agent encourages Dunjee to go undercover to investigate a Texas lynching — a dangerous reporting technique. But he manages to get key evidence by impersonating the brother of the hanged man, and letting a key figure in the lynching leap to the conclusion that he had the right to sell the murdered man’s land.

Obviously a 30-minute radio drama had to pick and choose action scenes to tell a life story, and may have taken poetic liberties, but I have not read Dunjee’s biography (beyond, I will admit, Wikipedia) to see how close the script came to real events. My project here is just to explore how journalists were portrayed in radio dramas, and this episode does make its points about the editor’s independence, initiative and courage.

Dunjee was one of the first dozen black leaders, including W.E.B. Du Bois and Frederick Douglass, recognized as “giants in American journalism” by the National Newspaper Publishers Association, and was profiled in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly in 1992.

(Douglass was also profiled by Destination Freedom, in a two-part story, but with so much to say about his escape from slavery, his oratory and leadership, the dramatization didn’t do much more than mention his newspaper editorship in passing.)

There also has been a doctoral dissertation about Dunjee:
The Little Caesar of civil rights: Roscoe Dunjee in Oklahoma City, 1915 to 1955,” by John Henry Lee Thompson, Purdue University.

Finally, if you are intrigued by the series and can’t wait for me to get around to listening to more episodes and writing a more in-depth discussion, see the Digital Deli Destination Freedom page for an overview, or listen to any of the dozens of episodes of the Destination Freedom series available at the Internet Archive and on the Destination Freedom directory list at the Old Time Radio Researchers Library.

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who found computers & the Web in grad school in the 1980s (Wesleyan) and '90s (UNC); taught journalism, media studies, Web production; retired to write, make music, photograph sunsets & walks in the woods.
This entry was posted in 1900s, 1940s, 1950s, civil rights, editors, historical figures, newspaper crusades, newspapers, racial justice, reporting, undercover. Bookmark the permalink.

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