UofM's Hooks Institute Selects Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press As 2015 National Book Award Winner

September2, 2016 - The Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis has selected Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press by James McGrath Morris as the winner of its National Book Award for 2015. The award recognizes publications that best advance an understanding of the American civil rights movement and its legacy.

Morris' biography excavates the story of Ethel Payne, a journalist whose work for the Chicago Defender during her multi-decade career provided a lens to thousands of African-American readers into the action of the civil rights movement and beyond. Covering the school desegregation crisis in Little Rock, interviewing black troops in Vietnam or quizzing multiple presidents during her years at the White House, Payne's career demonstrated the role journalists could play both in helping to build a movement by informing the public and in furthering that movement by putting pointed questions to those in power.

In his highly accessible book, Morris traces the narrative of Payne's career and adds insight into her personal experiences as a pioneering black woman in the press. In so doing, the book shines a light on the crucial role of the black press during the civil rights movement and enlarges the field of movement icons to include a less obvious piece of the larger political struggle. At the same time, Morris has explicitly inserted the voice of a female figure within the movement and has helped ensure that a wider range of perspectives will be included in the collective memory of this period in American history. Payne's experiences span the life of the movement, and Morris effectively utilizes her story to craft a true civil rights biography.

The Hooks Institute received 20 nominations for the book award. In addition to Eye on the Struggle, the other finalists were: Demolition Means Progress: Flint Michigan and the Fate of the American Metropolis by Dr. Andrew Highsmith; Prefiguring Postblackness: Cultural Memory, Drama and the African American Freedom Struggle of the 1960s by Dr. Carol Bunch Davis; Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America by Wil Haygood; and What Can and Can't be Said: Race, Uplift, and Monument Building in the Contemporary South by Dr. Dell Upton.

The five judges on the Book Award Committee were Dr. Beverly Cross, holder of the Lillian and Morrie Moss Chair of Excellence in Urban Education at the University of Memphis; Dr. Ernest Gibson, assistant professor of English at Rhodes College; Dr. Aram Goudsouzian, professor and chair of history at the University of Memphis; Dr. Daniel Kiel, associate professor of law at the University of Memphis; and Dr. Elton Weaver III, assistant professor of history at LeMoyne-Owen College.

The 2015 National Book Award presentation, including a lecture by winning author James McGrath Morris, will be held on Nov. 15 at the UofM. Visit memphis.edu/benhooks/events/index.php for updates on the award presentation event.

To be considered for the 2016 National Book Award, one copy of the book should be submitted, postmarked by Dec. 31, to National Book Award Nomination, Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change, 107 Scates Hall, University of Memphis, Memphis, TN 38152-3530.

In 1996, University of Memphis officials received approval from the Tennessee Board of Regents to create the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change in the College of Arts & Sciences. The mission of the Institute is teaching, studying and promoting civil rights and social change. The Hooks Institute archives include Hooks' personal papers, which are housed in the Mississippi Valley Collection in the University's McWherter Library.

Daphne McFerren: 901.678.3974
Daniel Kiel: 901.678.1672