Thanks to Senior Managing Editor Matt Joyce for another dynamic Texas Highways magazine web assignment. In July 2021, I visited the African American Museum in Dallas as part of my story about Houston artist Cary Fagan's photographic work honoring the late Texas native and legendary choreographer/dancer Alvin Ailey. Fagan's images are in the Smithsonian Institution's 'Men of Change: Power. Triumph. Truth' exhibit, at the Museum through Sept. 12, 2021. You may read my story here. Please read my other Texas Highways' works here.
“Delta Epiphany Spotlights Robert F. Kennedy’s Enduring Social Change Legacy” (Online Audio Documentary)
Based on Ellen Meacham’s acclaimed 2018 book, “Delta Epiphany: Robert F. Kennedy in Mississippi,” award-winning multimedia editor and journalist Regina L. Burns executive-produced, reported, and edited the online audio documentary, “Delta Epiphany Spotlights Robert F. Kennedy’s Enduring Social Change Legacy.” This month on the 53rd anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, Meacham’s book is the tour guide for this online audio documentary.
Burns embedded audio interviews she recorded in 2018 of Meacham and Michael White, one of the then-children whose Mississippi Delta home Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-New York) visited in 1967, with pivotal moments from Meacham’s book. Burns also interviewed Dallas, Texas-based Melinda Guravich, daughter-in-law of the late Greenville, Mississippi-based photographer Dan Guravich, whose photographs graced the book’s front and back covers
Kennedy’s 1968 Presidential Campaign
“Delta Epiphany Spotlights Robert F. Kennedy’s Enduring Social Change Legacy” explores Meacham’s book through NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund attorney Marian Wright’s plea to help the starving people in the Mississippi Delta to Kennedy’s arrival in Jackson, Mississippi, and his heartbreaking anti-poverty tour. Meacham traced the horrible human hunger Kennedy witnessed and the quick actions he took to provide aid as well as the subsequent impact of Kennedy’s anti-poverty awareness campaign, which influenced his decision to run for president in 1968. After he was assassinated on June 6, 1968, many other people carried Kennedy’s anti-poverty work forward, despite challenges and naysayers.
COVID-19 and SNAP
Approximately 25 million SNAP-- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- recipients are now eligible for additional emergency assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year in 2021, the USDA said it would provide the increased emergency aid to SNAP participants who had reached the maximum benefit level and had not already received the increased benefits, which Congress approved in 2020.
Purchase Requirement Dropped for Food Stamps
SNAP’s roots date to 1939 and the Great Depression. Back then and recently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people stood in bread lines as hunger swept the country. Meacham provided abundant signposts of Kennedy’s social change journey, and his ongoing influence on various anti-hunger programs such as the 1977 federal legislation that dropped the purchase requirement for food stamps. Prior to that legislation, food stamps had to be purchased. Meacham documented that Kennedy learned, during his ‘Delta Epiphany’ tour, people struggling to put food on the table lacked the financial resources to buy food stamps.
Audio documentary (19:06) and transcript download (.PDF) are below.
Remembering RFK's trip to the Mississippi Delta (Article and "When D.C. Came to the Delta" Video by Junior Walters)
Copyright © June 11, 2021, Regina L. Burns, Harvest Reapers Communications. All Rights Reserved.
‘The Fight for Civil Rights in the South’ is on display through Memorial Day, May 31, 2021, at the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum.
A Note from
Regina L. Burns
In 2018, Edward Welch Jr., Ph.D., (above) first told me that he attended Dr. Martin L. King Jr.’s funeral when he was 17. At the time, we were having a telephone discussion about media coverage of the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination. I was shocked to learn I knew someone who had actually attended Dr. King’s April 9, 1968 funeral service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
I asked him if I could record an audio interview for my blog. He agreed. Welch, who is an Associate Professor at Grambling State University’s Department of Mass Communication, said he was present at Dr. King’s funeral as a youthful representative of Ann Arbor, Michigan. He said he was invited to attend the funeral because he was president of the NAACP Youth Council. He said then-Mayor Wendell Hulcher came to his house during his senior year at Pioneer High School. Hulcher asked Welch’s parents’ permission for Welch to travel with the mayor by airplane to Atlanta. His parents agreed he could attend the funeral service.
Invited and Alone
Welch said I was the first journalist to interview him about his historic role. I am thankful I asked him for the interview and that he agreed to share his story. My research revealed Welch’s name was not included in media coverage of the Ann Arbor mayor’s trip to Atlanta, despite his request for Welch to attend. In addition, Welch was not part of the Michigan delegation at thefuneral, he said, even though he was an official representative. He attended the funeral service by himself.
Alone. A 17-year-old, who was asked to represent his city’s youth, was all byhimself at Dr. King’s funeral. Think about that.
I first met Welch when I was the news/public director at WGKX KIX-106 in Memphis, Tennessee. He sent his University of Memphis broadcast students to my internship program. That was in the late 1980s.
'Snowmageddon' Delayed Online Audio Documentary Project
After I recorded the first interview in 2018, I didn’t have the research and production time available to work on this project until 2021. I began working on it in January 2021 and set a deadline to publish by late March 2021. However, February 2021’s ice storm accurately dubbed “snowmageddon” delivered water damage and other challenges, which delayed the project. Nevertheless, I knew I had to get this story out this year. It blossomed into an online audio documentary from the trove of research documents I found. Please read below my shout-out to the libraries that assisted me.
I am thankful to Welch and his childhood friend, Charles Whitman (above left), who was chair of the education committee of the NAACP Youth Council at Pioneer High School, for making themselves available for interviews. Their friendship started in 1965 and their recall of Welch's 1968 trip to Atlanta is documentary "gold."
Thank you also to the amazing research librarians at The University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Willard Library in Battle Creek, Michigan, and the Dallas Public Library in Dallas, Texas.
Copyright © May 19, 2021, Regina L. Burns, Harvest Reapers Communications. All Rights Reserved.
Click on the player below to hear the online audio documentary.
This is Regina L. Burns, reporting for Harvest Reapers Communications.
Imagine it’s April 9, 1968, and you’re in Atlanta, Georgia. You’re attending (video of Dr. King's funeral service) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral. You went to the funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church to represent your city’s youth. And by the way, you’re a 17-year-old Black male.
(See video of Mrs. Coretta Scott King as she lies in honor at the Georgia state Capitol).
1--SOUNDBITE Edward Welch Jr., Ph.D., (Me): “I was a senior … Hulcher of Ann Arbor.”
That’s Edward Welch Jr., who holds a doctorate in Mass Communication from Ohio University. He’s an Associate Professor at Grambling State University’s Department of Mass Communication.
Welch stepped into history when he attended Dr. King’s funeral in 1968. This is the first time he has publicly shared his thoughts about this historic event. I interviewed him in 2018 and again in 2021.
2--SOUNDBITE Edward Welch Jr., Ph.D., (There): “I feel extremely fortunate … I was there.”
The Ann Arbor, Michigan City Council sent Mayor Wendell Hulcher and Welch to Atlanta. They were part of a prestigious delegation from Michigan headed by then-Gov. George Romney, according to an April 9, 1968, Associated Press news story in the Enquirer and News newspaper in Battle Creek, Michigan.
3--SOUNDBITE Edward Welch Jr., Ph.D., (Dropped Off): “Now, I know … way it went.”
Like so many cities, Ann Arbor roared with unrest after the April 4 assassination of Dr. King in Memphis, Tennessee. In fact, the AP story reported violence occurred in several Michigan cities in the hours before King’s funeral.
The AP story also reported Hulcher’s attendance at Dr. King’s funeral generated backlash from Albert Wheeler, Dr.PH., who at the time was president of the Michigan branch of the NAACP. Welch explains what Wheeler found troublesome:
4--SOUNDBITE Edward Welch Jr. Ph.D., (Wheeler): “Did not want … him speaking up.”
Hulcher died in 1999.
Charles Whitman was the NAACP Youth Council’s Education Chair at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He later worked for Ford Motor Company in Livonia, Michigan for 30 years until his retirement. During a May 2021 interview, Whitman recalled Welch’s 1968 trip to attend Dr. King’s funeral.
5--SOUNDBITE Charles Whitman (Supportive): “We were very … the Youth Council.”
6--SOUNDBITE Charles Whitman (Activist): “What are some things … of an activist nature.”
Whitman said President Lyndon Johnson ordered flags at half-staff. However, not everyone followed his command.
7--SOUNDBITE Charles Whitman (Half-staff): “What I recall is … and what not.”
I received this May 18, 2021-email from the Ann Arbor Public Schools in response to my request for comment, “Unfortunately, we do not have a good way to research this information to confirm it in such a short time period.”
Meanwhile, Welch picked up the story with his memories of an unforgettable funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
8--SOUNDBITE Edward Welch Jr., Ph.D., (Wilt Chamberlain): “Do you recall … inside the church.”
(See Alabama Department of Archives & History's photo of Richard Nixon and Wilt Chamberlain in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s funeral procession).
After the funeral on the airplane trip back to Michigan, Welch and Hulcher shared a remarkable discussion.
9--SOUNDBITE Edward Welch Jr., Ph.D., (Politics): “You had mentioned … home from Atlanta.”
Welch graduated from high school in June 1968. He completed college and later earned masters’ degrees from the University of Michigan and Northwestern University. In 1979, he accepted his second general assignment reporter’s job. He moved his family from Buffalo, New York to work for WHBQ-TV in Memphis. Welch said he was later approached by the station’s news management about a promotion to executive producer. In 1982, Welch became the first Black manager in TV news in Memphis, he said. He achieved that milestone when he accepted the executive producer promotion.
I wanted to know if and how attending Dr. King’s funeral prepared him to become a reporter and an executive producer.
10--SOUNDBITE Edward Welch Jr., Ph.D., (Journalist): “I think all this… being a journalist.”
He later transitioned to a new career in academia, which he still finds satisfying. His numerous accomplishments in journalism education include shepherding students’ award-winning entries in the Hearst Journalism Awards Program.
11--SOUNDBITE Edward Welch Jr., Ph.D., (Hearst): “So, what are you … students to compete.”
Starting with the NAACP Youth Council presidency at his high school, Welch has embodied leadership and courage. He attended Dr. King’s funeral alone when he was a teenager.
That accomplishment is too important not to be recorded in the annals of history.
This has been Regina L. Burns reporting for Harvest Reapers Communications, in Dallas.
Copyright © May 19, 2021, Regina L. Burns, Harvest Reapers Communications. All Rights Reserved.
More Stories from Regina
How often do you meet a historian whose father was the first African American to be elected county commissioner in Palestine, Texas? I had that privilege Sept. 19, 2020, thanks to Texas Highways magazine. You can read my story in the January 2021 issue here.
Read my other Texas Highways magazine stories here.
After the Texas Highways magazine interview in Palestine, Texas, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020, we stopped to capture this notable photo. From left to right: Historian Reginald "Reggie" Browne Jr., journalist Regina L. Burns, photographer Sean Fitzgerald and Palestine, Texas-born Rev. Clevel Scott. Photo by Sean Fitzgerald.
Read my profile of Edmund Morrow here. Read my other Texas Highways magazine stories here.
Marilyn Calhoun, a 22-year breast cancer survivor, is still advocating awareness and prevention. The retired Dallas principal and veteran educator wants women to be proactive, get mammograms as well as participate in other breast cancer prevention programs. Calhoun originally shared her triumphant journey in a 2011 Harvest Reapers Communications’ video interview. Her words still ring true and her message is more important than ever, so please take the time to watch:
I recently listened to Aretha Franklin’s captivating album, “Young, Gifted and Black” while paying tribute to the “Queen of Soul” and her global influence. She paints a beautiful picture of what it means to be black in America.
Yes, it’s often a difficult journey because we face trials and experience pain. However, African-Americans are substantial contributors, innovators and achievers.
This is the first Women’s History Month since the death of Aretha Louise Franklin in her Detroit, Michigan, home Aug. 16, 2018. She died from pancreatic cancer. Born in 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee, she would have turned 77 on March 25.
Her talent knew no limits. She was a pianist, songwriter and singer. Aretha also was an actress, civil rights activist and a loving mother and so much more.
- She sang at inaugural events for three U.S. presidents: In 1977, at Jimmy Carter’s inaugural gala, in 1993 and 1997 for Bill Clinton’s inaugural events, and in 2009, at Barack Obama’s inauguration. She also performed at the White House in 1994.
- Aretha was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
- She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, awarded by former President George W. Bush.
Aretha’s life and legacy showed me how to fight proudly for what I believe in. This is the year I start creating my delicate, yet fierce marking for the world: I intend to honor my ancestors while creating my own identity, take calculated risks and raise my voice in favor of issues and causes I believe in, just like Aretha did. She was an iconic pioneer whose proud, powerful gospel and soul music influenced generations of performers and fans.In fact, her influence can’t be measured. There’s no doubt about it: She changed the world.
Why do I say all of this? Because I, too, am young, gifted and black.
- Aretha Franklin movie starring Jennifer Hudson will hit theaters in 2020
- Trailer For Aretha Franklin Documentary Will Give You The Chills [VIDEO]
- TIME Joins Aretha Franklin Concert Documentary Amazing Grace as Distribution Partner with NEON
- Historical Plaque Now Marks Aretha Franklin's Childhood Home In Memphis
- Aretha Franklin's Bio
Regina L. Burns contributed to this blog post.
(c) March 2019. Harvest Reapers Communications. All Rights Reserved.
I had the privilege of working with McCaa during a series of contract gigs at Channel 8 that involved the assignment desk. The best description of what working on the assignment desk is comes from one of my esteemed Abilene Christian University journalism professors, Dr. Charles Marler—it’s “like an octopus.” For example, the Desk:
• Manages day-to-day and breaking news assignments for TV news crews.
• Navigates Twitter and Facebook for updates.
• Vets information across a host of databases.
• Provides research support by phone.
My most-memorable-McCaa moment was during WFAA’s coverage of the Dallas police ambush in the summer of 2016. This tragic event brought the newsroom to a collective heartfelt loss, for all those who were killed and injured. There were other emotions that elevated us: admiration and respect for the videographers and reporters who were on the scene that fateful day, July 7, 2016. In the midst of handling logistics, gathering details of funeral arrangements and verifying other information for producers, I witnessed McCaa’s calm leadership during our team briefings.
Having worked in journalism for a variety of news organizations such as: KRBC-TV in Abilene, WPTY-TV, WLOK and WGKX radio stations in Memphis, FayObserver.com in Fayetteville, North Carolina, as well as The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi, and Dallas, (not to mention a wealth of freelance gigs), by far the Dallas police ambush story was the toughest to cover.
McCaa brought experience gained from other challenging assignments in his long career to this tragic event in Dallas.
He writes that retiring from television news after more than 42 years is “not easy.” However, he sensed that God “decided it was time” and he’s being obedient.
I am thrilled that my career dovetailed with his and that I gained so much from being in the newsroom during his tenure. His TV news experience, his depth of knowledge and his caring spirit elevated the environment and the newscast. Every time.
Thank you for your service. #ThanksJohn
(c) March 2019 Harvest Reapers Communications. All Rights Reserved.
Do you know why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. went to Memphis in 1968? It was to support the striking Memphis sanitation workers. Prior to their decision to strike in February 1968 over horrible working conditions, low pay and a lack of dignity, two sanitation workers — Echol Cole and Robert Walker — were crushed to death in a malfunctioning garbage truck on Feb. 1, 1968.
After that, the African-American Memphis sanitation workers went on strike for better pay, improved working conditions and to be treated with respect as men. Do you know how much they were paid? According to researchers at Wayne State University, “the average pay was $1.80 per hour.”
The original blog post on this topic was published in April 2011. It has been updated with new information, new images, a video from the labor union involved in the strike and, a tribute to Dr. King and other civil rights warriors in the form of a prayer. It's a wake-up-call prayer fervently prayed Jan. 20, 2019, by Rev. Dr. Thomas Hudspeth of Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas.
To read the updated blog post, experience the video and hear Dr. Hudspeth's MLK prayer, click here: https://bit.ly/2R4vIKY.
About the Author:
Regina L. Burns, M.A., Project+, is an award-winning multimedia editor and journalist, specializing in Black history and African American stories at Harvest Reapers Communications. Her work has been published in Texas Highways magazine, WFAA-TV, The Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as well as The Commercial Appeal, the Tri-State Defender and The Flyer, among others.
She previously worked for a variety of news media organizations as an editor and journalist, including The Associated Press in Mississippi and Texas. She was news director at WLOK-AM and WGKX KIX-106 FM in Memphis. Learn more
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