Publishing Companies’ Remarkable Impact on the Civil Rights Movement

Publishing companies have always been a key component of recognizing the human experience. Here’s their contribution to the Civil Rights Movement and uplifting Black voices.

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Black and white photo of Civil Rights March

During social change, certain narratives spread far and wide. Social media makes it easier for people to make their beliefs known. Yet, this process is relevant in historical conversations as well. Publishing companies are a prominent factor in present and past social movements. They allow voices to be heard and recognized through the following years. The Civil Rights Movement is an authentic example of that.

Newspapers at the time, especially in the South, hesitated to put news of the uprising on the front page. In an interview with NPR, newspaper editor Hank Klibanoff stated:

“[Newspapers] really didn’t know how to cover the story… certainly what you never see is a reflection of what it was like to be on the other side, to be an African-American in Alabama.”

Then, only white people reported and reviewed the stories, making it difficult for them to, without bias, report the Black experience of the Civil Rights Movement.

Luckily, Black leaders found a different approach to getting their message across and letting their voices be heard—books. Unsurprisingly, the two most popular publishing houses today—HarperCollins and Random House—led the publishing industry in the 1960s as well. These companies let the public hear the Black experience through a reliable narrator. Here are the voices they amplified during the Civil Rights Movement.

Harper and Row (now HarperCollins)


HarperCollins is a prominent figure in the publishing world, even in the 1960s. In 1962, the company Harper & Brothers combined with Row, Peterson & Company to become Harper and Row. During the Civil Rights Movement, Harper and Row published a variety of Black voices to spread their message.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Richard Wright are the most notable Black authors published under Harper and Row. Important works like Why We Can’t Wait and Native Son provided a perspective of the movement that was often never publicized, now allowing people everywhere to get a glimpse of the horrific realities Black Americans had to face.


The influence King and Wright had with their work was remarkable. Specifically with Native Son, Wright evaluated how America separates people into racial categories and the impacts they have on their quality of life. Harper and Row gave them the opportunity to share their experiences in a completely honest space, inspiring many future writers to do the same. Thus, the Black narrative traveled throughout the country, and audiences learned the other side of the story.

Random House


Similar to Harper and Row, Random House maintained its leading influence in the publishing industry with contributions of Black authors during the Civil Rights Movement. Specifically, they also included Black female authors in their catalog. Voices like Maya Angelou and Angela Davis represented a part of the Black community that was overlooked by the public as the Women’s Liberation Movement had just barely begun.


Davis’ Women, Race and Class intersected racial and feminist criticisms and talked of slavery along with the Women’s Liberation Movement. These essays brought to light the various ways discrimination occurs, making the narrative relevant to both African Americans and women. Random House publishing these essays helped women involved in the Civil Rights Movement feel seen in other aspects of society that continued to lessen their worth.

Along with Davis and Angelou, Ralph Ellison is another notable author that Random House published. In particular, his book Invisible Man connects discussions of race, politics, mental health, and identity. While these conversations are always important to have, talking about them in regard to race is critical to understand the effects racial discrimination has on other aspects of society. For this reason, the book received abundant praise. There is even a statue in Manhattan that honors Ellison for his work!


Other Prominent Publishing Companies

Of course, there were many other publishing companies that also amplified Black voices. Beacon Press, Doubleday, and Third World Press published authors like James Baldwin, Chinua Achebe, and Gwendolyn Brooks to elevate the Black community further.

Ultimately, publishing companies made a massive impact on the Civil Rights Movement and how we interpret it now. The stories they provided brought forward truth and sincerity in a way that could only be done through Black voices. Without them, bias and prejudice would only be that much stronger.

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