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Lomax, Louis E.

Louis E. Lomax
1922–1970

Journalist, civil rights activist

Louis E. Lomax is perhaps best known for his journalism and books. His commitment to the civil rights struggle of the 1960s is reflected in his work and should be considered a notable achievement for a journalist. Through his news editorials in such publications as the Baltimore Afro-American, the Chicago American, and Harper's, his impact on the movement continues. Of equal importance are his books: The Reluctant African, The Negro Revolt, When the Word Is Given: A Report on Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and the Black Muslim World, Thailand: The War that Is, The War that Will Be, and his final work To Kill a Black Man. For his scholarly contributions and tireless effort in the human struggle for civil rights, Lomax should be counted among the notable African American scholar activists of his time.

Louis E. Lomax was born on August 16, 1922 in Valdosta, Georgia. His parents were Sarah Louise Smith Lomax and Emanuel C. Lomax, both of Georgia. As the nation entered the Second World War, Lomax chose to take a different route from many African Americans he knew. Instead of enlisting, Lomax entered Paine College in Augusta, Georgia. After completing his B.A. at Paine, Lomax left the South to pursue graduate studies. He received an M.A. in 1944 from American University, and by 1947, he had attained a Ph.D. from Yale University.

The Early Years with the Black Press

Immediately after completion of his doctorate, Lomax returned to Georgia to teach philosophy at Georgia State College in Savannah. His tenure at the college was short, though; he left academia to for the world of journalism. His first job as a journalist was with the Baltimore Afro-American and the Chicago American. He worked as a reporter for ten years for both newspapers. During those years he covered lynchings, riots, and leadership conflicts within the African American community.

Chronology

1922
Born in Valdosta, Georgia on August 16
1939
Attends Paine College, Augusta, Georgia
1942
Receives B.A. from Paine College
1943
Receives M.A. from American University
1947
Receives Ph.D. from Yale University; returns to Georgia, teaches philosophy at Georgia State University; becomes newspaper reporter for the Baltimore Afro-Americanand and the Chicago American
1958
Leaves the Baltimore Afro-American
1959
Becomes a freelance writer for the Amsterdam News and Harper's Magazine
1960
Publishes first book entitled The Reluctant African
1962
Publishes The Negro Revolt
1963
Publishes When the Word Is Given: A Report on Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and the Black Muslim World
1964–68
Hosts weekly television talk show in Los Angeles, California
1965
Co-hosts with Mike Wallace The Hate that Hate Produced, a documentary on Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam
1968
Publishes To Kill A Black Man
1970
Dies in car accident near Santa Rosa, New Mexico on July 30

In 1955, Lomax covered the murder of Emmett Till, the Chicago youth who was slain in Mississippi for his alleged disrespect toward a white woman. Emmett Till was murdered while he was visiting relatives during the summer of 1955. Lomax's coverage drew the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI was also suspicious of Lomax because of how he covered the murder of several other African American men during the same period, raising questions about the FBI agents who seemed according to Lomax to be disinterested in solving the crimes. The cases pertained to Reverend George Wesley Lee, Gus Courts, Lamar "Ditney" Smith, and Amos Reece. Lee, Courts, and Smith were killed while trying to recruit black voters in Mississippi. Amos Reece, a resident of Cobb County, Georgia, was convicted of raping a white woman. Lomax gave each case attention in articles he wrote for the Baltimore Afro-American and the Chicago American.

In the 1960s Lomax was a freelance writer, working in both the mainstream and black presses. He also was publishing books with topics that ranged from political controversy in the black community to the crisis in Thailand. Then, too, Lomax's coverage and increasing criticism of black leadership began to extend beyond his editorial statements. In 1962, he published The Negro Revolt, an elaboration of earlier articles in which he examined black leadership. Lomax believed that the Negro revolt involved more than active resistance against white domination. It also included a revolt of the Negro masses against their own leadership and goals. He analyzed leading civil rights groups of the day, including the NAACP, Urban League, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Nation of Islam (NOI). In Lomax's view the revolt expressed black frustration with the traditional leadership organizations whose tactics had grown obsolete by the mid-1950s. Younger, more radical leadership tended to reject the elitist thinking of its leadership. Many young people in the civil rights period wanted to adopt a militant stance against segregation. Leaders such as Whitney Young of the Urban League and Malcolm X of the Nation of Islam attracted young radical activists. In Lomax's view established leaders such as Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, labor leader A. Philip Randolph, and SCLC leaders needed to broaden their ideology as well as their tactics.

In the 1960s Lomax was involved with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.. He co-hosted with Mike Wallace the documentary The Hate that Hate Produced, which focused on the Nation of Islam, its leadership, and the black community. In 1963 he published When the Word Is Given: A Report on Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and the Black Muslim World. The book provided details about the Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad and his appeal to a segment of the black population.

Tragically Lomax died in a car accident. The accident happened two years after the 1968 release of his book To Kill a Black Man, which examined the lives and assassinations of his close friends Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Lomax named the people he suspected to be the killers, and some people speculated that his death was the consequence of his investigation.

REFERENCES

Periodicals

"Funeral Services Held for Writer Louis Lomax," Baltimore Afro-American, 4 August 1970.

Collections

The Louis Lomax Papers are in the Ethnicity and Race Manuscript Collection at University of Nevada at Reno. The Louis Lomax File at Federal Bureau of Investigation, Freedom of Information Privacy Library is available online at www.fbi.gov.

                                 Baiyina W. Muhammad

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