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The Domino Effect: MBU Professor Researches Correlation of Civil Rights & Journalism

1964 marks the 50th anniversary of Missouri Baptist University and the verdict of Times v. Sullivan – a victorious verdict for the field of journalism and racial equality. This October, Associate Professor C. Allin Means, Ph.D, presented “50 Years Ago the Dominoes Fell: Civil Rights Movement’s Sequential Events Leading to Times v. Sullivan Actual Malice” to the American Journalism Historians Association’s 33rd Annual Convention.

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan is the court case that established the actual malice standard, protecting freedom of press. In 1960, “The New York Times” printed a full-page advertisement raising money to defend Martin Luther King, Jr. against the Alabama courts for perjury. The Montgomery Public Safety commissioner, L.B. Sullivan, filed a libel suit against the Times for discrepancies, even though he was not named in the advertisement. The case was brought to the Supreme Court and decided in favor of the New York Times Co. This decision created the actual malice standard, protecting journalists from political-based lawsuits.

Means’ presentation connects the dots throughout the civil rights era, leading to the case. His research suggests that without events such as Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott,  journalism may not have the same freedoms of press.

Means joined Missouri Baptist University in the fall of 2011, teaching journalism and communications classes in addition to advising the student news publication, “MBU Timeline.”