Teaching Our Journal: Nationalizing and Transnationalizing Self-Defense on Radio Free Dixie

By Cristina Mislan, University of Missouri

Teaching the Article: Ideas and Exercises

This article highlights the multiple relationships between the role of radio in the Cold War, the 1960s Jim Crow system in the United States, self-defense politics, international politics, and imperialism. Particularly, it illustrates how Williams’ Radio Free Dixie program shaped these conversations through the discourse of self-defense, a resistance tool that intersected local and global politics. The following exercises ask students to consider the role media have historically played in disseminating political messages, shaping calls to action, and intersecting national and global politics. Through these exercises, students will gain insight into the historic role that various media, from radio to social media, have played in shaping discourse about resistance, race, and global phenomena. Students are asked to consider how contemporary forms of media activism are not new. Instead, they are part of a larger historical evolution that continues to raise questions about structural racism in both local and global spaces.


Exercise 1

Much research on the role radio played in the twentieth century has emphasized its private and public influences on listeners. During the Cold War, radio was seen as a tool that could disseminate to thousands of people simultaneously, thus providing what some propaganda researchers called the magic bullet effect. For both the capitalist and communist agenda, the idea was that these political messages would change the hearts and minds of the masses. Radio propaganda thus became an essential tool for many governments around the world.

The database Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) includes historical collections of daily broadcast reports between 1941-1996. Conducting some preliminary research on US radio propaganda, choose a particular radio program such as Voice of America, and conduct an online search for at least five broadcast reports disseminated within a particular time period and/or geographical region by your chosen radio program. In your analysis, address the following:


  • What is/are the main topic(s) being discussed? What role do national interests play here? In other words, whose perspective is being reported?
  • What is the larger political context in which these reports were disseminated?
  • To what extent does an important geopolitical relationship factor into the broadcasts?
  • Explain and describe the themes that emerge from these reports regarding political interests/messages?
  • Explain if and how these themes use particular language in describing a certain phenomenon and/or ideological interests?



Exercise 2

Along with fitting into the history of radio propaganda, Radio Free Dixie also is positioned within the context of black radio. Along with the black press, black radio offered alternative discourses in relation to the civil rights movement. Radio programs led by black hosts informed black communities about civil rights demonstrations, activities, and issues such as police brutality. These alternative discourses were combined with the airing of black music to further provide context about black struggle in the United States. For instance, many radio programs aired blues music, a genre known to expose the oppression of black people particularly in the South. Similarly, the black press provided its communities with information that differed from the mainstream press. The historiography of the black press illustrates that the medium did not practice mainstream “objective” journalism; instead, it sought to provide a space to black journalists who wanted to cover their communities and issues in ways that resisted mainstream misrepresentations of people of color. Journalism advocacy, therefore, has become a hallmark of the journalistic contributions made by black intellectuals and writers. They sought to tell their own stories to challenge status quo policies and representations of black life. Black radio did the same.

While black-owned radio programs today are scarce, there continues to exist the relevance of alternative media as a forum for protest. Today, black activists employ social media, such as Twitter, to bring awareness to the issues of police brutality and other forms of structural racism. The Black Lives Matter movement that sprang up after the high-profile deaths of primarily unarmed young black men sparked the development of various hashtags on Twitter, many referring to what activists call the legal lynching of black people in the United States. Social media, therefore, have helped shape national conversations about the manifestation of violence in black communities by police officers and white men. This conversation, of course, is not new; it is an extension of structural issues that Williams often highlighted in Radio Free Dixie in the 1960s. Police brutality and widespread discrimination were heavily prevalent in his radio transcripts.

For this exercise, analyze the attached primary sources of Radio Free Dixie. Next, conduct an online search on Twitter under #blacklivesmatter. Analyze at least three pages of the feed. Compare these two media and make notes of any similar and/or differences between the two platforms. Next, analyze the messages and answer the following.


  • To what extent do these two platforms employ similar and/or different language in a conversation about structural racism and resistance politics?
  • Explain the themes that emerge from both platforms and highlight how both media have been employed as tools for activism.
  • How are activists using Twitter in a similar and/or different way from Williams’s use of radio?
  • How do the forms of resistance intersect or diverge from one another?
  • Explain how these forms of resistance may or may not be situated solely within domestic politics about race?
  • How may these forms of resistance link to international politics?


Exercise 3

Scholars argue that much of mainstream media coverage has portrayed black social movements through discourse that often discredits structural issues as causes for black discontent and treatment in the dominant society. Likewise, activists who fight against those injustices are often dismissed or portrayed negatively. The FBI and mainstream press in the United States performed surveillance on Williams and sought to discredit his work.

Fast forward to 2014 and 2015, and note that the forms of resistance employed by black activists in cities such as Baltimore, Maryland, and Ferguson, Missouri, have come under enormous media scrutiny. Now, conduct an online search of mainstream news coverage about incidents of police brutality today. Using a newspaper database, find at least ten mainstream news articles (an example being the New York Times) on the discourse of race and violence in relation to police brutality and/or the death of blacks by blacks. Next, find at least ten articles from a historical black newspaper, such as the Chicago Defender or the Pittsburgh Courier, to find examples of coverage in the black press. The databases for both newspapers can be accessed online, and the newspapers have online presences via their websites. Keeping in mind that much of the content in today’s traditional black press is often generated by mainstream wire services, you can look for columns and editorials that are generated locally or by black syndicated figures who provide columns to black newspapers. Answer the following questions.

  • How does race play a role in the news coverage of recent uprisings related to police brutality in Baltimore and Ferguson? Explain and provide examples.
  • What kind of language is used to describe the demonstrations in both types of newspapers? In other words, are words like “violence,” “riots,” “looting,” etc. used repeatedly? How does the language in the mainstream newspaper differ from the black newspaper?
  • How are the victims of police action portrayed? Are they victims or criminals? How are the police portrayed? What terms are associated with their actions or with them personally?
  • How might knowledge about mainstream news coverage of issues relating to race and violence give us context for understanding the perspective of Williams?
  • How might the relationship between violence and race provide context for the meanings of self-defense in alternative media?



  • David S. Meyer, “The Challenge of Cultural Elites: Celebrities and Social Movements,” Sociological Inquiry 65, no. 2 (1995): 181-206.
  • Robert M. Entman and Andrew Rojecki, “Freezing Out the Public: Elite and Media Framing of the US Anti-Nuclear Movement,” Political Communication 10, no. 2 (1993): 155-173.
  • Myra Marx Ferree, “Soft Repression: Ridicule, Stigma, and Silencing in Gender-Based Movements,” in Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change, ed. Daniel J. Myers and Daniel M. Cress, vol. 25, Authority in Contention (Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing, 2004), 85-101.
  • Bart Cammaerts, “Protest Logics and the Mediation Opportunity Structure,” European Journal of Communication 27, no. 2 (2012): 117-134.