A little over half a century ago, following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr and the protests that rose in its wake, Publishers Weekly’s then editor-in-chief, Chandler B. Grannis, felt compelled to speak up. “Modern Americans like to think of their society as one marked by scientific achievement and the advance of humanistic culture,” he wrote, “but once again we have seen this pretension brutally shattered. Once again the American heritage of violence—perpetuated by nostalgic tradition, racial fear, a confusing war, misapplied nationalism, and television programming—has struck down one of our noblest and most needed citizens.”
The editorial might as well have been written yesterday. Today, decades after the victories of the civil rights movement, America is still plagued by so many of the same horrors that convulsed the country through the 1960s—racism, economic inequality, police brutality.
Across the country, people have gathered together over the past week to demonstrate their anger and grief in the wake of the killing of yet another unarmed black man, George Floyd, at the hands of the police. They do so under the auspices of the First Amendment.
The book business is quick to rally behind causes tied to the First Amendment and freedom of speech, but simply working to protect freedom of speech and of the press is not enough. Behind those freedoms are what really matters: the communities and the people who hold those rights.
As an industry, we must come together not just to support the rights to freely assemble and publish, but to stand against the systematic and historic victimization of people of color in substantial ways. Now is the time for everyone in publishing to work toward concrete change in the industry, starting with accelerating its push to diversity by acquiring and publishing antiracist literature and the works of authors of color and diverse backgrounds and LGBTQ authors. The industry also needs to redouble its efforts to hire more minorities and other underrepresented groups.
For PW’s part, we are committed to increasing our efforts to promote diversity. As a first step, we will hire a black journalist to write a regular magazine column and report for our other vehicles, covering diversity and all other topics related to the book business.
“Bookmen, concerned as they are with education and with the opportunities that depend upon reading and learning, have a particular role in seeing that violence shall not have a victory, and that the reasonable dreams of a great America will come true,” Grannis wrote in his editorial. Let all us bookpeople now rise to that role.
This editorial has been updated for clarity.