- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2000

Several Virginia newspapermen have stumbled into the history of the state, and they're shocked.
Officials of the Virginia Press Association (VPA) have discovered that an award named for the late Walter Scott Copeland, for many years the editor of the Newport News Daily Press, honors a man who was an avid segregationist.
Mr. Copeland's name will be removed from the award.
What was most shocking, says Ginger Stanley, the executive director of the press association, was Mr. Copeland's support of the "Massenburg Law," repealed in 1963, that mandated segregation in places of public entertainment.
When the press association board established the W.S. Copeland Award for Journalistic Integrity and Community Service in 1949, she says, the board members probably did not know of Mr. Copeland's views.
"The minutes from board meetings during that time frame don't indicate that [they] gave any discussion to this past situation," she says.
But what may be more likely is that Mr. Copeland's views did not seem remarkable to the board of that era, when racial segregation in schools, hotels, restaurants and nearly every other place of public accommodation, was rarely questioned by black or white.
"Obviously, society had very different views in the 1950s," said Miss Stanley.
Mr. Copeland, a respected editor in his day, was known for backing Progressive-era attempts to boost public funding for education and other public services. He also opposed the Ku Klux Klan.
But when it came to the relations between the races, Mr. Copeland took a hard line. The late editor's views on race were spotlighted Sunday in a Richmond Times-Dispatch story that was based on scholars' work, newspaper clippings and correspondence at the archives of Hampton University (formerly Hampton Institute) and the Library of Virginia.
A native of Jackson, N.C., Mr. Copeland started newspaper work in Petersburg. He moved on to newspapers in Norfolk, Danville and Richmond. He was editor of the Times-Dispatch in the early 1900s before purchasing the Newport News Times-Herald, which later consolidated with the Daily Press.
In 1925, the editor of the Daily Press wrote that mixing of the races would result in disaster: "Amalgamation would mean the destruction of the Anglo-Saxon race in America. Rather than that should be we would prefer that every white child in the United States were sterilized and the Anglo-Saxon race left to perish in its purity."
Mr. Copeland also wrote critically of the teaching practices at the Hampton Institute, a school set up for blacks during Reconstruction: "Here in this old Virginia community, rich in history and tradition, here where the first permanent white man's settlement was made, there is an institution which teaches and practices social equality between the white and Negro races."
Mr. Copeland was also one of the state's leading advocates of the Massenburg Law, according to J. Douglas Smith, a historian specializing in the period of 1920 to 1960 in Virginia.
The Massenburg Law, which expanded the Jim Crow laws already in place, called for a fine of $100 to $500 for the operator of a theater who failed "to separate the white race and the colored race." Patrons could be found guilty of a misdemeanor and punished with a fine of $10 to $25.
Luke West, editor of the Potomac News in Woodbridge and the 1999 winner of the Copeland Award in the under-30,000 circulation category, said he doesn't think the revelations about the late editor diminish the honor.
"One thing you've got to remember is that these kind of things are being spotlighted today," said Mr. West. "It's a different atmosphere."
Mike Hoyt, executive editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, said journalists aren't immune from the pains of history.
"We're part of history, and not every part is a good part," said Mr. Hoyt.
The chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists' Ethics Committee, Denver Post capital bureau chief Fred Brown, said journalists need to do as thorough a job of vetting their own as they do when rummaging through the lives of others.
"We don't cover our own business like we do others," Mr. Brown said.
On Monday, the nine-member VPA Awards Committee unanimously decided to change the name of the award.
The full board, which meets on Sept. 16, is expected to follow suit and is also expected to begin looking into the histories of two other persons who have awards named for them Raymond Bottom and D. Latham Mims.
The Copeland Award was set up in 1949 after the late editor's family proposed it. Mr. Copeland had been a four-term VPA president, including in 1925, when he started his attacks on the practices at Hampton Institute.
"Copeland's actions are a part of history, and we can't change that. But we can be sensitive to the fact that this is the 21st century without diminishing at all the value of Virginia's highest journalism award," Miss Stanley said.

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