By John J. Dunphy Post-Dispatch Special
The struggle against slavery defines pre-1865 American history. The saga of Elijah Lovejoy, the abolitionist newspaper editor who in 1837 was killed by a mob enraged by his editorials condemning slavery, defines the city of Alton on the Mississippi. Indeed, one of the inscriptions on the city’s Lovejoy monument reads in part: “Lovejoy and Alton: names as inseparable and dear to the people of Illinois as those of Lincoln and Springfield, Grant and Galena.”
Lovejoy was indeed the first to fall in our nation for press freedom. He was followed by many others. “The threats against journalists have not stopped,” writes Ken Ellingwood in the introduction to his new book, “First to Fall”.
He cites the 2018 Capitol Gazette massacre in Maryland, when an assailant wielding a shotgun broke into a newspaper office and murdered four reporters and a salesman. “Despots around the world censor, imprison or murder journalists because the truth poses a danger to their grip on power,” observes Ellingwood, while “terrorists target journalists on the ground and in their offices.”
As the author puts it, contemporary events are making Lovejoy more and more relevant to Americans. We live in a time when opponents of free and independent media have become emboldened. “A vain American president recklessly calls the independent press an ‘enemy of the people’,” writes Ellingwood. “Others who feel threatened by the work of legitimate journalists are trying to retaliate with trumped-up untruth claims – ‘fake news’.