The famous movie, The Matrix, has in recent times been touted as more of a new age documentary rather than a Sci-Fi flick. However, where does this idea stem from and what does this all have to do with a white journalist by the name of Ralph McGill who was born on February 5, 1898? (Yes… his race IS a a relevant factor and will come into play later on in this article.)
The Matrix has been considered more of a documentary than a fictional creation because the Western world is considered to be and is viewed by themselves as a ‘fake’ or merely a ‘simulation.’ In a day and age where people no longer work for the truthfulness, honour, or the inherent merit of their jobs, they instead work for the monetary value of their occupations. While there is nothing inherently wrong with performing certain duties for money, a special spotlight must be put on those who are willing to risk their income, reputation and their lives for the ‘real-ness’ of their jobs.
Ralph McGill was born in a time where racism was rampant and segregation was at its height (or it reached its peak during his lifetime.) He was a white journalist, editor and publisher who wrote about hate crimes and called for the civil rights of all African Americans during a time where blacks and whites couldn’t even share a water fountain let alone vote. Despite his numerous accolades within the media and journalism industry he is most known for being the editor and publisher of the Atlanta Constitution, which at the time was one of the pioneers in shedding light on the racism that was so prevalent in the South at that time.
Ralph’s rebellious yet rightful nature started off at an early age when he was suspended from his university (a private secondary school called Vanderbilt University) for his entire senior year due to an article he wrote which critiqued the school itself. However, the native of Tennessee never returned back to school to finish his degree after he accepted a position as a sports writer with the Nashville Banner newspaper.
It was later, during his time as editor-in-chief with the Atlanta Constitution, between the years 1942 to 1960 (and later as it’s publisher between 1960 to 1969) where he began to write about the disparities between white and black schools and how the ‘separate but equal’ movement was failing and a fraud. He repeatedly wrote columns showcasing the failure of the segregation movement and called for the whites and other Americans to accept the full civil rights of African Americans.
According to the Atlanta Journal & Constitution, Ralph wrote more than 10,000 columns for the paper during his lifetime and he was easily regarded as one of the most important voices of the South. As reported by the King Center, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. even penned a letter from Birmingham Jail (the famous ‘Letter From a Birmingham Jail’) where he named Ralph McGill as one of the ‘few enlightened white persons’ who fought for the civil rights movement of all people.
Despite vocally opposing the Ku Klux Klan during his lifetime, Ralph wasn’t just a crusader for the African Americans. He also wrote about political corruption and other racial inequalities and hate crimes such as the bombing of a synagogue in 1958 in Atlanta. It was later in the late 1950’s when Ralph used his nationally syndicated column to reach out to thousands of readers to write about the importance of black voters and foreshadowed how one day they would play an integral role in the game of politics.
At that time, and especially in the South, Ralph put his reputation and life on the line for the true duties of a journalist and an editor. The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site reported that Ralph would receive hundreds if not thousands of hate mail and threatening phone calls, during his time as editor and publisher, calling him a traitor to the race. Furthermore, crosses would be burnt on his front lawn in order to scare him from writing or speaking out against the failure that was the ‘equal but separate’ movement.
Often recognized as the ‘Conscience of the South’ he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and in 1959 he received the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing and finally in 2005 Ralph was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. His fight for full civil rights for all blacks during a time where racism was at its peak not only threatened his life but his career as well. During a time where many people would turn a blind eye to the blatant racism that was so rampant (coloured washrooms, bus seating, water fountains, etc.) Ralph stood up and not only demanded equal rights for all people but shed light on the perpetrators of racism which put a huge risk on his life.
While The Matrix depicts a ‘reality’ which is intertwined with a simulation, Ralph McGill stands as one of the real people who rips through the fabric of the Simulacrum and reveals the truth that is hidden underneath.
Black Like Me – John Howard Griffin
Native Son – Richard Wright