For many years, my daily commute took me through the town of Albion, Maine, the birthplace of Elijah Parish Lovejoy (1802-1837).
Lovejoy comes to mind because of the Trump Administration’s recent charges that journalism (“the media”) is the enemy of the American people. Certainly the people who murdered Lovejoy would have agreed.
You see, he was a newspaper publisher and journalist in Alton, Illinois. He was also a Presbyterian minister with a strong moral sense that led him to oppose slavery. In other words, he was an abolitionist surrounded by people who thought slavery was just fine and anyone who opposed it was an “enemy of the people.”
Anti-abolitionists destroyed his printing press three times in St. Louis before he crossed the river to Alton in 1836 and started a new abolitionist newspaper. It was not long before the mob came for him again, and this time they shot him.
Since then, his name has been memorialized by being applied to schools, buildings, and awards such as Colby College’s (his alma mater in Waterville, Maine) Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award. This award was initiated in 1952 to honor his heritage of fearlessness and freedom and to link journalistic and academic freedom.
Was Lovejoy an enemy of the people? The people certainly thought so, for he criticized them and their values, and he did so, continually, despite strenuous opposition. Yet it was not long before his own abolitionist values were validated by the result of the Civil War.
The slaves were freed, although the pro-slavery faction has not yet vanished from public life. Nor have those who view criticism as enmity deserving of attack and even death.
Lovejoy is therefore worth remembering, even this long after his death. Journalists have a duty to expose corruption and evil, to criticize those responsible, and to honor those who work for the good.
Journalism is much more the conscience of the people than its enemy.
And if you think your conscience is your enemy, you have a problem.