By Eleni Finkelstein, University of Delaware senior and intern for the University of Delaware's Center for Political Communication
DECEMBER 17, 2020—Anyone who is interested in Black Lives Matter and other civil rights movements will enjoy the Buried Truths podcast, which uncovers still-relevant stories of injustice and racism in the American South after World War II. Each season of the podcast follows a different civil rights investigation of a racially motivated murder.
The award-winning season one (2018) of Buried Truths, hosted by NPR’s local Atlanta station, WABE, follows the case of Isaiah Nixon, a farmer and father of six children who was shot and killed after he exercised his right to vote in Georgia’s 1948 Democratic primary. In 1944, a landmark Supreme Court decision triggered a series of legal battles that ultimately brought an end to white primaries in Georgia. One week before the murder, an angry top Klansman approached gubernatorial candidate Herman Talmadge and asked what they could do to stop black Americans from voting. Talmadge’s answer? Pistols.
The story of the unpunished crime unfolds in six episodes. In the fifth episode, narrator and Emory University professor Hank Klibanoff takes his current students to Montgomery County to see what happened with the FBI’s first investigation of Isaiah Nixon’s case. There, they make an amazing discovery.
Klibanoff is a white journalist who grew up in a still-segregated American South. As director of the Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project at Emory University, he believes it is everyone’s job to “be curious, ask questions, and find the truth.” Klibanoff was born in 1965 in Alabama, where segregation persisted in private academies until he was a junior in high school. Growing up, the only African Americans he knew either worked at his house or for his parents at their family shop. Klibanoff considered his town “more liberal” than others, but he still witnessed incidences of segregation and injustices. His experiences fueled his interest in investigating the civil rights cases profiled in Buried Truths.
Buried Truths is more story and less dry history class lecture. Klibanoff’s emotional and genuine narration draws in listeners and invites them to keep pressing “next episode.” It is insightful to hear an older white historian discuss racial injustices similar to those he had seen with his own eyes growing up. Listeners can tell Klibanoff is passionate about the subject matter and sees it as more than just a tale of history. They aren’t current news, but the stories are as relevant and important to hear today as they were decades ago. It is up to us to learn these stories to ensure we, as a society, hold each other accountable to do better.
If you enjoy Buried Truths, check out a few other civil rights podcasts such as The Activist Files. Produced by the Center for Constitutional Rights, it features stories of people fighting on the front lines for justice, involving more recent topics such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and LGBTQ+ issues. Similar to Buried Truths, NPR’s White Lies features stories of civil rights cases from the mid-1900s. All three programs are available wherever you get your podcasts.