Amidst Dangerous Rumors, This Black Journalist Only Reported The Truth

john johnson smiling
Zain Murdock
July 5, 2023

In 1971, men incarcerated at Attica Prison strategized. In need of allies to help negotiate demands, they invited 33-year-old John Johnson, one of the only Black reporters on WABC-TV. He came. 

And though his editors didn’t think it’d be a big story, Johnson witnessed one of history’s most critical rebellions.

Having been raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Johnson was quickly recognized by former neighbors once he arrived at the prison yard. 

A natural solidarity emerged as local townspeople and officers grew hungry for Black death, chanting, “White power!” Johnson was even threatened by an armed trooper. 

But he became known for both what he reported and what he didn’t report.

Rumors of incarcerated rebels castrating guards and slashing throats splashed onto the pages of major news outlets. Spectators rejoiced when police arrived to stop them. 

But Johnson challenged the narrative, only reporting on what he saw and questioning the police as a trustworthy source. He was removed from the story.

But he still got the last word. Today, we remember most reporting on Attica as misinformation, and the state's retaliation as not a fair fight but a massacre.

Whose voices are worthy of being listened to? Attica’s revolutionaries and journalists like Johnson empower us to interrogate media narratives and carceral institutions. And beyond that, we have the power to deconstruct them.

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