This is a short, focused memoir written by the legendary journalist Katheryn Johnson, who found herself covering the civil rights movement in the US in the early 1960s. Her constant presence, professionalism, and at times specific kindness gave her a kind of a access into the personal lives and inner-circles of the civil rights, and specifically found her in the grieving household of Coretta Scott King hours after Martin Luther King’s assassination. The book even opens with the quote “Let Kathryn in” where Coretta Scott King tells the police to let Johnson through the crowd, and in the house where she would spend the next few days with the family filing stories. This access allowed for more accurate and more timely updates to the days that followed.
The memoir is small, and avoids some of the faults of other access journalism memoirs I’ve read in recent years. While it’s important for Johnson to position the story on herself (it’s her story after all), she is constantly using this centering to showcase what that centering allowed her to see as a journalist. There’s a constant referring back to being a journalist, what that means, and the goals that that entails, so the access always leads to more revelations. There’s some clear reasons why the King family trusted her enough to allow access to their family, and that trust pays off here with that insight, but the attitudes she has (what we would now call anti-racist) also means her analysis of events does not aver from the trauma and cruelty of what she’s reporting on here. There’s a clarity and purpose in this book that works very well.