The six-part series won the 2021 national Edward R. Murrow Award for best podcast by a small digital news organization, according to a Tuesday announcement. The award is presented by the Radio Television Digital News Association.
“Unjustifiable,” co-hosted by Pulitzer-prize winning columnist John Archibald and Roy S. Johnson, a 2021 Pulitzer finalist, examined an overlooked moment of civil rights history in the heart of the South. It starts in 1979, when a white Birmingham police officer with a history of complaints from citizens shot and killed a 20-year-old Black woman named Bonita Carter. Her death set off major changes in Birmingham’s police department, which had been built by segregationist Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor, and led to election of the city’s first Black mayor.
Archibald’s reporting identified 500 people killed by police in Jefferson County, where Birmingham is located, in the 20th century.
John Hammontree, host of The Reckon Interview podcast, was executive producer of the series. AL.com reporter Amy Yurkanin, as well as Alabama Media Group’s Marsha Oglesby also were involved in the production. Alexander Richey, a freelance journalist based in Birmingham, provided production, editing, sound design and original scoring on the project.
The Murrow Awards, named after longtime broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, recognize journalism in the public service that sparks public dialogue. They are considered among the most respected awards in the world. Alabama Media Group also shared the 2021 Pulitzer prize in national reporting.
Ryan L. Nave, Reckon’s editor-in-chief, said the Carter story that came 16 years after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his letter from a Birmingham jail and four decades before Black Lives Matter was especially timely because its debut came amidst a national reckoning on racial justice and police violence following the killings of George Floyd and Taylor.
“Without these movements born in the South, in places like Birmingham and Jackson, Mississippi, Memphis and many other cities, there would not have been a Ferguson, Black Lives Matter or national dialogue about racism in our country. That’s why we had too tell the world about Bonita Carter,” Nave said.
Archibald, who grew up in Birmingham hearing a version of the Bonita Carter story he later learned was inaccurate, said the story needed to be told. “What we found out — that it has often been, told wrong — made that even more important. We think the world needs to hear it,” Archibald said.
Johnson added: “It was an honor to shed light on the police tragedy that took the life of Bonita Carter in Birmingham decades before Breonna Taylor and too many other Black women and men also lost their lives at the hands of the police across the nation. Her story is a painful reminder of why we must still strive for much-needed reform in policing and social justice.”
“We hope it’s a signal to the rest of the country that there is a space for small, local podcasting teams to tell stories with national resonance,” Hammontree said.
Other podcast series from AL.com and Reckon include: