“Loeb Reflects On Atomic Bombed Area,” read the headline in The Atlanta Daily World of Oct. 5, 1945, two months after Hiroshima’s ruin.
In the world of Black newspapers, that name alone was enough to attract readers.
Charles H. Loeb was a Black war correspondent whose articles in World War II were distributed to papers across the United States by the National Negro Publishers Association. In the article, Mr. Loeb told how bursts of deadly radiation had sickened and killed the city’s residents. His perspective, while coolly analytic, cast light on a major wartime cover up.
The Page 1 article contradicted the War Department, the Manhattan Project, and The New York Times and its star reporter, William L. Laurence, on what had become a bitter dispute between the victor and the vanquished. Japan insisted that the bomb’s invisible rays at Hiroshima and Nagasaki had led to waves of sudden death and lingering illness. Emphatically, the United States denied that charge.
But science and history would prove Mr. Loeb right. His reporting not only challenged the official government line but also echoed the skepticism of many Black Americans, who, scholars say, worried that race had played a role in the United States’ decision to drop the experimental weapons on Japan. Black clergy and activists at times sympathized openly with the bomb’s victims.
“They were willing to question the main narrative,” said Alex Wellerstein, a historian who glimpsed this skepticism while researching his recent book, “Restricted Data: The History of Nuclear Secrecy in the United States.”
Mr. Loeb’s questioning never got the recognition it deserved. While hailed as a civic leader in Cleveland, his hometown, and more widely as a pioneering Black journalist, he was unappreciated for having exposed the bomb’s stealthy dangers at the dawn of the atomic age. His insights, until now, were lost to history.