On this day in 1983: Claude Sitton, editor of the News and Observer of Raleigh, wins the Pulitzer Prize for commentary — the paper’s first. .
Sitton made his reputation as chief Southern correspondent for the New York Times during the civil rights movement (his peers appreciated his inventing the “Sitton notebook,” a cut-down version that didn’t revealingly jut out of a hip pocket at a Klan rally).
In 1968 he moved to Raleigh to continue the liberal tradition of the modern N&O, which Josephus Daniels bought at auction in 1894 to serve as an organ of the Democratic Party.
“When I look back, I think my greatest mistake [was] my failure as editor of the News & Observer to make sure we had a top-notch investigative reporter on the Little Rascals [Day Care] case in Edenton…. That prosecutor had gone wild, eaten up by ambition, I suppose, to hang these people….
“All the kids talked about being borne through the air this way and that way and flying all over, and it was crazy stuff. As it turned out, [the Edenton Seven were eventually released], but it wrecked their lives forever. And I still feel sorry about that….
“I think had we sent someone like Pat Stith down there, that would have been it. But see, at that time, Edenton already was a pretty far reach for the News & Observer…. [Our] pulling out of eastern North Carolina [to cut expenses] might have affected my thinking [about] whether we were really responsible for doing something about that miscarriage of justice.”
— From Joseph Mosnier’s interview with Claude Sitton, editor of the News & Observer from 1968 to 1990 (Southern Oral History Program, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill, July 12, 2007)
My blog, littlerascalsdaycarecase.org, has Sitton’s complete comments on the case.
Death noted: Karl Fleming, 84, one of the greats of civil rights reporting.
Fleming was born in Newport News, Va., but grew up in the Methodist Orphanage in Raleigh, attended Appalachian State and worked on dailies in Wilson, Durham and Asheville before landing his career-defining job at Newsweek.
This is from his “Son of the Rough South: An Uncivil Memoir” (2006):
“To be an alien reporter in the remote towns of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana where the young black ‘outside agitators’ were causing trouble was to be almost totally isolated behind enemy lines, linked to the outside world only by a long distance line that I always assumed was tapped. My nerves were constantly on edge. I drank a lot of Maalox and a lot more bourbon. That I had grown up in segregated North Carolina and had a redneck crewcut and deep Southern accent made it even worse. Not only was I a troublemaker, I was a traitor as well… perceived as betraying ‘our Southern way of life’….”
However perilous Fleming’s years on the Southern “race beat” — and he exaggerates not an iota — it was not until, as chief of Newsweek’s Los Angeles bureau, that his life began collapsing amidst a confluence of depression, drugs and alcohol. A beating after a 1965 Black Power rally in Watts left him with a fractured skull, and in 1973 he was scammed out of $30,000 by a phony “D. B. Cooper.”
But in his prime he surely deserved mention alongside his frequent roommate on the road, Claude Sitton.
Hat tip to New York Times reporter and author Kim Severson for snatching from beneath the very noses of North Carolina’s MSM — not to mention its free-range bloggers and tweeters — this lively front page account of the spittin’ and litigatin’ match between rival truffle promoters Susan Rice Alexander of Southern Pines and Franklin Garland of Hillsborough.
Severson is the latest in a long line of Times reporters working out of Atlanta, including such stalwarts as future N&O editor Claude Sitton (who started the bureau in 1958), Roy Reed, B. Drummond Ayres Jr. and Peter Applebome.
Today’s “A tasty fungus…” followed Tuesday’s less appetizing “Edwards lies low….”