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Journalist Eugene Patterson, Civil Rights Advocate, Dies

by Dana Farrington
Jan 13, 2013

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Dana Farrington

Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and columnist Eugene Patterson died Saturday of complications from prostate cancer, a family spokeswoman tells The Associated Press. He was 89.

Patterson, editor of The Atlanta-Journal Constitution from 1960 to 1968, "helped fellow Southern whites understand the civil rights movement, eloquently reminding the silent majority of its complicity in racist violence," the AP reports.

After the church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four girls in 1963, Patterson wrote the column "A Flower for the Graves" in the Atlanta Constitution. The Poynter Institute has republished the article on its website.

"If our South is ever to be what we wish it to be, we will plant a flower of nobler resolve for the South now upon these four small graves that we dug," he wrote.

Patterson also served as managing editor of The Washington Post and later edited The St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly. He then became CEO of The St. Petersburg Times Co. The AP has more:

"Times owner Nelson Poynter, who died in 1978, chose Patterson to ensure his controlling stock in the newspaper company was used to fund a school for journalists then called the Modern Media Institute. It is now known as the Poynter Institute, which owns the Tampa Bay Times (formerly The St. Petersburg Times)."

In a detailed tribute, the Tampa Bay Times writes that Patterson "became a national voice for stricter ethical standards for journalism." It adds:

"Mr. Patterson said he wanted to be remembered 'as a publisher who held the public interest above private advantage or adulation, and as an editor who owed help first to those who couldn't help themselves.' "

Patterson wrote his final column as president of the Times Publishing Co. in 1988 (republished online by the Tampa Bay Times). He called it "a love letter about the news business to those young people who are interested in journalism but who may wonder if there's a better way to make a living." Patterson concluded:

"Walker Percy wrote that none of us expect to affect history more than an infinitesimal amount, but that we have to try. I think, all told, the world may be a little better than it was when I came into the reporting trade, and I leave believing the good guys are going to find a way to win this thing in the end."

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