Eugene Patterson, Voice in Civil Rights Movement, Dies at 89

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist brought discussions on racism to the mainstream media during the civil rights movement.

Posted: 01/14/2013 10:33 AM EST
Eugene Patterson, Voice in Civil Rights Movement, Dies at 89

Eugene Patterson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and a major voice in the civil rights movement in the South, died Saturday at the age of 89. He died of complications with prostate cancer, according to the Associated Press.

As an editor of The Atlanta-Journal Constitution from 1960 to 1968, he wrote the column A Flower for the Graves in response to a racist church bombing that resulted in four Black girls’ deaths in Birmingham, Alabama.

"A Negro mother wept in the street Sunday morning in front of a Baptist Church in Birmingham," he wrote in September 1963. "In her hand she held a shoe, one shoe, from the foot of her dead child. We hold that shoe with her.”

Patterson also called for the South to change its attitudes toward race, urging that the young lives should not go in vain.

"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.

In an interview in 2006, Patterson reflected on the impact of the column. "It was the high point of my life. It was the only time I was absolutely sure I was right. They were not telling the truth to people and we tried to change that."

His Atlanta Constitution columns were published in 2002 as The Changing South of Gene Patterson: Journalism and Civil Rights, 1960-1968.

Other highlights of Patterson’s career include working as managing editor of The Washington Post, and later he was the CEO of the St. Petersburg Times Company.

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(Photo: AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times)

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