Eugene C. Patterson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of The Atlanta Constitution during the civil rights movement in the 1960s died this past Saturday. From 1960 to 1968 he was a courageous fearless voice for people of conscience.
Where are all the men and women of courage and conviction when we need them? In paying homage to those who stood up for civil and human rights throughout the South Patterson must be among them. Eugene Patterson was such a man. His legacy lives in a more fair and just South. Read his columns and when you do, give deference to the fact that his contemporaries didn’t cheer him on or applaud his progressive ideology.
He spoke up as a father, as a white Southerner, and as a journalist in his editorials to put an end to racism and discrimination. He appealed to whites to change not just their thoughts but their actions. Patterson’s voice was a unique cry for human dignity and his contributions in Georgia and the South cannot be overlooked.
As the 2013 Georgia legislative session begins maybe some of the members will have the courage of Eugene Patterson to stand up and speak up for immigrants who do the work in Georgia whether they have papers or not, for Georgians who live and suffer without affordable healthcare, for students who need funding because every Georgia boy or girl deserves the support they need to succeed in school, for small business owners who would have a greater chance to succeed if the playing field is level, for the homeless and those with disabilities who are in dire need of more social services. And while they are at, the legislators can fund repair and expansion of the state’s infrastructure rather than pretending it is the voters’ responsibility to decide to support water and transportation infrastructure.
If not now, when? Patterson’s legacy proves once again that men and women of integrity and courage can change the world.
FROM HIS LAST COLUMN FOR THE ST. PETERSBURG TIMES
But, thinks the young career-shopper, can a newspaper reporter hope ever to escape the rush and engage in an important issue in depth, over time? Yes, more than a decade’s editorial work in Atlanta centered on the civil rights revolution that ramified into every political, social and economic institution in the South. Feeling that mountainous issue begin to move forward rewarded me the most. And I can tell my grandchildren I knew Martin Luther King Jr. and worked at the Constitution alongside Ralph McGill.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead