Eugene Patterson


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Gene Patterson’s final thoughts on journalism: ‘Get over the pain, new stuff happens’

In late November 2012, Eugene Patterson, who died Saturday, prepared his thoughts about journalism in advance of a visit from an old friend. His edited reflections are reproduced here, direct from Patterson’s IBM Wheelwriter typewriter.

Journalists get to originate, validate and illuminate the real news if they carry forward the character of their calling.

How they make the good stuff pay will follow the quality as it always has. Technology’s shift of news to new money models still leaves the key to the vault lying in the gold cache of character. That character leaves journalists to prospect for truth.

Journalists breaking out of the wreckage of old news delivery ways carry in their bones known elements of the character which, in handling news, needs to be.

Be truthful; if it hurts, just say ow.

Be fair; let all speak.

Be ethical; if it feels wrong, it is.

Be careful; get facts right. Read more

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A grieving relative of one of bombing victims in Birmingham, Ala., Sept. 15, 1963 at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is led away after telling officers that some of his family was in the section most heavily damaged. Man just in back of him is holding a shoe found in the debris. At least four persons were known to have been killed. (AP Photo)

Gene Patterson’s most famous column: ‘A Flower for the Graves’

This column by Eugene Patterson, then editor of the Atlanta Constitution, was originally published in that paper on September 16, 1963 and was read aloud that night on the “CBS Evening News” with Walter Cronkite. Patterson died Jan. 12, 2013 at the age of 89.

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

Every one of us in the white South holds that small shoe in his hand.

It is too late to blame the sick criminals who handled the dynamite. The FBI and the police can deal with that kind. The charge against them is simple. They killed four children.

Only we can trace the truth, Southerner — you and I. We broke those children’s bodies.

We watched the stage set without staying it. Read more

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Gene Patterson to Jack Nelson: Save Us a Desk Up There in That Celestial Newsroom

Jack Nelson came into the news business with a high school diploma and a low boiling point. He left with the rarest trophy we award — the respect of his peers.

Unbounded respect.

You didn’t mess with Jack. He had the face of a choirboy but the knuckles of a cop. As an adolescent, he took that do-right jaw into the boxing ring as a Golden Gloves fighter. As a man, he sank the hard fist of truth into the paunches of racist politicians who misbegot their power by inflaming the ignorant. Jack was a leader of the post-Appomattox generation that grew up.

He was born in Alabama and raised in Mississippi and came out of the Army in Georgia to cub on The Atlanta Constitution. When I joined that paper as executive editor in 1956 I saw reporters going by the city desk for story assignment but stopping by Jack’s desk for newsroom leadership. Read more

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