50 years ago today, Gene Patterson published influential ‘Flower for the Graves’ column

Fifty years ago today, Gene Patterson, editor of The Atlanta Journal Constitution, published his most famous editorial column, “A Flower for the Graves.” The sad occasion was one of America’s most vicious hate crimes, the dynamite bombing of a Baptist church in Birmingham, Ala. The blast killed four young girls.

Patterson’s rage at his fellow white Southerners comes out in every word. The column was deemed so powerful in its time that Walter Cronkite asked Patterson to read it for the CBS Evening News. While some of its language may feel outdated, its clarion call for racial justice rings as loud and clear as ever.

Patterson, who died earlier this year, holds a special place in the history of the Poynter Institute. Nelson Poynter appointed Patterson to succeed him as the leader of the St. Petersburg Times and to create the school that would own the newspaper. The library at Poynter is named after Patterson. A copy of his famous column hangs nearby.

Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark wrote more about the column in this CNN piece. Below are some AP photos that show the aftermath of the tragic Birmingham bombing.

“In this Sept. 15, 1963 file photo, investigators work outside the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., following an explosion that killed four young girls. The city of Birmingham is planning five days of events with political leaders, artists and ordinary citizens to mark the 50th anniversary of the racist church bombing that killed four black girls. Attorney General Eric Holder, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, director Spike Lee and actor Jamie Foxx are among those participating in what’s being called “Empowerment Week.” Events begin Wednesday, Sept, 11 and continue through Sunday, Sept. 15, the anniversary of the bombing of the church. Three Ku Klux Klansmen were convicted in the bombing years later.”
(AP Photo/File)
“Graveside services are held for 14-year-old Carol Robertson, victim of a bomb blast at an African American church the previous Sunday, Sept. 18, 1963, Birmingham, Ala. Family in background, including parents, Alpha and Alvin Robinson, and sister Dianne Robertson, seated.” (AP Photo)


“Unidentified mourners, who overflowed the church, stand across the street during funeral services for 14-year-old Carol Robertson, Sept. 17, 1963, Birmingham, Ala. The girl was one of four young African Americans killed in a bomb blast the previous Sunday.” (AP Photo)

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  • markisenberg

    Paul Tash was a good friend ot Mr.Patterson and continues a tradition at the St.Petersburg now Tampa Bay Times and Poynter Institute of fairness,accountability and investigative journalism.This is becoming rare given the financial pressures of traditional ad supported papers and some sites. Even the TB Times online edition is starting a paywall. We in metro Tampa are lucky to have Mr. Tash as a journalism leader and the may negative comments on the website about Times Editorial Opinions tell me he must be on the right track even when one disagrees. And for those negative folks,there is another paper in Tampa.It’s the one Warren Buffet chose not to buy.