Roy Peter Clark Transcript

Roy  0:05 

In this first segment, we are going to talk about the book, the changing south of Gene Patterson, journalism and civil rights 1960 to 1968, edited by Roy Peter Clark and Raymond Arsenault. It’s also currently raining. So if you hear our dog kind of breathing heavy, that’s because she doesn’t love rainstorms. Miss Roxy, she’s fine. She’s just got a little anxiety. So gene Patterson was the former editor of the Atlanta constitution from 1960 through 1968. And he wrote a daily column, but every day he would write a column and response to what was going on in editorial. And so this book takes about 120, a little bit more than 120 or so of his pieces. And they selected those pieces out of 3200 columns that he published in those eight years. And so the thing about Gene Patterson, is he was a progressive white southerner, from a very small rural town, in Georgia,

Gramel  2:32 

This book could change your life, not only changing the status, it was very, very poignant, and made you really think, and I cried. I cried. Many, many places, it was really unique the way they presented it too, they presented about 40 pages of fact, about what was in the book. And then they started presenting some of his more stark or so searching or touching articles, the way he decided to write these was to include himself in them. And he would say, things like, we as southerners are better than that. We as southerners can change, we as southerners would not want to hurt anybody. And so he would include himself. And maybe he was really talking to himself also. But he didn’t just fuss at the masses. He included himself in that.

And I think that’s one reason that it could get through to people, that he was fascinated self just as much as he was with some people’s choices and decisions and actions. And that was a wonderful way to him, for him to get through to many people. And it made it very touching to he just add a kind of an educated, good old boy, way to talk that people could understand and relate to.

Tyler 4:24 

The thing about Gene Patterson is he was a southern journalist who was speaking to his folks like his, the people that he grew up with who were more conservative and conservative. They were segregationists, a lot of them less. So his thing was that he identified with the area and he knew those people and he understood what they had been taught and what they had experienced and lived through because he had probably been in similar situations. And he didn’t want to alien Those folks are separating himself, he thought they would be more comfortable hearing the way he was talking to them. Because his idea was that if he didn’t talk to them like that, then they wouldn’t listen. And there were already a lot of them very firmly held in their beliefs. So he was trying to get them to listen, even a little bit to maybe potentially change their thought process. He grew up on a farm, his mom was a school teacher. And then he went off to the war.

Gramel  5:30 

And he learned a lot about life in the war. And he was a very brave soldier, some of the deaths of his comrades really well, all of them really affected him. And then the reason that we were fighting World War Two, really, he felt that and he was changed. It’s so good. When he came out of .

Tyler Gillespie  5:58 

They were fighting literal Nazis. Yeah. So then when they got home, I think it it, he may have already been on his more liberal path. But I think that really showed him about how serious things can get, how serious they already were in America. And so I think that really was a big thing for him and his writing.

Gramel  6:21 

The older I get, it doesn’t seem to be a very large leap to come from thinking, you know, you’re right, to knowing you know, you’re right, and you’re gonna want to better words, push it down other people’s throats.

Tyler Gillespie  6:42 

And what I found really interesting about this book, like you were saying, so the first two chapters are essentially context socially. And then historically, for Gene Patterson’s place in history, because there were other southern writers like him, but he and the Atlanta constitution stood out as being really important for the south, and specifically Atlanta. So we have this context, and then it gets into his daily columns. So there’s a lot of historical elements that are going on, but we’re getting them through kind of filtered through his opinions and through his lens. So we see things happening. And then we’re getting his own ideas and, and comments on it. So in these columns, there are about 750 words each. So they’re kind of pretty short dispatches, one after the other after the other. And the way they curated them, I thought was really nice, because it kept up the pace. And it hit on certain points. And then it would come back to certain points, like when he was talking about Martin Luther King, and the boycott, and stuff like that.

Gramel  7:59 

He made history come alive, in a Down to Earth way a daily, day, by day way. You just didn’t want to stop you wanted to read the next article, the next column, once I got rolling in that it was really hard to stop and take a break, go eat or take the dog out or anything like that. It was just, it was it was like you were back there. And nowadays, we’re kind of there again, right?

Tyler Gillespie  8:34 

This book is so relevant, and I think that was –

Gramel  8:38 

sad, and it was scary. And it was like, This can’t be this can’t be that we’re here again.

Tyler Gillespie  8:46 

In the 60s was a really tumultuous time when people were really fighting. This book talks about Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, President Kennedy, you know, assassinations of really Attorney General, important people to the movement. It also talks about attempted assassination on James Meredith, who was the first African American to go to the University of Mississippi and the riots that were happening on that campus, which I bring that out, because, I mean, it’s important to the book, but that’s also where I currently teach. So it was something I was aware of, but something that I was also focusing on when it was coming up in a text. It was just really one thing after the other after the other.

Gramel  9:36 

I learned a lot more that President Lyndon Johnson because it also was about the Vietnam War. And the protest about the war. So it was a history book, candlelight. These were very important times of history. I’m a war two Vietnam War, civil rights, all those assassinations in such a small amount of time.

Tyler Gillespie  10:08 

And what was so impressive to me too, is so he has to write these columns every day. And that’s hard work to do. And he’s responding to like all of these tragedies that were happening. And always bringing it back to white Southerners, we are the reason why these things are happening to people of color. Like even the well intentioned, folks, we still have to change things for folks, we have to do this, he was all he would always bring it back to that.

Gramel  10:40 

And you would bring out the bad in the good. Cuz there was a lot of good things that happened. And small towns back there, there was a burning down churches, right, which was horrible. But then there were poor people, given even a quarter towards the building fund,

Tyler Gillespie  11:04 

Right, because he wrote a column about it, and then they were taking money for it. And some people would send in money, whatever they could.

Gramel  11:13 

Say a town politician would send in $200, but most than $1 to $5, is what I got the average of. And so that was reassuring, that we poor people can take our quarter and our dollar and our $5 and help rebuild a very simple church. And not only that, the architect, he gave us this time free to build to design those churches.

Tyler Gillespie  11:51 

Yeah, and I think Gene, in his writing, he’s very critical of the way southerners are acting, but certain, some southerners, but he’s very core, he believes in the south. He’s a champion of the Southern spirit, and the southern person. He’s saying we need to act better than this, because we are better than this. And so he really toed the line of being critical, but also, you know, supporting his fellow southerners, which was this, a lot of southerners were not acting right, in the 60s. I support southerners and Floridians. And I will, you know, back that, but when someone’s not acting right, you just got to say you’re not acting right. You cannot beat around the bush.

Gramel  12:40 

As my mother would say, you’re acting ugly.

Tyler Gillespie  12:43 

There was a lot of ugliness.

Gramel  12:45 

Yeah. And by the way, Florida, and his town was real near the Florida line. And he kept coming back to that every now and then. So I don’t know why he did that. But I like that he did that, that he would, you know, revert back to being real close to Florida, right?

Tyler Gillespie  13:04 

And this book covers the sixth from 1960 to 68, he did end up coming down to the St. Petersburg Times, and was an editor there for a while. And he really helped make the St. Petersburg Times now the Tampa Bay Times. One of the best papers, one of the most well known papers in the south. And he had a big hand in that. So we’re very lucky. Yes, I did that.

Gramel  13:30 

I graduated in the 60s. And by 1961, I had a child in 22 months later another child. So a lot of this I mean, I knew of it all. But when you’re newly married and raising babies, you know, you don’t immerse yourself in them like I do now and politics. So I found, I was very grateful for the book that I could read about something I knew about, but understand it much, much better by his writing and that great editing and everything that was done in the book. So even, you could say to yourself, Well, I knew all about that.

I could say that too. But I really didn’t know all about that. And I learned so much from the book and it made history. So come to life. I would just recommend it. I never thought it would be so something up close to my heart from now on is this book.

Tyler Gillespie  14:49 

And I think something too, that was kind of cool, is a kind of very energy like there was a lot of intense stuff, but then they would have they chose a profile of a little boy running a lemonade stand your loved one. Yeah. You know, and about being a 10 year old entrepreneur, and then he, they kind of have this running call back to this guy, I guess who owns a bait shop on the lake, that gene and his wife would fish out. So there are these little moments of daily life that were also interspersed throughout, kind of to remind people that there was a lot of tensions going on, as there are now this summer, but daily life also goes on. And, and that we can get to a place where our daily lives can continue and be be peaceful with each other. The 60s was a wild time. So much happened in American history.

Gramel  15:47 

I know, read the book, you’ll never forget it. Already a better person.

Tyler Gillespie  15:55 

And that’s been our thoughts on the changing south of Gene Patterson, edited by Roy Peter Clark. I’m interested to talk with Roy later about some of their choices for columns because they had so many to choose from.

Roy  16:33 

Hello, Tyler, how are you?

Tyler Gillespie  16:35 

Great. How are you? This is my grandmother, Margie.

Roy  16:38 

Hello, Margie. Margie, thank you for Tyler.

Gramel  16:45 

That’s nice. You can have him.

I really enjoyed that book. It was amazing. I love to read. And that’s just an awesome book. It made me cry. It made me laugh. It made me sob. It made me think it just touched my heart in many, many ways. That had to be a job and you are blessed to have that kind of abilities and stick to itiveness

Roy  17:17 

Margie, you know, it was really interesting the way it happened. I was hired by Jim Patterson in 1977. I was living in Montgomery, Alabama at the time I was teaching from New York. But I got my first teaching job in the south. And I got to meet some Southern progressive editorial writers. And one of them Ray Jenkins mentioned to me that Gene Patterson, who had been an editor in Atlanta, was now the editor of the St. Petersburg Times. So he was also president of the American Society of newspaper editors. And so I was an English teacher. And he hired me for what was supposed to be a yearlong project to come to the newspaper and improve the quality of the writing at the times. And I was going to go back to Montgomery.

But a lot of things happen and one year turned into 43 years. Just love that. I do like it. They came up. I was having lunch with him at a restaurant. I don’t think it exists anymore. It was this dark Old Spanish seafood restaurant unfortunately called happens. Oh yeah, I’ve heard it. Yeah. And then we went, and this is one of his favorite restaurants. And I said, you know, Jane, I’ve read one or two of your famous columns from back when you were in Atlanta. I’d like to read more of them. And he said, he brushed me off. He said, I you don’t want to read those. You don’t want to read those old things. And I said, Well, you know if I can get my hands on them some way. And he said, Well, all right, come on back to the house.

So we drove back to his house on on the on the water. And he opened up a closet. in the closet. He had, let’s say eight oversized albums, and we just looked into one of them. These albums were filled with his columns, which had been carefully glued, want to say pasted his assistant had organized these chronologically so that I think there were nine albums covering the years 1916 through 1968 when he eventually left Atlanta to go to the Washington Post. I took these I put him in my car went back to pointer and I alerted David Shedden, who was the Chief Librarian, and archivist and historian of the Institute, to come out to the car, and when I opened the trunk of the car, and you can see these albums, it was like this scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. When Wow, somebody opens up the Ark of the Covenant in their face melts, you know, I mean, he’s a very mild-mannered person, but he basically took possession of these, I have no access to them for four months. And when he was finished, he had made, we have the originals, and that he made two copies, and crew and recreated in a protected way, every single document, so I got to bring these home.

I didn’t know what at the time. But gene, like his mentor, Ralph McGill, had taken it upon himself as editor of the paper, to write a signed column that appeared in the newspaper every day, for eight years. Now, my assumption, if I wanted to do that, let’s say that I wanted to, in a normal year, not this year, but in a normal year, if I wanted to write 365 columns, what I would do is I would write two on Thursday to on Friday, so he could have, so I could have the weekend free.

Gene didn’t think that way. He thought that if he wrote two columns, on one day, the second one wouldn’t have the energy or insight of the first one. So every single day, and this includes on fishing boats, wherever you happen to be, Gene was writing his 800 900 words. I read, I felt like a privilege, I read every single one of them more than 3000. That was the source material out of which I and Ray Arsenault, the southern historian from University of South Florida, chose the ones that created a little anthology of the ones that we’re most about civil rights, social justice, race relations, and the changing south. As, as he saw now, that book was published in 2002. And to our surprise, and delight, the University Press of Florida, the new paperback edition, which I think appropriately has Gene and his mentor, Robert McGill, who we call happy.

That’s, you know, 18 years later, they decided to publish the paperback edition. Now it hasn’t gotten much attention because of circumstances beyond anybody’s control right now, that said, what an amazingly appropriate moment for the book to be published. Yes. In the aftermath of the death of a toilet and the revitalization of the civil rights movement in its current manifestation. And then the death of Add to that the death of John Lewis, who had a close relationship with Gene. Yes, it was amazing. I got to meet. Gene introduced him to me loud at the constitution at the newspaper. When we were doing the book event up there, the book was launched. And then he was John Lew was the keynote speaker for an event that I directed for pointer in 2016, where we celebrated the centennial of the Pulitzer Prizes. Yeah, I just wrote a column about that experience for pointer and also for the catalysts.

You know, that’s quite a journey. My mom lived until she was almost 96. She was half Jewish and half Italian. And she had this habit, this, this pattern of maternal behavior. I think we Jewish or Yiddish word. And almost to the point of exaggeration. And so, when they both passed, I said what was going about me anymore, you know, maybe you get a Cavell yourself a little bit. Yeah. So my mother said, if it’s true, it’s not remember this right? If it’s true, it’s not bragging. So the only thing I will take credit for is having lunch with Gene Patterson and telling him, you know, I’d really like to read those columns. That casual remark was the launching pad for something I think was very special. And I say that because of the way it reflected back on Gene. Gene was not in Ralph McGill’s shadow. But there are roads, at least in buildings that are named after McGill in Atlanta. I always thought that McGill was Babe Ruth and Gene was Lou Gehrig. So you know. And so what happened is that after the book came out, Gene’s work, got a second life. Well deserved.

Gramel  26:02 

Well deserved, I started to say that. Yes.

Tyler Gillespie  26:05 

So you had so much source material, and you talk a little bit about how you made the choices of which columns to include. But can you talk to us a little bit more about that, especially because you are working with a historian. So I’m wondering if there were conversations about what to leave in and what to kind of not focus on as much.

Roy  26:26 

So probably, Ray might have a different might remember a little differently. Basically, with CO authorship, co authorship or co editor ship, it’s not a partnership of absolutely quality. All the times I’ve done it, I’ve done several times, someone is the lead dog. And then there’s the sturdy dog, and you need both, you need both. So what was really important for me, is to be able to harvest over the short over months, and the columns that stood out to me, as most wordly preserving now, it was clear early on, that gene was most well known for his work. And he won a Pulitzer Prize surprise, for editorials that were about racial equality and the changing south and those kinds of things. He wrote many, many, many other things. He was a military, you know, he was a he wanted to be, he could have been a great general. I mean, he had that kind of stature.

And he was very military. He was very interested in Vietnam. But I think it’s fair to say he was slower than other, editorialists understanding the problems with the war, because he was a product of a World War Two. And it was hard for him to get his mind around the idea that generals on the leaders might be exaggerating on how well we were doing in Vietnam. The causes were not as, as clear cut as they were fighting the Nazis. But he wrote about that. And he wrote about Atlanta, as editorial as you’d expect an editorial writer to do. What about things like the airport in Atlanta, there was a famous incident, I’m afraid of, I’m not going to get any of this wrong. But a group of Atlanta kind of dignitaries, not together on a flight to I think it was Paris, France, and the plane crashed and killed a significant number of key business and social leaders. And so Gene became for a while fascinated with airline safety in those kinds of issues. So I read on those and found them very compelling was kind of like a history lesson. But ultimately, he would return to the big question.

Basically, what happens is when you have 3000 columns, you have to say, Well, how many of those will fit in a book? This becomes very practical at some point. So I said, I don’t know maybe, maybe 200. I’m a cutter inner, thicker outer a man. I need to go check the taking out. One out. I think the first swing and I don’t know how many but I brought, you know, but I brought to Ray, the first batch that I thought dealt with the issues that we were most interested in And, of course, it was great with Ray, because in addition to being a fine writer and a very productive scholar, he was a southern historian and he already knew all of these events. And so he could bring to the table, a sense of history, and a sense of Southern history that I lacked. I was more interested, I have to say, being a writing teacher, Ray’s thing is history. And in language, for me language moves up like to the top given my interest. I’m interested in words and wordsmiths and, and how people solve problems in their writing, how they create a voice, and what’s most interesting and authentic in their work. And I thought it was fascinating to study and I’ve written about this over the years since then, how Genes, rhetorical. That’s called his rhetorical stance.

So who is Gene? Gene is a white southerner. He grew up on a small farm. His mother was a schoolteacher. He went to Georgia schools he was he was educated, well read. He was always he was interested in the military. He joined the military, the army. He was a captain was a tank commander. He saw things in battle. As I said, that later he wished he had not seen them. He risked his life many times. And he came back to the United States, I think, with a different perspective. He was a southerner was a white Southern boy, growing up on a farm, he understood the agony of the South. He understood the mythologies of the South. And he seemed to understand the struggle that white people had to come to grips with the requirements of desegregation, starting in the mid 1950s.

Now, he was very self-critical. Thinking learn that from Ralph McGill. Ralph McGill criticized his own work, his own early work as being pale tea. He said, Yeah, what I was writing is I was writing about these things. But boy, you know, was pretty pale tea wasn’t strong. It wasn’t invigorating. It was slow. And hesitance, the kind of gradualism that Dr. King and others criticized. Now, to their credit, both of them evolved. And they evolved because they were upset and worried and inspired by the young, black activists who they categorize as the real heroes of the people who are putting their bodies on the line. Yeah, it’s really, really interesting to see genes. Evolution, through the encouragement of drought, we’ll develop a much stronger voice now that said, Look, when the Seneca that when that when the Jewish temple in Atlanta was bombed. In the 50s. Ralph would be read, Ralph McGill wrote about that wonderful surprise, I believe, in 1963, when the 16th Street, Baptist Church in Birmingham was bombed and 400 girls were murdered.

Gene could write with criticism of white Southern racism, with a tremendous the passion of, you know, an Old Testament prophet, he could do that. But that wasn’t his primary move. His primary move was conciliatory. And so what you see time and again, is him shining a light on individual, small groups of white Southerners who are evolving towards racial and racial justice.

I’ll give me a couple of examples in the from the collection. One of my favorite columns, it’s an early one Gene highlights. He highlights a letter that he’s received From a school teacher was in a little traffic accident, and who was helped by a state trooper, and how polite the trooper was and how helpful he was, and how he got her out of trouble. And how that has not always been her experience with law enforcement, and how she wanted Genene and she won in the state of Georgia to know that a man like this officer existed. At the end of the column, Gene reveals that this woman this woman, is, is a black lady. Now, that was an astonishing. For its time, it was an astonishing move for a white newspaper, to give an ordinary African American purchasing school teacher that platform, but it was also in Genes interest. It’s interesting. The column seems to be about her. But knowing Gene, and now No, no, like the column is really about the officer, what he was doing, was highlighting a law enforcement officer that was not a member of the clan, who was not a bully, who is not in the habit of belittling black people or brutalizing them any chance you got. gene is really saying the moral of that story is like, this is this is what law enforcement should look like in the state of Georgia. So that was one example.

Another example involves the story of a national guard soldier who served with Gene in the war. And he tells the story about how brave this young man was, in, in Europe, how they blew up a bridge to stop the Nazi troops from advancing. And so what happens is, there’s rioting in Mississippi, because they’re trying to integrate the school. And this man in the National Guard, the sense to Mississippi to protect students and create law an honor. And I believe is, I believe he shot and wounded by the members of the racist mob. And what’s interesting is that this man was National Guardsman isn’t some kind of progressive on matters of race. No, he said, another young white Southern man who has his own questions about whether desegregation is such a great thing. And yet, he does the right thing. He follows the law. He’s willing to lay his life on the line. And this man who survives the war against the Nazis, comes home, and was shot and wounded in Mississippi. It’s another example, again, holding up a pattern of virtue for others to follow. And Gene said that makes me laugh when Gene said, somebody came up to them. That means I know what you’re trying to do. Mr. Patterson, you’re trying to make us think we’re better than we are.

Tyler Gillespie  38:40 

I teach writing at the University of Mississippi. So reading those columns about James Meredith, I found really relevant and something that I want to maybe show my students about it.

Roy  38:52 

Yeah, great. That was so interesting. I have to be careful when I when I say this, because one of the things I learned in college was something that happens in literature, but it happens in real life. And it’s called the myth of the Golden Age. And my mother was great at this. I know I do it. Ah, man, if you wanted to hear great music. I don’t know that you really, you really got a man. You didn’t know what it was like when the Beatles arrived when I was in high school, you know? And but and then my mother did the same, Melissa. Oh, yeah, you listen to this rock and roll stuff, but you and the big bands back in the 40s. That’s, you know, Glenn Miller. That’s when music was. So everybody kind of has a tendency sometimes to think about, that. There was this time in the past when things were really really good. And in some cases, that may be true, but in most cases is not true at all.

One of the things that’s hard to talk about is how bad things were in the 1920s. We’re starting to talk about it again with remembering these crimes against African American communities and things like that going back after world war one, and then during the entirety of the Jim Crow era. So it’s, it’s not a good thing to say that it doesn’t seem helpful to say, if you think things are bad now, if you feel like America is a racist country now, man, you should have been living in the days of the Klan, and the Knight Riders and white citizen councils and those kinds of things. But one of the best reasons, yeah, honestly, I’m gonna say for the record that 1968, I was 20 years old, was a bad year for America was a bad year for America are low lighted by the assassination of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, riot police riots on the streets of Chicago, people, soldiers dying in Vietnam, all kinds of Mad stuff.

One reason to invoke the past is to be inspired and hopeful by the ways and the ways in which things did change for the better, or, if not permanently, the possibility of changing for the better. And I think that’s the kind of writer that Gene was he understood something about race in America, that he described in a very interesting way. He said something like pain, took the Civil War, to end slavery. And then 100 years later, it took the civil rights movement, to create to move towards equal justice, under the law and in segregation, essentially, America’s version of apartheid. There was a there’s a lot more work to do. He said, I don’t know what the next stage of our liberation is going to be. What he said, I have a feeling it has to be a change of heart, not a change of law. And when people asked him, Well, how do we achieve that? He was not dismissive, but he was. Once again, it was mentioned to him, he said, Listen, hey, I think I’ve done my part. I think it’s your turn to figure that out now. And so we’re trying to do it.

Tyler Gillespie  42:53 

That’s something we talked a lot about, too. But how relevant this book is to our current moment, and the conversations that folks are having?

Roy  43:01 

Yeah, very much. So John Lewis, I thought, you know, in a bad year, the death of John Lewis seemed just cruel. On the other hand, you know, sometimes an artist, paint, they’re great painter, an artist isn’t fully appreciated, the value of the work isn’t appreciated until that person passes away. And maybe his passing is seen as a final blessing of a reminder that the struggle for justice and racial equality, and nonviolence is not something you do and complete. Yeah, we’re washing our hands a lot these days. And once we did that, no, no, it’s something that has to continue.

And I think what’s really interesting is that the leaders of the Civil Rights movement in the south, the great leaders, the ones that we know, from Atlanta, from Nashville, from other places, they recognized and valued white allies in the struggle. And they recognized in people like Gene Patterson and Ralph reveal that their work was enormously valuable to the movement and that they needed to be encouraged, as well. And so there’s a communication letter between Dr. King and Gene Patterson, I think after Dr. King won the Nobel Prize, and Gene was nervous about the leaders of the civil rights movement, stepping forward. in protest against the Vietnam War, and he and Dr. King promised each other then we get together and have a conversation about. I met. Andrew Young became the mayor of Atlanta. And we were in a book event together. And I bought the book he had written. And I told him that I was a protege or that gene Patterson had hired me and I bought this book with Gene, and he inscribed with the gene. And he wrote in it, dear gene, we need your leadership, again.

 And it’s interesting to see their view of themselves, black activists and civil rights leaders, white editorialists sit see themselves, look back at the work they did when they were younger. And as an evolved, having a relationship kind of grew and developed. I think what’s important for people to remember, you know, there was some crazed man a couple years ago, a year or so ago, went into the newspaper office in Annapolis, Maryland, and shot and killed five people. There’s violence all over the world against journalists, among others. Gene was a soldier he was, he was where we around weapons. I asked him if you ever sort of carried a gun for protection? And he said, No, absolutely not. But he said in the top drawer of his desk at the office, he kept a ball peen hammer. And I said, Well, do you ever have to use it? We said, Well, look, you know, we didn’t have any guards or anything. Really. We we never knew who was going to walk into our office, for what reason? And he said, Yeah, he said, twice. He said, I put my finger on the jaw drawer and tweaked it open a little bit, just in case, you know, I needed something.

I would say between 1949 in 1960 to about a dozen white newspaper, editorialists from the south won Pulitzer Prizes for their work, and Little Rock, and Greenville, Mississippi. And Atlanta, of course, twice, really, newspapers in Tuscaloosa. And newspaper offices were attacked, bullets were fired. The windows, people were harassed in the middle of the night. And so this was dangerous work. And the thing that Gene’s greatest admirers say about him, is that Ralph McGill chose him to be his successor, BECAUSE GENE had moral and physical courage. And he can write like an angel. And he felt that that’s exactly what the newspaper needed, what Atlanta needed. The South meeting was American.

Tyler Gillespie  48:50 

So that kind of leads into a question that I wanted to ask you from the piece that you wrote about John Lewis. And he’s quoted in there saying that journalists should get in the way finding a way to get in trouble, good trouble, unnecessary trouble and how journalism should disrupt or disturb. What do you think that means to 2020? The current moment? How can journalism do that?

Roy  49:17 

The best example I can think of, is what the New York Times has been doing over the last year or so. With a I wouldn’t call it a series I call it a movement, a movement or project a continuing project. Under the date 1619 one of the main players Nicole Hannah Jones is an amazing, recorded African American woman who’s written powerfully about public schools and basically is inviting the idea that There’s a way of thinking about the country that suggests that it was founded. Not in 1776. But in 1619, when the first slaves, chattel slavery for slaves came, was now the state of Virginia. And so what’s happening is, I think, a kind of note, it’s not even an image. It’s not a subtle invitation to reimagine our view of American history. But it’s a kind of a urgent demand that forces all of us to think about where we stand and how we act and what our communities look like, how some of us are privileged enough to see a police car, and think, protection, and not have to think, Oh, my God, something bad about to happen to me, based on the difference in colors of our skin.

So I think news organizations are struggling right now, with many things. Let’s take, I would say, if we just hold on the issue of racial equality and justice, just put on the table here just for a second and say that journalism is already facing two, existential crisis. The first I would argue, is, is a problem of resources, based on the collapse of the traditional business model of news brought about by technological change, most powerfully, the internet. So the question of who is going to pay for good journalism? Is there even going to be a newspaper in some locations, in some cities Are they gone was look as local news going to disappear. So that’s crisis, number one, crisis number two, our attempts by political partisans to undermine the credibility of news and to decertify and devalue the work that journalists do. So to ask them, to then ask journalists to become the leaders of a new, revitalized movement towards civil rights and racial equality? It’s a hard thing to ask. But I’m certainly proud of the work that I’m seeing around the country, done by journalists, of all different ethnicities and backgrounds on everything we’re going through right now, from an endemic in the recession, to social protests.

And add to that, the, the kind of the kind of strides we’re taking towards a presidential election. And this is one of the most extraordinary moments of my lifetime. And probably, many of us would say that. I do. Look, my mother was born in 1999 was going on in 1991. The Spanish flu, right.

Gramel  54:11 

That started in Missouri, right?

Roy  54:13 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. The only reason we call the Spanish flu is because Spain, the present Spain was only was one of the only ones allowed to spread the news that there was a pandemic wasn’t censored, and so they got labeled, but yeah, I figured out I wrote on a Mother’s Day piece about how I just figured out that my grandma said he got pregnant in October 1918 had the baby in July, and October in New York City, was the high point of the epidemic in the city. And that among the most vulnerable groups and people who are pregnant women and their unborn children. So look, if that wasn’t good enough, inherit my mom’s lifetime.

Roy  55:21 

She got to experience a decade of depression, and WWII. So once again, she would not have wished those things on anyone else. But the fact that they lived through them. They raise families, they prospered. They helped others, that that gave great meaning to her life. And now talk to her.

Gramel  55:57 

I say one of the best blessings I ever had with being raised by two men, both of my parents went through the Depression and WWII, the values they instilled that live with me to this day. Like just invaluable.

Roy  56:18 

Yeah, that’s me. Oh, God, I totally agree. The only thing I have to say about having parents who grew up in the depression is that my wife, and I talk about this quite a bit is that you can’t make enough money to overcome the inhibitions that are given to you are the legacy of the depression, which is to say, Oh, no, that’s too expensive. What do you mean, I can’t buy those shoes? They’re $35.

Gramel  57:06 

Yeah, I have this automatic thing in my brain, just how much I will pay for something. Exactly.

Roy  57:13 

That’s automatic.

Gramel  57:14 

I look at something I look at the price Nope. And so it’s just like, it’s still there. And it’s something that I did to my self. But it’s that hand me down from my parents.

And when you spoke about a hammer, I laughed, because I think the only last time I heard that expression was 50, something years ago, when my dad was still alive, he would talk about that kind of hammer pretty regularly.

Roy  57:50 

I bought about a dozen of them when the book was published, just get him at the hardware store and getting them out as gifts to supporters of the book.

Tyler Gillespie  58:03 

Was there anything else you wanted to ask about the book or say about it?

Gramel  58:07 

I just wish the book would get back in the main, like, get on Rachel Maddow, or some of those great new shows, because it is so meaningful for right now. And, you know, if people would just read the book and start talking about it, and getting other people interested, maybe it will, it would start some type of a revival kind of movement.

Roy  58:34 

We’re going to do some events. We’re going to do some, you know, the next few months. Good.

Gramel  58:57 

And I’m interested in that paperback. That you were talking about,

Roy  59:01 

Yeah. No, they did a good job. We just changed. We just wrote a short new introduction. Okay, what’s going to remain the same. Now, before I leave you watch, I have to say that it is my habit, always to have. I always have a musical instrument nearby. And I like to take requests from people who talk to me or interview me or something like that.

And so I am pretty good on the music of the 40s 50s and 60s. After that, not so much, but I’ll try anything and you can name a song or you can name a group or a performer or a style and I’ll try to give you something right here before we depart.

Tyler Gillespie  59:50 

I love this so much because we talk a lot about karaoke on our on the podcast because she’s a big karaoke singer and I so we always are talking about singing and she sings

Gramel  1:00:00 

Well, of course, my favorite, favorite \ song is my little Margie. Sung by fat don’t Domino? Well, he actually revitalized it. So if you don’t know, Margie, I’m always thinking of you Margie. Saying Did you play anything by Fats Domino?

Roy  1:00:24 

Oh, I don’t know the song by the way, but you got it.

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