Thursday, March 30, 2017

Bill Minor, 'conscience of Mississippi,' dies at 94; covered the state and civil rights for 70 years

Bill Minor in 1956
Bill Minor, known as the “the conscience of Mississippi" and for being a "champion for the little guy" during his seven decades of community journalism, died on Tuesday at 94, Jerry Mitchell reports for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. After returning from World War II, Minor "worked for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans and began covering Mississippi in 1947."

"Minor began working out of an office in the state Capitol along with other reporters," Mitchell writes. "Unlike some of those reporters, he wasn’t content to rewrite press releases that came from politicians. Instead, he did his own reporting, exposing the dark deeds he witnessed to the light, which hardly made him popular beneath the Capitol dome. Some of the politicians he wrote about, including state Sen. Bill Burgin, went to prison."

Minor covered the trial of the white men accused of killing Emmett Till, an African American teenager who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, Mitchell writes. They were acquitted by a white jury, but later confessed to the murder. "In the years that followed, Minor covered the burgeoning civil rights movement" and was a mentor for many young reporters, including Pulitzer Prize winners Hank Klibanoff, David Halberstam and Jack Nelson. Halberstam told The Clarion-Ledger before his 2007 death, "People who are saying there aren't any heroes anymore just aren't looking in the right places. [Bill Minor is] an example of real conscience and integrity.”

Minor chose to stay in Mississippi but worked as a stringer for The New York Times. Claude Sitton, who covered the civil rights movement for the Times, once said of Roberts, “No Southern newspaperman has done more for civil rights and civil liberties than Bill Minor. Gene Roberts, who succeeded Sitton as the Times’s chief correspondent in the South, told the Times, “It would be hard to overestimate Bill’s importance to journalism and to keeping the country abreast of what was going on in Mississippi. When you had to barrel quickly into Mississippi, your first stop would be Bill Minor.”

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