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Papers of civil rights journalist Eugene Patterson at Emory’s Rose Library

1/20/2017, 6 a.m.
The papers of Southern civil rights journalist Eugene Patterson have been acquired by the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and ...
Eugene Patterson is shown with Ralph McGill (left) at The Atlanta Constitution in 1960, the year he succeeded McGill as editor. Image From the Gene Patterson Papers, Rose Library at Emory University

The papers of Southern civil rights journalist Eugene Patterson have been acquired by the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library at Emory University.

Patterson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, editor of the Atlanta Constitution and the Washington Post, and a significant voice for civil rights in the 1960s, died in 2013 at age 89.

His papers include correspondence, photographs, subject files and six large scrapbooks filled with his daily columns. As editor of the Constitution, he received widespread national attention for his column “A Flower for the Graves,” about the Birmingham church bombing that killed four young girls on Sept. 15, 1963. The column, published the next day, was so moving that Patterson was invited to read it aloud that night on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the year Patterson was writing the columns that won him the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for editorial columns.

Hank Klibanoff, professor of practice in Emory’s English and creative writing program who teaches a course on Georgia civil rights cold cases, said the collection covers “rich moments in history.”

Klibanoff, co-author of “The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation,” interviewed Patterson for his book and was instrumental in bringing the papers to Emory from the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., where Patterson served as board chairman for 10 years.

“I knew that this had great historical value because he had written about so many dynamic things that I teach,” Klibanoff said.

Library Director Rosemary M. Magee said students and scholars will find his journey "one of truth and inspiration.”

Patterson was born on Oct. 15, 1923, in Valdosta and raised in southeast Georgia during the Great Depression. He graduated from the University of Georgia in 1943 with a degree in journalism, joined the Army and served in the 10th Armored Division under Gen. George Patton in Germany during World War II. He began his journalism career in 1947 in Texas, but returned to Georgia to work for the Macon Telegraph and the United Press.

Patterson became executive editor and columnist for the morning Atlanta Constitution and afternoon Atlanta Journal papers in 1956. He became known for his columns in support of the civil rights movement and opposed to the violence against it. His 1966 columns that won the Pulitzer focused on a range of subjects, including the ouster of Julian Bond from the Georgia House of Representatives (which Patterson opposed) and the explosive racial conflicts in the Summerhill section of Atlanta. He served as vice chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission from 1964-1968.

He worked under Constitution editor and well-known Southern journalist Ralph McGill, from whom Patterson took over the editor position in 1960 when McGill became publisher, and the two were close friends.

Although the Patterson papers are unprocessed, the collection is available on request. For more information, visit http://rose.library.emory.edu.