Interesting juxtaposition. One of the greatest editors, particularly from the South, and particularly one whose heritage includes The Macon Telegraph, Eugene Patterson, died over the weekend at 89. I dont expect many to remember him or the force of his voice, along with Ralph McGill, as they defied segregation, as Neil Skene noted in the piece above, When it mattered.
Whats the juxtaposition? It is almost too sublime. Monday marked the 50th anniversary of then Alabama Gov. George Wallaces famous phrase, Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever. It was 1963 when Wallace became a national figure with those words. Dr. King would say in his Dream speech seven months later that those words were dripping with interposition and nullification. Patterson, on the other hand, was imploring the South in his columns to face the change that he saw as inevitable. Not because it was inevitable, but because it was the right thing to do. For that stance, the old South, full of native born brutal fools, threatened his life.
Patterson was one of those hardly unique individuals of the Caucasian persuasion who believed in civil rights. He stood out because he had a platform -- The Atlanta Constitution -- but there were thousands of white people who believed as he did, that the time for segregation to end had come.
Some of the most powerful business leaders in Georgia also believed. Racial strife would only hurt business. The Ivan Allens and Bob Woodruffs coined Atlanta as being the City Too Busy to Hate, a moniker that sits as a foundation of Atlanta to this day, and there was Patterson and McGill at the forefront, two individuals who could have sat back in the comfortable confines of the Atlanta Constitution and not rocked the boat. But they rocked and shook it instead.
McGill, would not see all of his prophetic visions come to pass. He died in 1969, two days before his 71st birthday. Patterson, on the other hand, saw an African-American elected President of the United States, twice.
So who was on the right side of history? Wallace admitted before his death that he was not proud of his words and deeds that brought him national prominence. It left him in a wheelchair, physically and mentally, as history played itself out. He did have the wherewithal to seek forgiveness -- and it was granted. He won the highest seat in Alabama, again, with 90 percent of the black vote in 1982.
There doesnt seem to be much consideration of history in the minds of many people today. The media has changed, too. Rarely do we see an outlet take an unpopular position because it might impact their ratings or readership. People today are more interested in reading or watching outlets that confirm their already fervently held opinions. We arent interested in listening to other voices. We label them liberal or conservative not giving any credence if we dont agree.
Can we get back to the days of listening to diverse viewpoints? Just as the days of segregation are long past and never to return, we may not see the appreciation for the craft Patterson employed reemerge until weve hit rock bottom. Then well crave for voices shouting just the facts rather than the Pablum and spin were served today.
Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraphs editorial page editor. He can be reached at (478)744-4342 or via e-mail at email@example.com. Tweetendattr val="cface"/>