A Reporter’s Life in the Old South: A Dog Bite and a Resignation

Longtime journalist Bill Mead wrote last week about his biggest story, They Raised the Confederate Flag and Called It Peaceful Resistance. Here are two followup anecdotes from Bill that shed light on a reporter’s life as the civil rights movement began to change America.

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Southern newspapers often reflected the hysteria shared by most Southern whites at the prospect of black children entering white public schools in the late 1950s and beyond.

In 1958, my boss, H.L. (Steve) Stevenson, the Richmond, Virginia, bureau chief for United Press International, drove to Front Royal, Virginia, to interview parents of the black children in whose behalf the NAACP had sued to get their children admitted to the local high school.  The kids hadn’t yet enrolled, but the courts had ruled in their favor, ordering the state to open the school and admit the black teenagers.

As Stevenson approached one house, the family dog, in its watchdog role, ran out and bit him. He phoned in a short story on the incident—sort of a “life of a traveling reporter” piece.

Stevenson was from Mississippi, and to keep up with home affairs subscribed to the Jackson newspapers, which were mailed to the UPI bureau in Richmond. His little “dog bites man” piece was light in tone, but one Jackson newspaper took it very seriously, running it on page one under this headline:

Negro Dog Bites Reporter in Race Mix

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Ernest B. “Pat” Furgurson, former chief of the Baltimore Sun’s Washington bureau and author of Ashes of Glory, a book about Richmond in the Civil War, was a Richmond News-Leader reporter in the late 1950s.

He tells of being hailed by an enthusiastic lady after a meeting of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She said to him, “Oh, Mr. Furgurson, I didn’t know you were here or I would have introduced you, to thank you for all you and Mr. Kilpatrick are doing for us.”

Furgurson loaded his young family, headed to Baltimore, and two weeks later started work at the Baltimore Sun, where he went on to become the Sun’s Moscow bureau chief and then longtime Washington bureau chief.

 

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