/Bill Minor, ‘Conscience of Mississippi,’ dies at 94

Bill Minor, ‘Conscience of Mississippi,’ dies at 94

Minor has been covering Mississippi politics since 1947. He earned professional awards and accolades for his brave reporting on civil rights violence, political chicanery, and other misinformation. Minor was the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s one-man bureau reporter. He became the Mississippi society’s interpreter extraordinaire for many others over the next few years, including fellow journalists from across the country. Minor, a Tulane University journalism grad and a World War II Navy combat vet, was originally from Hammond, La. His syndicated column Eyes on Mississippi and the book of the same name reflected the subtleties of social and political changes in his adopted state as well as the lack thereof. His many honors included the Louis Lyons Award of Conscience and Integrity in Journalism, which was presented by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. He also received the John Chancellor Award of Excellence in Journalism, from the Annenberg School of Communications, at the University of Southern California. His reporting topics included the Ku Klux Klan’s infiltration of Mississippi’s state Highway Patrol and the inequities in Mississippi’s educational funding. Minor stated that he had no idea when he arrived in Mississippi that long-somnolent blacks, who made up roughly 45 percent of the state population, would demand and march to end segregation. Minor’s tenure at the Times-Picayune ended with the closing of its Mississippi office in 1976. As a columnist for the state’s political newspapers, he began a new career. For more than seventy years, he followed Mississippi’s political and social lives. He was often in danger to report on his eyewitness of historic events. Eyes on Mississippi: A Fifty Year Chronicle of Change was published in 1991. It drew on 200 of his columns as well as news stories. It featured some of the most important civil rights stories of the state’s era, including the 1955 acquittal of Emmett Till, a black youth, for whistling at white women, the 1962 integration of Mississippi, Medgar Evers’ 1963 assassination outside Jackson, and the Freedom Summer slayings of three Neshoba County civil rights workers. David Halberstam once called Minor “the unique conscience of state”. Curtis Wilkie was a former reporter for the Boston Globe and is now an associate professor at Meek School of Journalism New Media at the University of Mississippi. He said that Minor was “a beacon to national journalists who sought his help and background guidance.” Minor started his own investigative newspaper, The Capitol Reporter, in 1976. Even Diogenes would like him. The office was repeatedly vandalized in retaliation to Minor’s revealing, hard-hitting stories. After six years of operation, Minor ran out money after advertising stopped due to stories about a banking scam. He was forced to close down the business. Minor recalls that Southern Illinois University gave its Elijah Lovejoy award to him as the nation’s most brave weekly editor. This was in an article published on the Nieman Foundation. Ellen Fentress of Jackson was the leader in a project that produced a 66-minute documentary about Minor’s life. It premiered at Vanderbilt University’s John Seigenthaler Center. Fentress stated at the time that the title of the film, Eyes on Mississippi was Minor’s column’s name, but it was also his strategy. He believed that the fastest way to transform was to expose the truths of the struggle. Minor shared with Michael L. Cooper, Emory University’s Beck Center, 1992 that he was most proud of a story he wrote for the Times-Picayune seven years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared school separation unconstitutional. Minor was leaked a state-sponsored, secret report by an employee of the Department of Education on local spending in each school district of the state. Minor said that the revelation was “shocking.” Cooper said that Minor was shocked by the situation. Minor also wrote expose stories about Mississippi for Newsweek and The New York Times. As chairman of the Freedom of Information Committee for the Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press Association and the Society of Professional Journalists, Minor’s efforts helped pass an open meetings law in Mississippi. He told James S. Featherston that there is nothing like the satisfaction of writing stories that have an impact on society and result in changes being made. Minor is survived by his wife Gloria, three sons, numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.