ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. Eugene Patterson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and columnist whose impassioned words helped draw national attention to the civil rights movement as it unfolded across the South, has died at 89.
Patterson, who helped fellow whites to understand the problems of racial discrimination, died Saturday evening in Florida after complications from prostate cancer, according to B.J. Phillips, a family spokeswoman.
Patterson was editor of the Atlanta Constitution from 1960 to 1968, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for editorial writing. His famous column of Sept, 16, 1963, about the Birmingham, Ala., church bombing that killed four girls — “A Flower for the Graves” — was considered so moving that he was asked by Walter Cronkite to read it nationally on the “CBS Evening News.”
In 1968, Patterson joined The Washington Post and served for three years as its managing editor, playing a central role in the publication of the Pentagon Papers. After leaving the Post he spent a year teaching at Duke University.
He became editor of The St. Petersburg Times and its Washington publication, Congressional Quarterly, in 1972 and was later chief executive officer of The St. Petersburg Times Co. Under Patterson’s leadership, the Times won two Pulitzer Prizes and became known as one of the top newspapers in the country.
Times owner Nelson Poynter, who died in 1978, chose Patterson to ensure his controlling stock in the newspaper company was used to fund a school for journalists then called the Modern Media Insititute. It is now known as the Poynter Institute, which owns the Tampa Bay Times (formerly The St. Petersburg Times).
Patterson was born in 1923 in Georgia and grew up on a small farm. School, fishing and literature were his only means of escape.
He graduated from the University of Georgia in 1943 and served in the Army in Europe during World War II. His first reporting job was at the Temple (Texas) Daily Telegram. He also had stints for United Press in Atlanta, New York and London during his journalism career.