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Journalist Wilson ‘Bill’ Minor dies; covered civil rights

BILL MINOR

Wilson F. “Bill” Minor, a journalist who chronicled Mississippi through almost 70 years of change including its turbulent struggle over civil rights, died Tuesday at his home in Jackson. He was 94.

Deborah Ashcraft of Lakewood Funeral Home in Jackson confirmed Minor’s death.

Minor was a native of Hammond, Louisiana, and graduated from Tulane University in 1943. He served on a Navy destroyer, the USS Stephen Potter, in World War II before going to work for the Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans in 1946. His first assignment for the newspaper in Mississippi was in August 1947, on what Minor later recalled was a sweltering, gnat-filled day covering the funeral of arch-segregationist U.S. Sen. Theodore Bilbo.

Minor covered the 1955 trial and acquittal of two white men accused of killing black teenager Emmett Till for whistling at a white woman; the 1962 riots after the court-ordered integration of the University of Mississippi; the 1963 assassination of Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers; and the 1964 “Mississippi Burning” slayings of three civil rights workers.

In May 2013, Minor attended a 50th anniversary commemoration of an event he had covered — a 1963 sit-in by a racially mixed group of Tougaloo College students at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Jackson. It happened about a month before Evers was killed, and Minor said Evers called reporters to tip them to the news. White students from nearby Central High School and many white adults, including an infamous local bootlegger, dumped mustard and ketchup on the heads of the Tougaloo students and then beat and kicked some of them.

“There were a lot of just plain old segregationist thugs,” Minor said in 2013.

In 1967, Minor covered the election of Democrat Robert Clark as the first black member of the Mississippi House of Representatives since Reconstruction. After Clark took office in 1968, white lawmakers refused to sit with him at the two-person desks on the House floor, and House leaders refused to recognize him to speak. A frustrated Clark left the Capitol one rainy night, ready to quit — and Minor followed him to the parking lot and persuaded him to stay.

“In essence, what he told me was that if I quit, I was doing what they wanted me to do,” Clark said in a 1997 interview. “I came back then.”

Clark remained in the Legislature until 2004 and became the first black House speaker pro tempore.

Minor worked for the Times-Picayune until the newspaper closed its Jackson bureau in 1976. He then started writing a weekly syndicated political column that was published in several Mississippi newspapers, riling conservatives.

“His viewpoint is obviously liberal, which goes along with the media in general,” Republican Kirk Fordice, Mississippi’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction and a frequent target of Minor’s criticism, said in 2001.

Minor continued writing until just a few months ago.

He was owner, editor and publisher of a Jackson-based weekly newspaper, The Capital Reporter, from 1973 to 1981, and the paper took tough editorial stands against the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups. Minor recalled during a 1997 interview that someone once placed a burning cross outside the newspaper’s office, almost setting the building on fire.

Minor received the Louis Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism from Harvard University in 1966 and the John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism from Columbia University in 1997.

In 2001, Minor published a collection of his columns in a book, “Eyes on Mississippi: A Fifty-Year Chronicle of Change.”

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