JOHN SEIGENTHALER PASSED AWAY
Posted by Larry Jordan on July 11, 2014, 11:45 pm
On Friday I was speaking on the phone with a Nashville based friend who has long worked in radio there and we got to talking about John Seigenthaler, the former editor of the Nashville Tennessean. He was a great journalist who was a fierce advocate for the public interest, did many hard-hitting stories, and exposed corruption at every level. Little did my friend and I know that at the time we spoke, John was slipping peacefully away to the next world. |
John has relevance to the Jim Reeves story because his wife, Dolores Watson, was a singer on Jim's daily ABN network radio show in 1957-58. I first released copies of these shows around 2002 and re-issued them on VoiceMasters just before Christmas in 2012. They are still available on this site at: <a href="https://www.jim-reeves.com/page2.html">http://www.jim-reeves.com/page2.html</a>
I also quoted both John and Dolores in my book. But I want to tell you a bit more about Mr. Seigenthaler because his life was far from ordinary. And he was more significant than merely being the award-winning editor of a major metropolitan daily newspaper.
He worked in the United States Justice Dept. for Attorney General Robert Kennedy. During the years when our country was torn by racial tensions, and violence against blacks was occurring on a widespread basis, defiant racists -- including Governors in the South -- were even trying to prevent the integration of public schools. Blacks had to sit in the back of buses. They were refused service at lunch counters where whites also ate. They couldn't use public restrooms. Even black entertainers like Nat Cole and Dorothy Dandridge weren't allowed to stay at the upscale resorts where they performed. When Dorothy asked to use a restroom she was handed a bottle. When she dipped her toe into a swimming pool at the resort where she was performing, they drained the pool.
Bigots were even physically attacking peaceful blacks and whites who were taking interstate buses, (courageous people dubbed "The Freedom Riders"), beating them savagely with lead pipes, clubs and chains while police stood idly by and watched. Fire hoses and police dogs were turned on peaceful protestors. It was a disgraceful time in our nation's history.
On one memorable occasion in 1961, John Seigenthaler -- sent to the South by Attorney General Robert Kennedy -- was knocked unconscious when he tried to protect a black girl from an angry mob. Police refused to provide help. This was one of the turning points in the battle for Civil Rights, and prompted President John F. Kennedy to take strong action, including threatening to call out U.S. troops to deal with defiant Governors like Alabama's John Patterson and protect blacks from brutal attacks.
John and I spoke at length about these matters. Both he and Dolores were devastated by the subsequent assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, and Mrs. Watson even gave up her singing career in the aftermath of RFK's loss.
John also founded a press freedom council that protected journalists under the First Amendment.
The couple's son was a weekend anchorman on NBC television whom many of you have seen.
When my first 5 CDs based on Jim's network radio show were released, both John and Dolores (who even wrote liner notes for me), were ecstatic. So much so Mr. Seigenthaler even sent me a check for over $300 ordering copies of the CDs to give as Christmas presents.
When my book, "Jim Reeves: His Untold Story," came out, Dolores passed word to me that her husband wanted me to appear on a television program he hosted on which he interviewed significant authors. "Wouldn't that be wonderful publicity for you?" she effused. That particular day, John wasn't feeling well but had asked her to convey this message to me.
I was honored by their interest but scheduling problems on my part and my increasing cardiac problems at that time (pre ablation) resulted in that TV chat not happening. I would have had to travel to Nashville to tape the show and I didn't feel up to the trip, regretfully so.
Tonight the Tennessean has managed to summon the resources to do several stories on the passing of this significant man who, by the way, was so generous in his praise of Jim Reeves. He recalled for my book how, when he went to see his fiancee on the show, he was so impressed by how down to earth Reeves was, and the collegiality that prevailed amongst the cast and crew on this network radio broadcast.
I am sure Dolores and family are devastated, but John's passing comes as no surprise as he had been in poor health off and on in recent years.
To read more about a man who played an important role in the struggle for civil rights in the U.S., click the link below.
You may also want to see the Wikipedia entry for John at: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Seigenthaler">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Seigenthaler</a> (And you can find him interviewed on YouTube).
I extend my deepest condolences to the Seigenthaler family.
Link: John Seigenthaler