Friday, July 11, 2014

John Siegenthaler

It's a lazy Friday afternoon, and I'm watching the Braves on TV, but something has happened that makes me rush to this keyboard: one of my heroes has died.

Once one reaches a certain age, it becomes tempting to write about important people in one's life as they die. As it turns out, I wrote a bit about John Siegenthaler in my autobiography that will be out in eight weeks or so. But the pain I feel needs to find my hands on the keyboard, not on the remote.

When one is young, he needs to look for role models. Who would I like to be like? I asked myself that question as a young journalist 40 years ago. My first choices were Ralph McGill and Eugene Patterson, voices of racial reason in a dark, hard time. But my real hero, and one whose name should be on the lips of every thinking American--and certainly every southerner--is John Siegenthaler.

I knew John only slightly. Very slightly. But that was largely because the one dinner I spent with him in Nashville found me mute with awe and respect. To many young southern journalists, John Siegenthaler was a god.

He was Bobby Kennedy's man on the ground as an administrative assistant during the darkest days of the Civil Rights movement in Alabama and was beaten nearly to death by racist thugs during the Freedom Rides.

The list of his accomplishments would take hundreds of pages just to list. USA Today as of right now (5:45 p.m. on Friday, July 11) has a great story up about Mr. Siegenthaler.

He died peacefully at home surrounded by his family at age 86. But in the world of southern heroes, his name should always be held high.

He lived life the way it should be lived, by God. Knowing him only slightly was one of the great honors of my life.

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