Triumphs, tragedies marked Bill Minor’s storied journalism career
By Sid Salter
Bill Minor – who deservedly embodied the title “dean of Mississippi journalists” at the time of his death this week at age 93 – likely wrote the most honest self-assessment of his world view in “South Writ Large,” an online publication of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
In that writing, Minor said: “No matter that I am a native of neighboring Louisiana, born just 50 miles below the Mississippi-Louisiana state line, I’ve always been viewed as an outlier here, somewhat suspect because of my sympathy for the cause of black people, possibly also because I’m a Roman Catholic in a predominantly Baptist state.
“And, of course, because I am a liberal and a yellow-dog Democrat, an unapologetic disciple of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who white Mississippians once worshipped but today as they flock to the Republican banner regard as the devil incarnate. It’s no coincidence that this abject reversal in political and public opinion began after Lyndon Johnson and Congress enacted the 1965 Voting Rights Act which enfranchised many thousands of black citizens for the first time since Reconstruction.”
In those couple of paragraphs, Bill openly and proudly admitted what his most ardent detractors and critics falsely and consistently accused him hiding — the fact that he was a liberal Democrat and a devotee of FDR’s “alphabet soup” Big Government.
It is important to remember that in the last decades of his long life, Bill Minor wasn’t writing daily news coverage as he had for The New Orleans Times-Picayune. He was writing a syndicated opinion column. Few journalists afforded that public forum ever used it more effectively and with greater influence on public policy than did Minor — a tough old World War II veteran.
But the fact that Minor was expressing his opinions didn’t stop conservative Republicans — and not a few conservative Democrats — from loving to loathe Minor when he skewered them or their ideals in print.
Despite enduring some real danger in his seven decades of journalism, Minor usually gave as good as he got. He did not bow to intimidation and the more his critics howled, the harder he attacked.
I came to know Bill on several levels. We did a lot of public affairs radio and television appearances together. For many years, Minor, the late journalism professor and publisher Gale Denley, now-retired newspaper man and congressional staffer Wayne Weidie and I were frequent guests on a Mississippi Public Broadcasting program called “Mississippi Week” hosted by the late Howard Lett.
Denley, Weidie and I would usually meet and grab a sandwich before taping the show. Over lunch, we’d often try to decipher what position Bill would take on the issues of the day and then all three take the contrary position just to mess with him. Minor usually held his own on the air, but would bark at us when the cameras were off. Minor would get particularly perturbed with Denley, a fellow Yellow Dog Democrat — which delighted Gale.
Bill and I also did a lot of election night, State of the State and gubernatorial inauguration coverage together. Not surprisingly, we disagreed on most issues. In his column over the years, Bill took some shots at me over things he disagreed with in my columns and I usually returned the fire with both barrels.
To be honest, my relationship with Bill felt strained and I’m sure the feeling was mutual. Like all of us who write for a living, there was an oversized ego. Like all of us who write opinion columns, there was a certitude that wasn’t always factually justified. And like all of us who write opinion columns and receive the requisite public criticism that goes with that turf, there was a combative response at the ready to meet almost any challenge.
But did I respect Bill Minor? Absolutely. There was a period in Mississippi’s history — and a long one at that — in which Bill’s courage and audacity in reporting about the state’s civil rights struggle, about rampant public corruption, and about how Mississippi really stacked up against the rest of the country was incredibly important. Those years represent great triumphs in Bill’s life and work.
Some aspects of Bill’s life played out as almost Greek tragedy. Now is not the time to recount those instances. But friend and critic alike should afford Bill Minor a moment of genuine reflection at his passing and a measure of earned respect for the truly exceptional work he did while keeping his “Eyes on Mississippi.”
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.