Ralph McGill: A Biography
Ralph McGill's life and work (1898-1969) show how an individual becomes committed to the cause of civil rights and justice. In Vienna, 1938, while still a sports writer, McGill felt a calling to fight intolerance, hatred, and racial prejudice. He assumed his eventual role of conscience of the South in stages. He became an editor of The Atlanta Constitution but for years struggled to master political and economic commentary. The death of two daughters, his wife's illnesses, and management of problems at the newspaper further hindered his efforts.Until 1948, McGill believed a long period of economic prosperity and social stability in the South must precede desegregation. Realizing that change was imminent, he tried to serve as mediator between races and sections. McGill's East Tennessee kinfolks were Southern mountain Republicans. His lifelong idol, Abraham Lincoln, became his model. In 1953, after rejecting Christianity for thirty-six years, he rejoined the church and argued for a new pattern in race relations within that context.The 1957 crisis in Little Rock was another turning point. There, he said, the South forfeited its last chance to change on its own and had to accept federal coercion. National syndication of his column in 1957, along with countless speeches and articles, elevated McGill to preeminent interpreter of the South. Within the region, his life and work epitomize the transition to urban life.
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