Oxford’s Pulitzer-prize winner Claude Sitton’s legacy
Journalist Claude Sitton, who set the pace for reporters covering the civil rights movement in the South in the 1950s and ‘60s and later won a Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary, died Tuesday. He was 89.
Sitton’s son Clint said his father died Tuesday in Atlanta. He had been under hospice care with heart failure.
Sitton taught with Emory in the early 1990’s, served as a member of the Board of Counselors of Emory’s Oxford College and helped establish Emory’s
journalism program in the mid-1990s, according to the school. He was an Oxford resident.
“I’m very honored to know Claude and Eva Sitton when they retired in Oxford and restored one of the oldest historic homes in town,” said retired Oxford City Councilman Hoyt Oliver.
Oliver said Claude was an active member of the Oxford community, both in restoring his home and being an active leader when the city of Covington was working on expanding the airport. Claude Sitton also helped shape a new generation through his work at Oxford College.
“He was a crusty, intelligent, sharp humorous, great citizen and we will miss him a lot,” Oliver said.
Journalist E.R. Shipp, who also won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1996, said, “I am saddened to learn of the death of Claude Sitton, but proud to have had a few things in common with him: roots in Rockdale County; a passion for journalism; an opportunity to work at The New York Times; an opportunity to write about the struggles of the people of Terrell County, though we were decades apart in our sojourns... The world of jour- nalism needs more Claude Sittons.”
Sitton, a Conyers, Ga. native and 1943 graduate of Conyers High School, began crisscrossing the South for The New York Times in 1958 and became a leading figure among the reporters covering the civil rights struggle, said Hank Klibanoff, who co-authored “The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle and the Awakening of a Nation.”
“What made him the gold standard was that he went where other reporters didn’t go, and once he got there they followed,” said Klibanoff, former managing editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Sitton had joined the Times after working as a wire service reporter and for the now-disbanded U.S. Information Agency, serving as a liaison between diplomats and the media. Klibanoff said Sitton felt determined to give an honest account of the racial struggle in his native South and catapulted the newspaper into a leading role in covering the movement.
“It was not that Claude was some flaming liberal or liberator,” Klibanoff said. “He just liked a good story and liked to have it first. And frequently he was reporting on injustice — and they knew, on the civil rights side, that if The New York Times wrote about it, it would get attention from important people.”