Ox­ford’s Pulitzer-prize win­ner Claude Sit­ton’s le­gacy

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE -

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.”

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