It is has been said the essential role of a journalist is to shine light into dark places.
In that respect, Mississippi has lost a great light early this morning: Bill Minor is dead at age 93 after almost seven decades in newspaper journalism. Minor will be remembered for his role in exposing the dark places of his adopted state, rooting out corruption and, especially during the Civil Rights Era, bearing witness when few, if any, Mississippi journalists cared or dared.
Minor was born in 1922 in Hammond, Louisiana, the son of a newspaper linotype operator who drank too much and worked too little. After working his way through Tulane University, Minor served in the South Pacific during World War II, where he was gunnery officer. After returning to Louisiana, he began his newspaper career in 1946 as a reporter at the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
A year later, he was sent to Jackson to become the newspaper’s one-person Mississippi bureau chief. There he quickly distinguished himself as a voice for those who, until then, had remained largely ignored.
His first assignment in Mississippi, fittingly enough, was to cover the funeral of former Mississippi Governor and U.S. Senator Theodore Bilbo, perhaps the most virulent racist politician of his era.
For the next 20 years, Minor’s coverage of the Civil Rights Era shed light on the systemic oppression of black Mississippians.
In the early years, he had that field largely to himself. While the state’s leading newspapers, particularly the large and powerful Jackson papers, ignored the emerging Civil Rights movement, Minor was there, recording the struggles. His dispatches stirred the interest of the nation.
Working as a correspondent with the New York Times and Newsweek — filing reports that rarely identified him as the author — Minor’s work helped stir the nation’s conscience while also capturing the attention of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
Arguably, Minor did as much as anyone to advance the case of the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi.
When the Times Picayune closed its Jackson bureau in 1976, Minor’s reputation was such that he could have quickly landed a job at any number of major newspapers in the country.
Instead, he chose to remain in Mississippi, operating a small weekly he called “The Capitol Reporter” which was never a financial success, but allowed Minor a forum for continuing the work he loved, work that was often derided, but never discredited, work that mattered.
His syndicated column, Eye on Mississippi, was decidedly progressive by Southern standards. His specialty was investigative work, reporting corruption, malfeasance and incompetence that led to the downfall of many powerful businessmen and politicians.
People went to jail or were kicked out office — sometimes both — as a result of his reporting.
Minor continued writing his column until a few months ago, when a series of health setbacks silenced his voice.
His almost 70 years of work has and continues to inspire innumerable journalists.
As long as there are dark places, there will be journalists who shine their lights in those places.
That is Bill Minor’s legacy.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.