Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hank Klibanoff to be Neil O. and Henrietta Davis Lecturer April 15

Published: April 01, 2015
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AUBURN UNIVERSITY – Hank Klibanoff, co-author of the definitive and 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning work on American journalism during the Civil Rights Era, will speak at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art in Auburn on Wednesday, April 15, at 5:30 p.m. The public is welcome.

Klibanoff, who co-wrote "The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation" with former New York Times managing editor Eugene Roberts, is this year's Neil O. and Henrietta Davis Lecture speaker.

The series, which was established by Neil Davis especially to expose Auburn journalism students to excellence in their field, has brought to Auburn numerous Pulitzer Prize winners and otherwise distinguished journalists since 1997.

The Davises founded The Lee County Bulletin, the first newspaper in Auburn, in 1937 and won numerous awards and national acclaim for the courage of their editorials, the clarity and balance of their reporting and the overall integrity and quality of their publication.

Klibanoff, born in Florence, Alabama, and the former managing editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is the James M. Cox Jr. Professor of Journalism at Emory University.

He is also director of the Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project at Emory, which is both a class and a year-round undertaking in which undergraduate students investigate the causes behind unsolved racially motivated murders in the modern civil rights era.

"The Race Beat" lays open in meticulously reported detail the faults and successes of both Southern and national press in their coverage of the civil rights movement.

Much of the book covers specifically Alabama events – the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the violent threats against the first black student at the University of Alabama in 1956, the Freedom Riders, the Selma to Montgomery marches, the Birmingham 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and Gov. George Wallace's famous "Stand in the Schoolhouse Door."

Both authors are Southern journalists. Klibanoff grew up in Alabama and Roberts is from North Carolina.

The New York Times called the book "a richly textured and balanced narrative that reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the news media, as well as the personal and contingent factors – the subtle negotiations, missed opportunities and sometimes heroic efforts – that influenced the on-the-ground coverage of the movement and its opponents. Their stories and the fateful choices of a not-so-distant past are worth pondering in an imperfect democracy still grappling with both the burdens of race and the responsibilities of a free press."

"'The Race Beat' may be the most important book ever written on the press that covered the most important social movement in the 20th Century," said Judy Sheppard, associate director for the Auburn University journalism program. "It stands alone in revealing whatever truths we can ever really know about that part of our history.

"Because both authors are Southerners, they truly understand how courageous it was for editors like Davis to reject the prejudices they'd grown up with and to endure anger and abuse from friends and neighbors who either couldn't or wouldn't change."

Klibanoff also serves on the John Chancellor Excellence in Journalism Award Committee at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and is on the board of VOX Teen Communications, an Atlanta non-profit after-school program that uses print and online journalism to help teens develop the skills and resources to express themselves.

Klibanoff and his wife, Laurie A. Leonard, a speech therapist, have three daughters, including Corinne, who is a sophomore at Auburn University.