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Deep South Dispatch - Memoir of a Civil Rights Journalist

Deep South Dispatch

Memoir of a Civil Rights Journalist

By John N. Herbers
With Anne Farris Rosen
Foreword by Gene Roberts
Series: Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography
Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography

Hardcover : 9781496816740, 250 pages, 30 b&w illustrations, April 2018
Paperback : 9781496828194, 292 pages, 30 b&w illustrations, March 2020

A compelling memoir from the front lines of the civil rights movement


Former New York Times correspondent John N. Herbers (1923-2017), who covered the civil rights movement for more than a decade, has produced Deep South Dispatch: Memoir of a Civil Rights Journalist, a compelling story of national and historical significance. Born in the South during a time of entrenched racial segregation, Herbers witnessed a succession of landmark civil rights uprisings that rocked the country, the world, and his own conscience. Herbers's retrospective is a timely and critical illumination on America's current racial dilemmas and ongoing quest for justice.

Herbers's reporting began in 1951, when he covered the brutal execution of Willie McGee, a black man convicted for the rape of a white housewife, and the 1955 trial for the murder of Emmett Till, a black teenager killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. With immediacy and first-hand detail, Herbers describes the assassination of John F. Kennedy; the death of four black girls in the Birmingham, Alabama, church bombing; extensive travels and interviews with Martin Luther King Jr. ; Ku Klux Klan cross-burning rallies and private meetings; the Freedom Summer murders in Philadelphia, Mississippi; and marches and riots in St. Augustine, Florida, and Selma, Alabama, that led to passage of national civil rights legislation.

This account is also a personal journey as Herbers witnessed the movement with the conflicted eyes of a man dedicated to his southern heritage but who also rejected the prescribed laws and mores of a prejudiced society. His story provides a complex understanding of how the southern status quo, in which the white establishment benefited at the expense of African Americans, was transformed by a national outcry for justice.


"Now it's a country mile from patisserie and threads of saffron, but my colleague Jonathan Martin on the politics desk got me reading Deep South Dispatch, a memoir by the civil rights reporter John N. Herbers, who died in 2017. Maybe you should, too."

- Sam Sifton, New York Times

"They don’t make journalists like John Herbers anymore. In fact, I doubt they make people like John Herbers anymore. . . . A wonderful and important memoir . . . groundbreaking coverage of the civil rights movement. . . . John Norton Herbers may not have become another William Faulkner, but he did become a very good writer, as this historically valuable book attests over and over again."

- John Greenya, Washington Times

"I got to know John when he was a reporter. To me, he was more than a reporter. Smart and gifted, he used his pen in the search for the truth. If it had not been for reporters like John, I do not know what would have happened to us as we fought for civil rights. He was not afraid to get in the way, often risking his life to uncover the truth. He made a lasting contribution to the movement and to America."

- Congressman John Lewis

"John Herbers has always been one of our heroes. As young reporters we looked to him as a model of ferocity and fairness, devotion and determination. There was never anything 'fake' about John. He was the real deal, the best of breed, and now, thanks to this marvelous book, a new generation of journalists will get to know him and learn from him, just as we did."

- Cokie Roberts, bestselling author and commentator for ABC News and NPR, and Steve Roberts, former New York Times reporter and professor of journalism and politics at George Washington University

"[This] is the story of how a journalist armed only with a pencil and a pad and personal courage produced coverage of America's civil rights struggles that helped to hold the hooded murderers and church bombers accountable for their actions."

- Bill Kovach, former Washington bureau chief of the New York Times and a founder of the Committee of Concerned Journalists in Washington, DC

"This memoir is a master-class on how a modest, soft-spoken southerner became a shining exemplar of American journalism. From the dangerous days of the early civil rights movement, where he reported this era like no other, to his lengthy tenure in the Washington Bureau of the New York Times, where he covered the complicated connections and conflicts between politics and government policy, Herbers became a go-to byline for those interested in the truth. John Herbers was my colleague and my friend; more importantly, he was sui generis and so is this remarkable book."

- Jim Wooten, former ABC News senior correspondent and New York Times White House correspondent