Edward J. Meeman
|Edward John Meeman|
Meeman circa 1950
October 2, 1889|
Evansville, Indiana, U.S.
November 15, 1966 (aged 77)|
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
Editor of The Knoxville News, 1921-1931
Edward John Meeman (October 2, 1889 – November 15, 1966) was a crusading journalist who edited, among other publications, the since defunct Memphis Press-Scimitar in his adopted home city of Memphis, Tennessee, a position from which he retired in 1962. He began work as a $4 a week cub reporter in his native Evansville, Indiana, but left a multimillion-dollar estate to foster studies of biology, conservation, and the environment.
Meeman was born to a German Roman Catholic working-class couple in Evansville in Vanderburgh County, Indiana. His father was a cigar maker and an officer in his local union. Meeman graduated in 1907 from public high school. He served briefly in the United States Navy during World War I.
Meeman took his first newspaper job at $4 a week for The Evansville Press, an afternoon daily of which he later became the editor. The Evansville Press closed in 1998, but the Evansville Courier & Press remains the daily newspaper for Evansville. He was subsequently a reporter for the Terre Haute Times, a forerunner of the Tribune-Star in Terre Haute in western Indiana. He then joined the Newspaper Enterprise Association syndicate of Cleveland, Ohio, now known as United Media and owned by the E. W. Scripps Company
In 1921, the Scripps-Howard Company selected Meeman to edit The Knoxville News, a then afternoon daily in Knoxville in eastern Tennessee. In 1926, The News joined with The Sentinel to become the Knoxville News Sentinel, which became a morning paper in 1986. Meeman had considerable success in Knoxville during the 1920s in both the advertising and circulation realms. Meeman was an early advocate of what became in 1933 the Tennessee Valley Authority, a massive development involving the taming of the swift waters of the Tennessee River and the providing of electric power to isolated sections of a half-dozen area states. He also supported through newspaper articles and columns what became the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina border and was dedicated in 1940 by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In 1931, Scripps-Howard sent Meeman to manage The Memphis Press-Scimitar, another afternoon daily. In his editorials, Meeman called for enhanced economic development and the modernization of medical facilities. Quickly, Meeman found a great rival in Edward Hull "Boss" Crump, a former U.S. representative and mayor of Memphis whose political machine for years ran Memphis and Shelby County with an iron fist. Meeman urged the establishment of a city manager government to undercut Crump's power. He endorsed permanent, rather than annual, voter registration, the adoption of voting machines, and the employment of African-American as police officers. He fought the poll tax, which Crump had manipulated to control the votes of black constituents. In 1948, Meeman urged the election of Estes Kefauver in the Democratic primary for the U. S. Senate over the incumbent Tom Stewart, the machine candidate backed by Crump. Kefauver prevailed in the primary and then defeated Republican B. Carroll Reece in the general election.
In the early 1930s, Meeman went to Germany to study conservation and forestry and returned a fierce opponent of Nazism. Originally a Cold Warrior, he opposed the American military intervention in Vietnam even before the rise of anti-war protestors in 1965. Meeman was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1946. When he left The Press-Scimitar editorship, he worked for the last four years of his life as the conservation editor of the whole Scripps-Howard chain. The Press Scimitar ceased publication in 1983; the void left only the Memphis Commercial Appeal as the principal daily in that large market.
As a young man, Meeman was briefly a Socialist. He was affiliated in his middle years with Christian Science. As a philanthropist, Meeman's estate provided generous endowments to institutions of higher learning in Memphis. The Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, north of Memphis, is named in his honor because of Meeman's role in the environmental movement. The Edward J. Meeman Biological Station of the University of Memphis conducts research in ecology, environmental biology, and natural history. The Edward J. Meeman National Journalism Awards for environmental reporting are named in his honor. The Department of Journalism and Strategic Media at the University of Memphis is housed in the Edward J. Meeman Journalism Building.