Ray Sprigle

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Ray Sprigle (August 14, 1886 in Akron, Ohio – December 22, 1957[1]) was a journalist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1938 for his reporting that Hugo Black, newly appointed to the US Supreme Court, had been a member of the 20th-century Ku Klux Klan.

His account of traveling in 1948 for 30 days and 4,000 miles in the Deep South while passing for black was first serialized by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, with each article featured on the front page. He later adapted the series as a book, In the Land of Jim Crow, published in 1949.

Early life and education[edit]

Sprigle was born in Akron, Ohio, to parents of colonial German (Pennsylvania Dutch) ancestry. He attended local schools. He graduated from Ohio State University and started working in journalism.

Career[edit]

He had a long and notable career in journalism, mostly as a reporter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In 1938 Sprigle was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Reporting for a series of articles in the Post-Gazette[2] proving that Hugo Black, newly appointed as a justice to the United States Supreme Court by President Franklin Roosevelt, had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama.[3] The evidence that Sprigle uncovered included, among other things, a photostatic copy of a letter from Black written on the stationery of the Alabama Klan asking to resign from the organization.[4]

In May 1948, Sprigle at age 61, and using the name "James Crawford", began a thirty-day, four-thousand-mile trip through the Deep South; he was passing as black. He was supported in this investigation by the NAACP and accompanied by John Wesley Dobbs, a 66-year-old civil rights activist from Atlanta. Dobbs took him into many black communities, where he met people he otherwise would never have been able to talk to.

Sprigle wrote a series of articles based on the journey that were serialized and featured on the front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette under the title I Was a Negro in the South for 30 Days. According to the paper's publisher, the Post-Gazette had never run a series that received more attention.[5] The series was syndicated and carried by about 15 other newspapers, including the New York Herald Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Courier, an African American-owned newspaper popular in the South.[6] Sprigle later adapted the articles as the basis for his 1949 book In the Land of Jim Crow. Sprigle reported on a range of social, political and economic issues in the South, including segregated schools and other conditions.

His work preceded by more than a decade John Howard Griffin's similar investigation, reported in Griffin's book Black Like Me.[6]

Works[edit]

Ray Sprigle (1949). In the Land of Jim Crow. New York: Simon & Schuster.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Elizabeth A. Brennan and Elizabeth C. Clarage (1999). Who's Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners. Oryx Press. p. 560. ISBN 1-57356-111-8. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  2. ^ "The Pulitzer Prizes 1938 Winners". pulitzer.org. Retrieved August 28, 2011.
  3. ^ Roberts, Gene and Hank Klibanoff (2006). The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-40381-7.
  4. ^ "Life on the American Newsfront: Great Press Scoop puts New Deal on Spot". Life Magazine. September 27, 1937. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  5. ^ Rees, Richard. "Ray Sprigle, Pioneer". racetraitor.org. Noel Ignatiev. Retrieved 2017-06-20.
  6. ^ a b Bill Steigerwald. "Sprigle's secret journey". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved November 16, 2011.