By Scott Coopwood, Publisher, Delta Business Journal
On Tuesday, (March 28), veteran Mississippi journalist, Bill Minor died. He was 93 years old.
For those unfamiliar with Mr. Minor, he wrote columns and articles for The Clarion-Ledger for decades. Minor was a hardcore liberal Democrat and race was most often at the forefront of his writings. He and I could not have been more different on just about every issue. However, during the early years of my publishing career in Jackson, we were good friends and I learned a lot from him.
Minor grew up in New Orleans and served in the Navy where he saw some close calls from the Japanese which included kamikazes doing all they could to take his life and the lives of others around him. After the war, he returned to New Orleans and went to work at The Times-Picayune newspaper. The Times sent him to Jackson and from there he wrote mostly about Mississippi politics. A few years later, Minor came to my region of the state, the Mississippi Delta and covered the Emmett Till trial. He told me that assignment, “Was an eye-opener into that part of the state.”
One of the best memories I have of Mr. Minor is the night I sat next to him at dinner in Jackson and gave me a firsthand account of Bobby Kennedy’s April 10, 1967 trip to the Delta.
On April 9, Kennedy arrived in Jackson to discuss and research poverty in Mississippi. The next day, he decided to drive through the Delta based on encouragement from civil rights lawyer, Marian Wright.
The group drove from Jackson to Yazoo City and on from there. Just outside of Yazoo City, Minor told me they stopped at a tenant house and Kennedy walked inside. When he came out, Minor asked him, “Senator, have you ever seen poverty like this?” Minor told me Kennedy responded, “Yes, I have – in Southeast Asia.” The tour continued with stops in Greenville, then up Highway 61 to Cleveland, Mound Bayou, and Clarksdale.
Back in 2003 when I started sister publication, Delta Magazine, Mr. Minor told me over lunch one day he thought a history piece on Kennedy’s Delta trip would be a good story in our new magazine. He not only commented in the article, he also gave me other ideas as to how the story should be written and the names of others who would contribute comments. Then, he told me, “Call Senator Ted Kennedy for a comment.”
“Just pick up the phone and call him out of the blue?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I guarantee you he would like to comment in the article.”
So, I instructed our writer, Chip Mabry, to call Senator Ted Kennedy in Washington. Chip called Senator Kennedy’s office and the receptionist didn’t let Chip speak with Kennedy. “I’ll take your name and someone will call you back,” she said.
Chip hung up the phone and smirked at me. “See, I told you Kennedy wouldn’t take our call.”
Five minutes later our receptionist buzzed Chip and me over the speaker phone and said, “Senator Ted Kennedy is on the line.”
Kennedy spoke with Chip for twenty minutes about Bobby’s trip to the Delta.
“That night when Bobby returned from the Mississippi Delta, he sat at the dinner table and said very little,” Senator Kennedy told us.
Bobby’s wife and children didn’t push him to tell them what was wrong, however according to Senator Ted, Bobby was so moved by what he had seen earlier that day in the Delta he couldn’t get it out of his mind.
“That trip down to Mississippi played a large part in Bobby deciding to run for president,” said Ted.
Despite Minor’s prominent lawyer son going to jail (that was highly publicized numerous times in the paper Minor wrote for), despite the strokes and other health related issues he endured, and despite the many obstacles that were thrown in his way throughout his life because of his writings and what he believed, Minor soldiered on – writing about what he felt was important.
I was honored to have known Mr. Minor during my first several years in the publishing business. He gave me some great advice that has helped me in my career even to this day. And, through my early friendship with him, he opened my eyes to many things. I’ll always be thankful for that.