We shine brighter because of the light Bill Minor shined

Bill Minor tells a story during a ceremony honoring him in the state Senate chamber in 2015.
Bill Minor tells a story during a ceremony honoring him in the state Senate chamber in 2015. AP File

It’s hard to imagine what Mississippi would be like today had the Times-Picayune not assigned Bill Minor to cover our state in 1947.

Minor died Tuesday at 93, bringing to a close the most remarkable story in the history of Mississippi journalism.

Minor began his career in Mississippi by covering the funeral of U.S. Sen. Theodore Bilbo, then spent the rest of his life sending those who, like Bilbo, wanted to deprive black residents of their civil rights, scurrying for cover.

He regularly worked over the members of the Mississippi Legislature; his stories helped send the worst among them to prison. But by 2015, even the Legislature had to admit Mississippi was a better place to live, thanks to Minor, and honored him in a resolution.

He mentored some of the finest journalists to ever bless this state with their coverage: David Halberstam, Jack Nelson, who once reported for the Sun Herald’s predecessor The Daily Herald, and Hank Klibanoff, another Herald staffer, who wrote about Minor’s courageous work in his book “The Race Beat.” All three went on to win Pulitzer Prizes.

Minor visited the shotgun shacks in the Delta with Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and was there when 5,000 marched from the funeral of Medgar Evers to the Capitol. Had he not been on the streets of Jackson that day, the world would have never heard these words of a police officer: “Might as well open fire. If we don’t do it today, we’ll have to do it tomorrow.”

The Times-Picayune closed its bureau in Jackson but Minor stayed behind, bought the anemic Capitol Reporter and turned it into a crusader against the crooks and racists who infested Jackson in 1976. It wasn’t a financial success but by the measure of crosses burned outside its offices, windows smashed and typesetting machines stolen, it was wildly successful in afflicting the comfortable.

After that enterprise, he took up column writing. Years ago, he had a stroke but kept up the heat, knocking out columns with two fingers. In 1997, he was the first winner of the John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism, one of many, many awards that honored his greatness.

But perhaps most telling tribute came from longtime friend Hodding Carter III.

“He looked at the world around him,” Carter told the Clarion-Ledger’s Jerry Mitchell, “and he tried to say in his commentary, ‘We can do better.’”

And, thanks to Bill Minor, we have.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.