More than a decade before the civil rights movement, newspaperman Ralph McGill broke the social code of silence that kept white southerners from publicly debating any change in the system of racial segregation. From his editorial perch at the Atlanta Constitution, McGill dared to question the South's voting laws and its so-called "separate but equal" school system.
In the North, McGill was hailed as the conscience of the South, but on his home turf he was branded a traitor and a Communist -- "Red Ralph", some called him. The Ku Klux Klan picketed his newspaper offices. Reactionaries sent him hate mail, threatened him by telephone, tossed garbage on his lawn, and used his mailbox for target practice. But in his thirty-one years as an editor and publisher, McGill's columns were eagerly read, even by those who hated him. And those who admired him, including young journalists, began confronting a subject that for generations of white southerners remained a taboo.
For this biography, Leonard Teel has drawn on many archival sources not previously used, including files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as public and private archives of McGill's papers and correspondence, interviews with his colleagues and family, and the vast storehouse of his opinion columns in both Nashville and Atlanta.
By tracing McGill's decades-long career from his early days as a foreign correspondent in Cuba in the 1930s to his steadfast support for the Vietnam War, Teel reveals a man who, in his unique way, embodied twentieth-century liberalism in all its complexities and contradictions. Most important, Teel shows how McGill's brand of liberalism influenced the way he grappled with the greatestissue of his time: the ending of the Jim Crow era in the South.