Jack Nelson memoir event to include Emory-held materials

By Maureen McGavin | Jan. 4, 2013

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This photograph of Jack and Barbara Matusow Nelson, with President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter, was taken in 1978.

The life and career of the late investigative journalist Jack Nelson will be highlighted at the launch of his memoir Wednesday, Jan. 16 at the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum. The event will include a display of selected materials from Nelson's archive held by Emory University's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL).  

The launch, which includes a panel discussion, readings from the book and a reception, will begin at 7 p.m. in the theater at the Carter Library. The event will celebrate the release of Nelson's memoir, "Scoop: The Evolution of a Southern Reporter," which was completed and edited by his wife, Barbara Matusow. The event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited.  

Crusading journalist  

"Nelson was one of the most important journalists of the 20th century," says Randall Burkett, curator of MARBL's African American Collections. "He was committed to rooting out injustice and corruption in American life wherever he found it. Once he began to focus on the Jim Crow South, and the violence and the collusion essential to its perpetuation, he became an aggressive reporter on the subject."  

MARBL holds Nelson's papers along with those of several other Southern journalists, including Ralph McGill, Joseph Cumming, William Emerson, John Herbers, Celestine Sibley and Claude Sitton.  

Matusow, a former journalist, says people often thought of her husband as a political reporter and TV personality in his later years and were surprised to find out about his hard-nosed reporting in the civil rights era.  

"A lot of people didn't know about this tough, no-holds-barred guy who walked into Klan rallies and had his life threatened," Matusow says of Nelson. "This part of his career was more colorful, more adventurous and directly affected the lives of probably thousands of people. It's part of his legacy that I'm very happy is being honored by the Carter Library and by Emory University in having selected his papers."  

Biographical highlights  

Jack Nelson (1929-2009) grew up in Alabama and Mississippi, and started his career as a reporter in Biloxi and Gulfport. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1960 for an Atlanta Constitution story uncovering abuse at a Milledgeville mental hospital, reported on the widespread corruption in Georgia in the 1950s and early 1960s, and covered civil rights issues and events, becoming the Washington bureau chief at the Los Angeles Times. He was lauded for his stories on the Watergate scandal.  

MARBL will have a small display of reproductions from Nelson's archive, including his Pulitzer notice and four of his press passes. MARBL and the Carter Library are co-sponsoring the event.  

Nelson appears with fellow Pulitzer Prize winners Eugene Patterson (left) and Ralph McGill (center), all journalists with the Atlanta Constitution.

Nelson appears with fellow Pulitzer Prize winners Eugene Patterson (left) and Ralph McGill (center), all journalists with the Atlanta Constitution.

Carter, Young, Adamson to discuss Nelson  

Panelists will include:

  • Matusow,
  • former President Jimmy Carter,
  • former U.N. ambassador and civil rights activist Andrew Young, and
  • Terry Adamson, an alumnus of Emory College and Emory Law, former Department of Justice spokesman during the Carter administration and executive vice president of the National Geographic Society.
Nelson was a reporter in Georgia as Carter rose through the political ranks and covered the Carter administration. The two shared a bond and mutual respect, Matusow says.  

The discussion will be moderated by Hank Klibanoff, former Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) managing editor and James M. Cox Jr. Professor of Journalism at Emory, who played a key role in seeing that Nelson's papers came to MARBL. Klibanoff also is co-author of "The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation," winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in history.  

"Jack felt he was late in covering civil rights, but when he did cover it, he brought such sharp, investigative skills to it, he really changed the way the story was being covered," Klibanoff says.  

Following the panel discussion, there will be a dessert reception, readings from the book, viewing of the Nelson materials from MARBL, book sales by A Cappella Books, and a signing by Matusow. Those who will read from the book include MARBL director Rosemary Magee, AJC editor Kevin Riley, and Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning former columnist and editorial page editor of the AJC.  

The Jimmy Carter Library & Museum is located at 441 Freedom Parkway, Atlanta 30307. For more information, contact Julie Braun at jkbraun@emory.edu.