Ralph McGill: A Biography

Article excerpt

Ralph McGill: A Biography. By Barbara Barksdale Clowse. (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, c. 1998. Pp. [viii], 315. $29.95, ISBN 0-8655-4612-6.)

Ralph McGill's was a complicated life--often sad, if not tragic, on the personal level, and sometimes misspent, but almost always busy, crowded, useful, and fulfilling. He became a writer for the Nashville Banner in 1920, sports editor in 1923, then rose between 1929 and 1969 from sports reporting to the pinnacle of southern journalism, becoming first editor and then publisher of the Atlanta Constitution. His daily columns offered encouragement to southern moderates and centrist liberals across the country; his enemies among white supremacists were legion and dangerous. A Pulitzer Prize committee cited columns condemning massive resistance in the late 1950s; he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. McGill counted five presidents as friends and counseled Atlanta's progressive leaders, black and white, from the troubled times of the Talmadges to the dilemma of Lester Maddox.

Barbara Barksdale Clowse offers us a straightforward overview of McGill's life, warts and all, from his birth to his death. Though of interest to the general reader, the book is based on scholarly research in the Ralph E. McGill papers located at Emory University and many other materials, including interviews with friends and relatives of McGill. Clowse writes a surprisingly intimate story about a flawed hero who, despite his personal weaknesses--alcoholism, negligence of his family, bouts of self-doubt and depression, even occasional dissembling about his professional credentials--at last wins the admiration of the reader and the biographer. …