Academic journal article Journalism History

Editor for Justice: The Life of Louis I. Jaffe

Academic journal article Journalism History

Editor for Justice: The Life of Louis I. Jaffe

Article excerpt

Leidholdt, Alexander S. Editor For justice: The Life of Louis I. Jaffe. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002. 507 pp. $49.95.

Many winners of the Pulitzer Prize for journalism are one-hit wonders whose significance does not extend beyond earning their profession's most coveted honor. For example, do not expect to find the 1929 winner for editorial writing, Louis I. Jaffe of the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, in the standard texts on journalism history. He was a progressive southerner, one of those forgotten writers and editors of a bygone era.

Alexander S. Leidholdt, an associate professor at James Madison University, raises Jaffe from obscurity in a fine biography, Editor For justice: The Life of Louis I. Jaffe. Leidholdt shows that Jaffe was indeed influential beyond the Old Dominion. Editors in both the North and South respected him for his editorial writing and for his devotion to human rights. At one time he was among the most widely quoted editors in the nation, certainly among the top two or three working in the South.

The Pulitzer honored Jaffe's efforts to persuade Virginia to adopt a state anti-lynching law. From a twenty first-century perspective, it is difficult to believe that an editorial campaign would be needed to condemn mob violence and murder. Yet Virginia in the 1920s experienced the same resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacy groups as did other states. Blacks were being taken from jails and hanged, and the bodies of some were shot and burned. Mob terror, at times, also was visited upon ne'er-do-well whites, included whippings, beatings, and acts of arson.

Policies of apartheid virtually governed Virginia, despite its belief that it was more genteel than its neighbors to the south. In that decade the General Assembly passed laws requiring separate seating for blacks and whites at public events, mandating a registry of mixed-race births to prevent further miscegenation, and forcing other indignities on its citizens. The law and most lawmakers viewed lynching as a local problem rather than a state matter, and even Jaffe rejected a federal anti-lynching law as an unwarranted intrusion on state sovereignty. Yet he recognized that the state needed to make lynching unacceptable as well as punishable by authorities outside the county line. Not only did he cajole Governor Harry Byrd into making the issue a legislative priority, but he wrote the draft of the law at the governor's request. …

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