by Colleen Fitzpatrick
The Chips Quinn Scholars program lost an abiding friend when John Seigenthaler died on July 11 at age 86.
Seigenthaler, a former newspaper editor, special assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy during the freedom rides of 1961 and the founder of the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center in Nashville, Tenn., was a familiar and admired figure at CQS orientation and multimedia training.
He co-led a lively, interactive session designed to test Scholars’ knowledge of the First Amendment while sharing his formidable grasp of history, politics, journalism and the social and cultural forces that shaped America’s evolution. He is featured in “Freedom Riders,” a 2010 documentary film about the civil rights movement that Scholars watch. Over lunch in recent years, he told stories: about a false biography of him posted anonymously on Wikipedia; about his role as an intermediary in the freedom rides and being knocked unconscious by Klan supporters in Alabama; about his own blindness to the reality of racism as he grew up, privileged, amid Jim Crow laws.
Beyond his scheduled sessions, Seigenthaler was always accessible to Scholars, opening his office door to them, popping in on classroom discussions and even making an appearance or two in a “World Champion” video.
As Scholars talked with Siegenthaler and listened to his messages of equality, of the powers accorded Americans over their government, of the dignity inherent in all people, many were moved to write about their connection to his words and stories.
“To have someone who actually lived through a time in our country’s life when discrimination was at its highest is extraordinary — especially hearing about it not from a victim but from a white man,” Marina Sandoval (CQS Spring 2012) wrote. “We have progressed, but slowly — maybe too slow. Still, he gave us a sense of there being light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope for change and for the possibility that one day there will be an equal amount of diversity in all newsrooms.”
Wrote Andrea Beasley (CQS Summer 2014), “The life of John Seigenthaler has been inspiring. He has worked with presidents, sat with great leaders, been at the heart of the civil rights movement and left his own footprint in history. His talk reminded me that you can’t take life for granted. Those are simple words, yet they sum up his perspective on the adventurous life he’s lived. I will always remember that.”
And from Shirin Ghaffary (CQS Spring 2014): “The principles I hold closest to my heart are the same ones John stands for — freedom of speech and equality for all.”
In remembering John Seigenthaler and his extraordinary life, we invite Scholars and supporters of the CQS program to share their thoughts about the man, the journalist, the friend.
From John C. Quinn:
John Seigenthaler (“Seig”) was one of a kind. He was
- a classic journalist, as reporter, editor and coach;
- a role model for multi-generations of eager followers;
- a star motivator for the Chips Quinn Scholars, who thrived on presentations at their orientation to the world of journalism – Seig’s brand of journalism;
- a caring colleague and true friend to all the lives he touched – and they were many – from his Nashville homeland to across the United States and beyond;
- my closest and most treasured colleague and most caring friend.
Seig and I came from different worlds – geographic, professional, personal – but we had two things in common: our joy of journalism, and we both talked funny.
RIP, good friend.
Read the appreciation by James C. Duff, chief executive officer of the Freedom Forum, Newseum and Newseum Institute.