In Memoriam: John L. Seigenthaler



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.

The spring 2014 class with Ken Paulson (back row, left) and John Seigenthaler (front row, 3rd from left). Seigenthaler is founder of the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center. Paulson is the dean of the College of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University and also serves as president and chief executive officer of the First Amendment Center.

The spring 2014 class with Ken Paulson (back row, left) and John Seigenthaler (front row, 3rd from left). Seigenthaler is founder of the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center. Paulson is the dean of the College of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University and also serves as president and chief executive officer of the First Amendment Center.

“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.

Chips Quinn Scholars program Co-founder John C. Quinn with John Seigenthaler. (Photo by Karen Catone)

John C. Quinn (left) and John Seigenthaler. (Photo by Karen Catone)



Related article:
Read the obituaries in The Tennessean and The Washington Post.

Read the appreciation by James C. Duff, chief executive officer of the Freedom Forum, Newseum and Newseum Institute.

Share

3 Comments

  1. michelle
    07.12.14

    Hi Colleen and Karen. We all heard that John Seigenthaler passed away and we wanted to offer our condolences to you all and his family. We’re all very humbled to have met him and realize what a privilege it was and the impact he had on journalism.

    We send all of our love. ♥

    Channler Hill (Summer 2014)

  2. michelle
    07.12.14

    Hello Karen, Colleen, and Mr. John C. Quinn, and Mrs. Seigenthaler,

    I would like to express our deepest condolences to you and Mr. Seigenthaler’s family on behalf of myself, and the Chipster summer class 2014. John Seigenthaler was an amazing man who will always be remembered, by myself and our class. When first meeting Mr. Seigenthaler, I was in awe. He is, and will remain a great man in history and journalism. Having a conversation with him in the Freedom Forum, in Nashville, was one of the most amazing experiences. Just to hear his insight and wisdom on where we were, and how far we have come in journalism and civil rights today was the most amazing experience. Our class learned a great deal from Mr. Seigenthaler, and he will be sorely missed. I thank you all for the privilege of getting to meet him, and will remember it for the rest of my life.

    Sincerely,
    Valerie Smith (Summer 2014)

  3. Karen Catone
    07.18.14

    John Seigenthaler – I will always remember:

    – the lyrical cadence with which he spoke;
    – his interesting collection of neckties, which were always great conversation starters;
    – his love of life, history, family, storytelling and the
    First Amendment;
    – the warmth with which he welcomed and embraced each new class of Chips Quinn Scholars;
    – And the time he spent with them, reminding them of their important role as journalists from diverse backgrounds – and that it wasn’t all that long ago when the doors to their ancestors were not opened.

    I feel honored and blessed to have known him. He was one in a million.

    No. I take that back. He was one in a billion.

Leave a comment