It’s fulfilling and fun to go back and re-read some of what you have read before.
Heading for a doctor’s appointment, and not having a book for the waiting room, at the GwinnettForum office I pulled from the shelf a small book from more than 50 years ago. Its title was “The Fleas Come with the Dog,” by the late editor and publisher of the Atlanta Constitution, Ralph McGill, a giant of a man.
The way McGill addressed his readers in his every-day, front-page column was straight and to the point. He essentially was the conscience of the South as it suffered through its struggles with integration.
Yet McGill was not just writing about this one subject. Yes, he wrote about his home Southland like no other. But he also was trained to look at the wider picture, in our country, in the world, and in individual’s lives, writing about names you knew and about people you would never hear from again.
McGill was raised on a Tennessee farm, and schooled at Vanderbilt. He began as a reporter in Nashville on the Banner in 1921, and quickly became its sports editor. He came to Atlanta in 1929 to write features for the Constitution, and soon was its sports editor. By 1938 he was its editor, and before he retired, became its publisher.
He was syndicated in many other newspapers and magazines. There’s no one in the South today in any media with the impact and respect all across the region that McGill had.
McGill was progressive, and told the Southerners sometimes what they did not want to hear. Many hated him, accusing him of being in cahoots with anything they did not like. But even though many complained, they read him, many grudgingly recognizing what was to come. His thoughts helped many Southerners adopt a new attitude.
McGill took on people who wrote him. One lady wrote: “The South has the finest people in the world; her land will grow every crop in the world. Let those that don’t like it go somewhere else.”
Calling her views the “philosophy of decay,” he said it is like “wearing a new evening gown with a dirty slip showing.” And he called it dishonest. He added: “Let us muster the best we have to eliminate the worst we have. Let’s wash the dirty slip under the new dress.”
McGill also had a knack of being where news was made. He traveled quite a bit, in the 30s visiting Cuba, or watching with his wife while Hitler took over Austria. He seemed to gravitate to where news would take place. He talked to Patton and Churchill. Then he gave us his take on it.
Do not forget that McGill was a superb writer. For instance, while in Florida one January day, he saw 10 middle-aged people in two cars from North Dakota fascinated with the ocean pounding the beach:
“White-capped rollers were breaking far out from the beach. The gathering ground swells seem to rise enormously before they, too, broke out their white crests and crashed against the sands, rolling along in a smothering turbulence that hissed and muttered over the sands in progress and in retreat.”
We don’t have the likes of Ralph McGill today, (or even an editorial philosophy in the Atlanta newspapers). While we have more media than ever, we have few universal clear-voices sounding the call, pushing us to think creatively in wider limits, and doing what is right.
Ralph McGill, 1898-1969: we miss you so.