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Eugene C. Patterson, Former Washington Post Managing Editor, Dies at 89

Eugene C. Patterson, a former managing editor of The Washington Post who won a Pulitzer Prize as editor of the Atlanta Constitution and later transformed the St. Petersburg Times into one of the country’s leading newspapers, died Jan. 12 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Patterson’s sister, Anne Patterson Facer, said he died of cancer and complications from congestive heart failure. He was 89.

While he was editor of the Constitution, Patterson distinguished himself as a leading white voice for black civil rights, writing about the cost of bigotry and racially motivated violence.

In 1968, Patterson left Atlanta for Washington, D.C., where for three years he was managing editor of the Post. But, as the Times reported in its obituary, “Mr. Patterson grew restless playing second fiddle to the Post's domineering executive editor, Benjamin C. Bradlee, and eventually left.”

In 1972, Patterson was hired to be the editor of the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) and during the next 16 years transformed the paper. He crusaded for higher standards in the nation’s newsrooms, and as president of the Times Co. ran the Poynter Institute where thousands of journalists were trained in the profession. The Times became a destination newspaper for journalists.

Patterson, who grew up on a Georgia farm, served under Gen. George S. Patton as a tank commander during World War II. After working for United Press in New York and London, he was editorial writer and later editor of the Constitution from 1960 to 1968, and received a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing in 1967.

Patterson wrote a famous column on Sept. 16, 1963, following a bombing of a Baptist church in Birmingham, Ala., decrying the violence and anger directed at the civil rights movement, and becoming one of the first white columnists to deliver the reality of the civil rights movement to his fellow white readers in the south. It began:

“A Negro mother wept in the street Sunday morning in front of a Baptist Church in Birmingham. In her hand she held a shoe, one shoe, from the foot of her dead child. We hold that shoe with her. Every one of us in the white South holds that small shoe in his hand…”

From 1964 to 1968, Patterson chaired the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

A report by Emily Langer (@EmilyLangerWP) in The Washington Post contributed to this report.

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