In an ongoing effort to recognize individuals of our time who embody courageous journalism, Colby College today announced that it will honor Leonard Pitts Jr. with this year’s Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award.
Leonard Pitts is an American commentator, journalist, and novelist. Currently writing for the Miami Herald, he is well known for his nationally syndicated column that often addresses issues of race, politics, and culture.
Lovejoy, 1826 valedictorian at Colby, was a crusading abolitionist editor who was murdered in 1837 for his anti-slavery editorials. He was called America’s first martyr to freedom of the press by John Quincy Adams.
“Lovejoy made the ultimate sacrifice defending freedom of the press, and almost two centuries later, journalism continues to be under siege,” said Colby President David A. Greene. “The need for courageous journalism is as strong as ever. Leonard Pitts writes forcefully and masterfully, resulting in profound and important work that not only helps us consider the complexities of the issues of our time but also to become better people. It is truly fitting for him to be honored with Colby’s Lovejoy Award.”
The Lovejoy Award, presented annually by Colby since 1952, will honor Pitts for his courage in writing about race and racism, which has, at times, made him the target of serious threats of violence. A compelling journalist whose resonant voice connects with millions of readers twice weekly, he’s most recently written about the election as well as political and racial divisions in this country.
In a career that spans close to 45 years, Leonard Pitts Jr. has worked as a columnist, a college professor, a radio producer, and a lecturer. He is also the author of a series of critically acclaimed books, including his latest, The Last Thing You Surrender. Pitts gained national recognition for his widely circulated column of Sept. 12, 2001, “We’ll go forward from this moment,” in which he described the resiliency of the American spirit after the September 11 attacks. In 2004 he was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.
“This is a hard-earned and well-deserved recognition for Leonard Pitts, a courageous journalist and incredible individual who has been tackling racism and social inequity long before this country’s racial reckoning hit its current crescendo,” commented Mindy Marqués, who serves on the Lovejoy Selection Committee and worked with Pitts while at the Miami Herald. “In his sparing, staccato prose, he has often been a singular, powerful voice, offering clarity and depth. After three decades, his voice remains powerful and distinct.”
Pitts has also written about Lovejoy, having first encountered the Lovejoy story almost 30 years ago when he was creating a radio documentary on African-American history.
“The aspect of Lovejoy that I think still resonates today is how he represents what white people of conscience can do in the fight for racial justice,” commented Pitts. “However, when you really break it down, it’s not just a fight for racial justice. It’s a fight for human rights, and we all have an investment in that, no matter how it represents itself. Lovejoy would be incredibly relevant today because he looked at the fight for African-American freedom and said, no, this is my fight, and that added a different kind of weight and effectiveness.”
Pitts will address the public and Colby community in a virtual event on April 6, 2021.
Current Lovejoy Selection Committee Members include Matt Apuzzo ’00, reporter and investigative correspondent, New York Times; Nancy Barnes, senior vice president and editorial director, NPR; Sewell Chan, editorial page editor, Los Angeles Times; Marcela Gaviria, producer, PBS FRONTLINE; Neil Gross, Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology, Colby College; Martin Kaiser, editor and senior vice president, retired, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Mindy Marqués, vice president and executive editor, Simon and Schuster, former editor, Miami Herald; and Ron Nixon, global investigations editor, Associated Press.
Colby College is currently accepting nominations for the 2021-22 Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for Courage in Journalism. Submission information and requirements can be found here, and all nominations should be sent to [email protected] by April 19, 2021.
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