John S. Carroll: More than a giant in journalism

John Carroll (left) with Dean Baquet  in the newsroom of the Los Angeles Times when he announced his retirement.  ( Los Angeles Times photo)

John Carroll (left) with Dean Baquet in the newsroom of the Los Angeles Times when Carroll announced his retirement. ( Los Angeles Times photo)

If you are fortunate in life and work, you will be blessed with bosses and mentors who see your potential and take a personal interest in your career.

John Carroll was one of the first of many bosses who did that for me. And I will be forever grateful.

John was more than a boss and mentor, we became friends. When Joe and I got married, he and his wife Lee came to our wedding and gave us a beautiful gift we still treasure today.

Today, family and friends gathered in Lexington to say farewell to a wonderful husband, father and colleague. John was a giant in the newspaper industry whose work at The Baltimore Sun, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Los Angeles Times produced multiple Pulitzer Prizes.

As executive editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, he stood firm and fearless when the paper received bomb threats and cancelled subscriptions after publishing a series of articles about University of Kentucky basketball boosters lining the pockets of players. If you know anything about Kentucky basketball, you know it’s considered  blasphemy in some quarters to speak ill of the Wildcats. The series won the newspaper’s first Pulitzer Prize.

In 1987, when I was a young, very green reporter, John allowed me to work on a series of articles about race relations in my hometown. I was paired with a brilliant veteran reporter, Andy Mead, and an excellent projects editor, Harry Merritt.  John could have chosen a more seasoned reporter to take on the project but he saw I was passionate about the subject matter and had the local contacts to pull it off.

As our reporting progressed, I’m sure John fielded calls from civil and political leaders who questioned the paper’s efforts. John was the kind of editor who wasn’t afraid to speak truth to power or to the people who worked for him.

Andy and I examined race relations in Lexington schools, workplaces, churches, funeral homes and social settings.  We even went to a University of Kentucky basketball game and attempted to count the of African-American fans in the audience. It was a very small number.  When I interviewed then Lexington mayor Scotty Baesler, who graduated from the University of Kentucky and played basketball under legendary coach Adolph Rupp.  Baesler seemed dumbfounded at my suggestion, backed by months of reporting, that Lexington had a race problem.

“Divided We Stand” won several state and national awards and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. More importantly, it was reprinted and distributed to teachers, administrators and students in Fayette County schools.  John was instrumental in making that happen, along with managing editor Jim Green.

John used to take daily strolls through the Herald-Leader newsroom, stopping to talk with reporters and give advice. He was so cool and most of us looked forward to having him stop by our desks. It was his way of making himself available to reporters who may have been intimidated by the big glass office at the end of the newsroom.  One day, when John asked me what I was working on, I made the mistake of saying I wasn’t working on anything in particular.  He very calmly  told me that I needed to fix that right away.  I got the message loud and clear and always respected his gentle correction.

He was a great leader, but more importantly, he was a good person. When he returned to Lexington after retiring, he once ran into my father and someone introduced the two of them. My father asked, “Are you the John Carroll?” To which John asked, “Are you the Fred Duerson?” It was his way of saying my father was just as important as he was.

I will never forget that. And I will never forget him. Rest well John!

“Can we all get along?”

detroit kids

This 1973 photograph gives me hope. In fact, children have always been our best hope to turn the tide of anger and division resulting from years of negative acts and thoughts about people who happen to be different from us.
The innocence conveyed in this photograph is a powerful reminder that prejudice is a learned behavior. No one is born with hate in their hearts. A child’s first teachers are parents. They determine their child’s attitudes until they are old enough to form their own opinions.

I first experienced prejudice at the age of 5, when children at the Catholic school I attended hurled the N-word in my direction on a daily basis. I didn’t even know what the word meant, but I knew by the looks on their faces and the way they spit out the word that it wasn’t good.

An 81-year-old woman I met recently put the hurt of the N-word in context for me. If someone doesn’t call me by name, she explained, it’s as if I am invisible or don’t exist.
I’d never thought of it that way. For people of her generation, it will never be okay for anyone to use that word.
Back in 1973, Joseph Crachiola was a photographer for the Macomb (Mich.) Daily. As he was driving around Mount Clemens, a suburb of Detroit, he saw these children playing together in an alley without a care in the world, according to an article on npr.org.

In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, Crachiola reposted the photograph on his Facebook page. “For me, it still stands as one of my most meaningful pictures. It makes me wonder… At what point do we begin to mistrust one another?,” he wrote. “When do we begin to judge one another based on gender or race? I have always wondered what happened to these children. I wonder if they are still friends.”

We’ve been talking about race relations quite a bit lately. I’d like to see us spend more time talking about how we get past the hurt and resentment that has dogged our great country for years.

For me, the answer is simple. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Respect and honor people’s differences. Don’t prejudge an entire race of people based on the actions of a few. Let go of the past and move forward together.

It’s time, ya’ll. It’s time.

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in a 1964 speech in St. Louis.

“Can we all get along?” Rodney King, a Los Angeles construction worker whose 1991 beating by the police was captured on videotape. The officers struck King more than 50 times with their batons after a traffic stop. The officers’ acquittal in 1992 sparked three days of rioting. Fifty-five people were killed and 2,000 were injured. King said these words at a press conference during the riots.