In Memorium: Pat Watters (1927-1999)

In Memorium: Pat Watters (1927-1999)

By John Egerton

Vol. 21, No. 3, 1999 p. 25

Journalist and author Pat Watters, SRC’s director of information from 1963 to 1975, died in Abbeville, Louisiana, on August 3 after a long struggle with cancer and emphysema. He was seventy-two. Friends and colleagues will long recall his soft-spoken, shyly self-deprecating manner-but also, and perhaps most memorably, his passionate and eloquent advocacy of racial justice in the South and nation.

A native of Spartanburg, South Carolina, Watters attended public schools in Georgia-Albany, Brunswick, and Atlanta-and earned a bachelor’s degree from Emory University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Iowa.

As a reporter, editor, and columnist for the Atlanta Journal from 1952 to 1963, and then in his highly visible post with the Southern Regional Council, Watters traveled throughout the region covering most of the major events of the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to his many contributions to the Journal and other publications of the Council, he wrote three books on Southern social issues and numerous articles for such national magazines as The Nation, The New Republic, Look, Harper’s, and Atlantic Monthly.

Former New York Times Southern correspondent Roy Reed, who often worked with Watters while reporting on the Movement in the 1960s, recalled his distinctive voice, both spoken and written. “Pat had one of the few remaining authentic south Georgia accents,” said Reed, “and he managed, by some mysterious touch of magic to infuse his writing with it. You could read his words and at the same time, hear his wonderful voice speaking them.”

In 1967, Watters and Reese Cleghorn, then an associate editor of the Journal, co-authored a contemporary history-Climbing Jacob’s Ladder: The Arrival of Negroes in Southern Politics-based on SRC’s Voter Education Project. Two years later, Watters wrote The South and the Nation , and in 1971 he followed with Down to Now, a personal and reflective backward glance at the receding movement.

SRC chose Watters in 1974 to serve as editor-in-chief of its most ambitious publishing venture, the bimonthly magazine Southern Voices . Though it folded after only four issues, the venturesome and distinctive journal of politics, culture, and the arts was widely admired by writers and readers alike. It was the prototype for several general-interest Southern magazines to follow.

Watters left SRC in 1975, but continued his writing career as a freelancer, producing three more books and dozens of articles for national magazines. In 1991, he and his wife, Glenda Hebert Watters, moved to Lafayette, Louisiana, where Watters taught journalism at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. They moved to Abbeville in 1996.

His survivors, in addition to his wife, include his son and daughter, Patrick and Ellen Watters, both of Boston.