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Newspaper Days

ISSUE:  Spring 2002

An Honorable Estate. By Louis D. Rubin Jr. Louisiana. $22.50.

A very long time ago I sat in James Street’s Chapel Hill parlor with his A house guest, H. Alien Smith, and Harry Golden. There was a lot of talk. The only words I remember distinctly are Street’s pronouncement that anybody interested in writing would be a damfool to stay on newspapers more than 12 years.

He and Smith had missed his deadline by a fair number of years before turning to fiction and humor, which was his basis for setting it. Golden didn’t really count; he was filling his Carolina Israelite at Charlotte with wit and wisdom rather than news and saving it for Only in America. I flunked the test miserably without caring; my time as a reporter, desk man, and editor would stretch to 45 years.

Louis Rubin should have been with us. One year short of Street’s magic dozen, 1946—57, he abandoned journalism to earn distinction at Hollins College and then the University of North Carolina as a teacher, critic, author, publisher, and foremost authority on Southern literature. He had qualified for academia between press stints by earning a doctorate at Johns Hopkins University and engaging in literary assignments at the University of Pennsylvania.

But he had meant to develop a solid newspaper foundation for whatever extension of writing he undertook. He was persuaded that “for a young man who was reasonably bright, curious of what went on around him, and who felt the urge to express himself in writing, employment as a newspaper reporter was alluring because it offered, or appeared to offer, an opportunity to write.”

He had nurtured the idea from his time as a schoolboy in Charleston, S.C., through his years as an undergraduate at the College of Charleston and the University of Richmond, and when a World War II soldier. He was inspired by the rise of two uncles, both self-educated, to news executives of papers in Charleston and Birmingham and the success of the younger as a novelist and the other as a Broadway playwright and Hollywood script writer.

Nevertheless, An Honorable Estate is less a treatise on Rubin’s rewards from journalism than on his reason for bailing out—why, specifically, he resigned as associate editor of The Richmond News Leader while its editor, James Jackson Kilpatrick, was making “an impact on Virginia” as an artificer and exhorter of Massive Resistance. That phrase was becoming as much Virginia’s motto as Sic Semper Tyrannis. It described Senator Harry Byrd and his Establishment lieutenants’ response to the Supreme Court’s 1954 order for public school desegration.

But that is for the last chapter. The fun part is up front.


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