Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

Two Legacies Remembered

The program's host remembers Lady Bird Johnson and pioneering journalist Eddie Pinder, a former producer for ABC's Nightline.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Every now and again, when I have something on my mind, I like to talk about it in a commentary. And today I want to give honor to two people who passed on last week, one of whom you've heard of and the other you probably haven't. But as I was thinking about each of them separately, it came to me that they had something important in common. And that something is the thing I want to praise and remember.

The first person I want to remember is Lady Bird Johnson. She died last Wednesday at the age of 94 and was laid to rest yesterday. So much has been written about her efforts to beautify the nation. I think of her every time I take the drive to National Airport because you can see not only the wildflowers along the highway, but also a memorial to her efforts.

I love wildflowers, but I love even more what Lady Bird was willing to do to advance the dignity of all Americans through her support for civil rights. The Washington Post obituary talked about how, four days before the 1960 election, she and her husband were attacked in Dallas because of the Kennedy campaign civil rights platform. A group of 400 or so white, well dressed Dallas worthies, later dubbed the Mink Coat Mob, literally assaulted them. One of them hit Lady Bird on the head with a sign, another spat in her face.

The obit says that then Senator Johnson had Lady Bird slow down so the cameras could catch the whole thing. Now, I love my husband too, but I'm not sure I'd let people spit in my face for his agenda. Which suggests to me it wasn't just his agenda because, four years later, Lady Bird, by then first lady, was at it again. Traveling through the South to campaign for Johnson in places that were considered too dangerous for him to visit.

Can I just tell you? It's hard enough to take abuse from people who are different from you, who you already know are against you. But think about how hard it is to confront your own, your own family, your own friends, your own neighbors, to tell them they're wrong about something they believe, have grown up with and are convinced is right. Think about what that must have been like for somebody like Lady Bird, raised to stand behind her man in the background and yet on the pedestal of white womanhood so exalted by the apartheid South. Think of what it must have been like for her to get spat upon on behalf of the very people she would've been taught were not worthy of her time, let alone her dignity.

The second person I want to remember is Eddie Pinder. He was a producer at ABC News when I worked there. He died last week at the age of 36 from complications stemming from heart bypass surgery. I didn't work with Eddie closely, but we used to talk especially as he was editing a series he did for my old program, "Nightline," about a young African-American teacher assigned to work with so-called at-risk fourth graders in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

I remember Eddie won a few awards for that series, which was riveting as it documented what those kids and their very dedicated teacher were up against. But what I most remember is the mail he received - some of it very angry - from some African-American viewers who accused him of airing dirty laundry, or worse, wallowing in the black community's dysfunction for the sake of his career.

I remember being shocked by that response. I remember him being hurt. But when we talked about it, I remember our agreeing that that was the burden and responsibility of journalism, indeed, of leadership. Eddie and Lady Bird had that in common. They refused to point the finger at other people's sicknesses but had the courage to hold up the mirror to their own.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: As we've said before, we love to hear from you. And there are so many stories of a civil rights movement that have yet to be told. Stories by both whites and blacks. So we'd like to know, were you there when Lady Bird stopped through your town campaigning for the civil rights bill? What was it like? Was it tense? Was it exciting? And Wil Haygood told you how Simeon Booker inspired him to pursue a career in journalism. He's not alone. Is there a figure from the civil rights era, especially someone not well known to others, who inspired you?

Please let us know. You can visit our blog at npr.org/tellmemore to tell us more about the people who've influenced your life.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues