John Herbers, a reporter based in the South for a wire service and later the New York Times who wrote with urgency about church burnings and bombings during the civil rights struggle and who later covered politics and urban affairs from Washington, died March 17 at a retirement community in the District. He was 93.
The cause was degenerative brain disease, said a daughter, Anne Rosen.
Herbers, born in Tennessee, came from a home where blacks were viewed as “inferior and were meant to be a serving class to white people,” Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff wrote in “The Race Beat,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the media and civil rights. As a journalism student at Emory University in Atlanta, Herbers encountered other influences that caused him to reexamine his parents’s value system.
He began his journalism career in 1949 in Greenwood, Miss., and within a few years was Mississippi bureau chief for the United Press wire service. Based in the capital city of Jackson, Herbers often reported on stories about race relations ignored by the rival Associated Press – owned by member newspapers who in many cases supported the status quo, Klibanoff said in an interview. He added that the journalist’s “low-key, low-pulse, slow-speaking” manner belied his courage in the face of community hostility – even threats – toward journalists who wrote about blacks in any dignified way.