Karl Fleming, a great and brave reporter during the civil rights movement in the 1960s who died recently at age 84, had many ties to North Carolina.
Fleming was born in 1927 in Virginia but lived in an orphanage in Raleigh from ages 8 to 17, according to a fine obitary by the Los Angeles Times' Elaine Woo. He joined the Navy just as World War II was ending, then attended Appalachian State University for two years. He worked at newspapers in Wilson, Durham and Asheville, and eventually became Newsweek's Atlanta correspondent in 1961.
Fleming covered all the biggest civil rights stories in the South in the 1960s, often under difficult conditions. He reported on the Birmingham church bombing in 1963; the assassination of the NAACP's Medgar Evers in Jackon, Miss., in 1963; and the disappearance in Philadelphia, Miss., in 1964 of three civil rights workers. "Karl was one of these reporters who would go anywhere, any time, no matter what the danger, if the story was good enough," said Gene Roberts, a North Carolinian and former editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Fleming and Claude Sitton of The New York Times, who later became editor of The News & Observer, did brilliant work from the South in the 1960s and sometimes joined forces. Elaine Woo wrote: "Since one wrote for a daily paper and the other for a weekly newsmagazine, they did not consider themselves competitors and found it useful and safer to work together. They developed some methods to protect themselves, including obscuring their stock-in-trade — their reporter's notebooks — by cutting them down to fit in their pockets.
"That trick did not help in Philadelphia, Miss., where they were the first reporters on the scene of the three civil rights workers' disappearance. The sheriff told Fleming he was a traitor to 'our precious Southern way of life' and ordered him and Sitton to leave town. A pack of white toughs pursued them, and back at their motel men with shotguns invited them to 'take a ride with us out in the country.' Fleming and Sitton quickly packed their bags but returned later to continue reporting the story."