When Lou Major, fresh out of LSU's journalism school, joined the staff of the Bogalusa Daily News in 1950, little did he know that he would soon be leading the newspaper through a time of major societal change.
As the national civil rights movement came to a head across the nation in the mid-1960s, Bogalusa was front and center of news coverage, in part because of the Ku Klux Klan’s vocal and sometimes violent opposition to Black Americans’ efforts to secure equal rights.
In Bogalusa and the surrounding Washington Parish, Major and the Daily News became the leading public voice of opposition to the KKK’s campaign of intimidation and violence.
Now, LSU Press has published “Against the Klan,” Major’s recollection of that turbulent time and the Daily News’ public challenge of the KKK, in a memoir written shortly before his death in 2013.
Not long after Major settled into his publisher’s duties, Black Bogalusans’ efforts to secure equal rights and the KKK’s efforts to block those efforts rose to the top of public awareness in Bogalusa and throughout the nation, according to a news release. The Daily News was on the scene, providing coverage of local Black Americans’ efforts and publicly criticizing the Klan’s violent reaction in a number of editorials.
“In my view, there was no other editor or publisher in Louisiana, and only a few in the South, who displayed such courage, integrity and morality in the face of deadly adversity and such life-altering social advances,” wrote Stanley Nelson, Pulitzer Prize finalist and longtime editor of The Concordia Sentinel, in his foreword to the memoir. “Lou Major’s work should be taught to students studying journalism and community newspapers in Louisiana.”
As Nelson described, Major’s editorials in response to the Klan were not without risk. The Klan waged a campaign of threats and harassment against him and the newspaper.
Crosses were burned at his home, trash was thrown on his lawn, car tires were flattened in his driveway and a boycott hurt the Daily News financially, the news release says. The newspaper and Major personally were viciously insulted in the “Midnight Mail” — the flyers published by the Klan and tossed late on Saturday nights onto the sidewalks and driveways of many Bogalusa homes.
But Major was not intimidated. Over a period of two years, he wrote editorials calling for calm in the city and criticizing violence in all its forms during the period of civil rights tension. Of the Klan, he wrote in one editorial: “They need to be exposed to the light of day and shamed for their heinous actions. But more than despised, these people need to be pitied. They have not kept up with civilization. They are throwbacks to a day when rash emotionalism ruled over reason.”
As his 50-year career in journalism in Bogalusa ended, Major was inducted into LSU’s Manship School of Journalism Hall of Fame in 2010, in no small part as tribute to his public stand against the Klan decades earlier.
“Because he chose not to comment on (the Civil Rights movement in) Bogalusa for decades, Major’s decision to recount his work later in life is like uncovering a treasure that has been lost for a half-century,” wrote Nelson in his forward. “The memoir is fresh, exciting, and an important account of Louisiana history, Civil Rights, the South, race relations, journalism, and the value of an outstanding newspaper publisher and editor in a community where one is vitally needed.”
“Against the Klan” is available from LSU Press and other booksellers.