In this edition of Famous Contributors, we look at Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist John Hersey, whose article “A Life for a Vote” appeared in the Post in 1964 and focused on the challenges facing Mississippi Blacks looking to exercise their right to cast ballots. Partially as a result of the awareness raised by Hersey and other activists the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed literacy tests and other discriminatory voting practices, was passed in 1965. To read the full story in PDF, click here or scroll down. (Warning: article contains graphic language and violent content.)
In 1914, John Hersey was born in Tientsin, China to U.S. missionary parents. He displayed promise at a young age, attending Yale and becoming Far East correspondent for Time Magazine upon graduation.
When World War II erupted, Hersey became a highly respected wartime journalist covering both Europe and Asia. The experiences he gained helped him write the book A Bell For Adano, which garnered the Pulitzer Prize in 1945 and was later adopted into a movie.
Hersey is perhaps most remembered for his coverage of the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. In a 31,000 word article titled “Hiroshima,” which unprecedentedly took up an entire issue of the New Yorker, he conveyed the remarkable survival stories of six individuals who emerged from the unfathomable nuclear destruction. The story was named the number one work of journalism of the 20th century by a New York University panel in 1999.
Hersey later became a master’s professor at Yale and continued to write for the rest of his life. His critically acclaimed book The Wall, which focused on the Nazi destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, is considered to be the first American novel about the Holocaust. Hersey was honored as one of the five greatest journalists of the 20th century with a commemorative postage stamp, and Yale University has given the John Hersey Prize since 1985 to students who show responsible reporting and engagement with moral and social issues.
Below, read “A Life for a Vote” in its entirety.