Legendary journalist died

Published 9:08 pm Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Jack Nelson was a son of Alabama.

Not a lot of people would remember that without reading his obituary, which appeared on the wires and in major newspapers Wednesday.

Nelson was 80 years old. He died early Wednesday at his home in Bethesda, Md. He had pancreatic cancer.

This son of Alabama was the journalist’s journalist. He punched hard. He gathered facts and cultivated sources.

His work appeared for a good portion of his career in The Atlanta Constitution, then in The Los Angeles Times.

His work touched Selma.

Nelson covered the Selma-to-Montgomery freedom marches. He broke the fact that an FBI informant was in the car with the four Klansmen accused of murdering Viola Liuzzo, a white housewife from Detroit as she and another civil rights worker drove from Selma to Montgomery.

“Terror in the Night,” a book by Nelson, revealed the truth about a sting operation by the FBI that had resulted in $36,500 to have a school teacher from Jackson, Kathy Ainsworth, enroll in a blot to blow up the home of a Jewish businessman. Ainsworth already was sympathetic with the Klan’s goals and aims. She and Tommy Tarrants arrived in Meridian to carry out the deed and were ambushed by law enforcement. Ainsworth died. Tarrants survived, went to prison, escaped and went back to prison. Tarrants, a Mobile native, is a minister now.

Jack Nelson was a truth seeker. He wrote the facts and allowed his readers to draw their conclusions.

The rest, as they say, is history.