Roy Reed passed away last night. Ernie Dumas wrote the obituary that follows:
Roy Reed, whose reporting on racial conflicts across the South for The New York Times illuminated and energized the civil rights movement in the 1960s, died Sunday at Fayetteville of an aneurysm. He was 87.
Reed, who was born near Hot Springs, wrote for the Arkansas Gazette for nearly nine years before joining the Times as its Southern correspondent early in 1965. His first assignment was to cover the epic march of civil rights activists led by Dr. Martin Luther King and John Lewis from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery to protest Southern barriers to voting by African Americans. The violence at Selma recorded by Reed spurred Congress and President Lyndon Johnson to enact the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed restraints on black voting in much of the South and parts of other states.
The movie “Selma” in 2014 chronicled the march, which actually was three separate events. The film’s script for the iconic event of the marches—the attack by lawmen on marchers with clubs and tear gas at the Edmund Pettus Bridge at Selma—tracked Reed’s detailed and gripping account in the Times. The actor John Lavelle played Reed in the film. It was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for best motion picture and won one Academy Award and several other film awards.
For two years, Reed covered the major civil-rights struggles across the South, including the 1966 March Against Fear in Mississippi by James Meredith, the first black student at the University of Mississippi. Meredith planned the solitary 220-mile march to embolden African Americans to register to vote and to protest Congress’s lack of progress in enacting civil rights protections. On the second day of the walk from Memphis to Jackson, with Reed plodding along drinking a Coke, Meredith was shot by a white sniper and hospitalized.
Later, Reed reported from the newspaper’s Washington bureau in President Johnson’s final year and afterward, and from bureaus in London and New Orleans. He taught journalism at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville for 16 years after leaving the Times and wrote several books, notably “Orval Faubus: The Life and Times of an American Prodigal,” an acclaimed biography published by the University of Arkansas Press in 1997. “Beware of Limbo Dancers: A Correspondent’s Adventures with The New York Times” won a Porter Prize in 2012. The U of A Press also published “Looking for Hogeye,” a collection of essays about the South, in 1986, and “Looking Back at the Arkansas Gazette,” a collection of stories distilled from scores of oral histories of men and women who worked at the newspaper, published in 2009.
When he left the Times, Reed bought a plot of land on a remote mountain at Hogeye, south of Fayetteville, and commissioned the renowned architect Fay Jones to design a stone and glass house atop the mountain, where he lived with his wife Norma and a menagerie of livestock, including donkeys that he rescued or borrowed in Texas.
Reed was born Feb. 14, 1930, in Hot Springs to Roy E. Reed, a mail carrier and storeowner, and Ella Meredith Reed. A younger sister died in 1964. He attended Ouachita Baptist College at Arkadelphia for a year and transferred to the University of Missouri at Columbia, where he graduated in 1951. He worked for a year at the Joplin, Mo., Globe and joined the Gazette staff in 1956. He attended Harvard University on a Nieman Fellowship in 1963-64.
He is survived by his wife, Norma; a son, John Reed of Little Rock, and daughter, Cindy Buck of Buzzard’s Bay, Mass.