WATERVILLE — Colby College on Tuesday will present this year’s Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award virtually to Leonard Pitts Jr.,  journalist, commentator and novelist who writes for the Miami Herald in Florida and is well known for his nationally syndicated column that often addresses issues of race, politics and culture.

Leonard Pitts

The award, given annually, is named for Lovejoy, an Albion native and 1826 Colby alumnus, journalist and Presbyterian minister and abolitionist who was murdered in 1837 at age 34 while defending his printing press against a pro-slavery mob in Alton, Illinois. John Quincy Adams referred to Lovejoy as the country’s first martyr to freedom of the press. Pitts is being recognized as one who embodies such courageous journalism.

“Lovejoy made the ultimate sacrifice defending freedom of the press, and almost two centuries later, journalism continues to be under siege,” Colby President David A. Greene said in a news release. “The need for courageous journalism is as strong as ever. Leonard Pitts writes forcefully and masterfully, resulting in profound and important work that not only helps us consider the complexities of the issues of our time but also to become better people. It is truly fitting for him to be honored with Colby’s Lovejoy Award.”

The public may view the award event virtually at 7 p.m. Tuesday at colby.edu/lovejoy. Members of the Colby community who are in the testing program may view it in Lorimer Chapel where free T-shirts will be provided. Seating will be limited in compliance with COVID-19 guidelines.

Colby has presented the Lovejoy Award every year since it was instituted in 1952. It will honor Pitts for his courage in writing about race and racism, which has, at times, made him the target of serious threats of violence, according to the Colby release.

“A compelling journalist whose resonant voice connects with millions of readers twice weekly, he’s most recently written about the election as well as political and racial divisions in this country,” the release says.

Former recipients of the Lovejoy Award include Bob Woodward, Ellen Goodman, David Halberstam, David S. Broder, Katharine Graham, Carl Rowan and James Risen. In 2019, Jamal Khashoggi was one of 55 journalists and 11 media workers honored with the award posthumously after having been killed the previous year in pursuit of truth.

The Colby release says that during his nearly 45-year career, Pitts has worked as a columnist, college professor, radio producer and lecturer. He also wrote a series of critically acclaimed books, including his latest, “The Last Thing You Surrender.” Pitts gained national recognition for his widely circulated column of Sept. 12, 2001, “We’ll go forward from this moment,” in which he described the resiliency of the American spirit after the Sept. 11 attacks. In 2004, he was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.

Mindy Marqués, a member of the Lovejoy Selection Committee who worked with Pitts at the Miami Herald, said the award is hard-earned and well-deserved. She described Pitts in the Colby news release as “a courageous journalist and incredible individual who has been tackling racism and social inequity long before this country’s racial reckoning hit its current crescendo. In his sparing, staccato prose, he has often been a singular, powerful voice, offering clarity and depth. After three decades, his voice remains powerful and distinct.”

Pitts has also written about Lovejoy, having first encountered his story nearly 30 years ago when he was creating a radio documentary on African American history.

“The aspect of Lovejoy that I think still resonates today is how he represents what white people of conscience can do in the fight for racial justice,” Pitts said. “However, when you really break it down, it’s not just a fight for racial justice. It’s a fight for human rights, and we all have an investment in that, no matter how it represents itself. Lovejoy would be incredibly relevant today because he looked at the fight for African American freedom and said, no, this is my fight, and that added a different kind of weight and effectiveness.”

Lovejoy Selection Committee members include Matt Apuzzo, a 2000 Colby alumnus and reporter and investigative correspondent for The New York Times; Nancy Barnes, senior vice president and editorial director at National Public Radio; Sewell Chan, editorial page editor for the Los Angeles Times; Marcela Gaviria, producer of “Frontline” on PBS; Neil Gross, Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology at Colby; Martin Kaiser, retired editor and senior vice president of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Marqués, vice president and executive editor at Simon and Schuster and former editor at the Miami Herald; and Ron Nixon, global investigations editor for The Associated Press.


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