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Beware of Limbo Dancers

A Correspondent’s Adventures with the New York Times

Roy Reed

Publication Year: 2012

This witty, wide-ranging memoir from Roy Reed—a native Arkansan who became a reporter for the New York Times—begins with tales of the writer’s formative years growing up in Arkansas and the start of his career at the legendary Arkansas Gazette. Reed joined the New York Times in 1965 and was quickly thrust into the chaos of Alabama, witnessing first hand the Selma protest movement and the historical interracial march to Montgomery. His story moves from days of racial violence to the political combat of Washington. Reed covered the Johnson White House and the early days of the Nixon administration as it wrestled with the competing demands of black voters and southern resistance to a new world. The memoir concludes with engaging postings from New Orleans and London and other travels of a correspondent always on the lookout for new people, old ways, good company, and fresh outrages.

Published by: University of Arkansas Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. ix-x

My thanks to Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, who is known as Punch to older readers of the New York Times. Punch was the publisher during my tenure. He was generous not merely with the company’s money but also with his encouragement of new and bolder methods of reporting...

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Who, What, Where, When, Why

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pp. xi-xv

I joined the United States in 1930. On February 14 of that year, I became a citizen. I have never regretted it. Both my country and my home state of Arkansas have embarrassed me from time to time, but year in and year out they have mainly stuck by me. That is no small...

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1. Learning to Fear Geese and Believe in Bears

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pp. 3-10

They had put the boy on the porch with someone bigger than he was but not as big as the people inside. The other person was different from him. The person’s voice was more like his mother’s than his father’s. When the person spoke, he thought something might...

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2. Some People Who Improved Me

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pp. 11-20

Nineteen-forty-four, the last full year of World War II: My father was in the navy. His service pay was meager. My mother had put aside her pride and got a job as a cleaning woman at a downtown medical center. She rode a city bus to and from work. One day on the ride home...

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3. Gazette Days

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pp. 21-25

My friend Stanley Slaten got me a job at the Arkansas Gazette in 1956. He and I had grown up together at Piney. We double-dated on the rare occasions when we both could persuade girls to go out with us. The girls were almost always fellow members of the Piney Baptist Church...

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4. History Lesson

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pp. 27-32

There’s a long tradition in American life of politicians using newspapers as whipping boys—and vice versa. That was especially true in the South when race was the big issue during the middle years of the twentieth century. In Georgia, for example, segregationist governors...

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5. Moving South

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pp. 33-35

I looked up one day in 1965 and found myself in the intimidating newsroom of the world’s best newspaper. In my fuzzed recollection, that newsroom was about a mile wide and populated by thousands of people who sounded funny when they talked. The paper had hired me...

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6. A Stranger in New York

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pp. 37-46

Sometime during my middle years, I realized that my position in the world had changed. I had begun life as an aristocrat, had descended a little later into the lower middle class, and then, in a moment of uncharacteristic alertness, had slipped into an open slot in the...

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7. Marching to Montgomery

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pp. 47-59

My own awakening to a new level of reality had begun just days after my arrival in Selma. On March 7, a Sunday, a few hundred marchers, mostly black, had crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the Alabama River to begin what had been billed, a little tentatively, as a march to...

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8. Getting Away with Murder

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pp. 61-75

I was having a late supper that night at the capital’s Elite Café— pronounced EE-lite—with some other reporters. John Doar, the Justice Department man in charge of security for the march, was there. John was tough. He was about as talkative as Gary Cooper in...

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9. Learning to Speak Times Talk

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pp. 77-80

I spent all of 1965 and 1966 on the Southern beat before moving to Washington to help cover the White House. A large part of those two years was spent on normal political coverage. Stump speakings were becoming rare in South Carolina. Orval Faubus missed the filing...

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10. The Murky Pearl and Other Graveyards

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pp. 81-87

I inherited a considerable body of running stories on race and civil rights when I moved into the Southern beat for the Times. Some were still alive and needing my periodic attention. Others had seemingly faded into history. You could stand blindfolded and throw a dart at a...

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11. A Funeral Oration

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pp. 89-91

I was on the scene less than a month in the winter of 1965 when the nearby town of Marion produced a killing—a particularly gratuitous one by the law enforcement agency of the state of Alabama, it seemed—that was judged in later years to have been the spark...

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12. Bigots I Have Known

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pp. 93-106

The other big civil rights story of 1965 was in Louisiana. There are people in New Orleans who claim they have never been north of Lake Pontchartrain except to travel in Europe. They see nothing of interest and little of real civilization north of the lake. Those folks have not got...

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13. Resisting the Resisters

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pp. 107-113

The thugs and demagogues got most of the attention, but there were quieter men and women in the South who had the courage to oppose this last wrongheaded lost cause. We reporters seemed to gravitate toward those folks everywhere we went. I think of Mike and...

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14. You Want Your Power Black or with Cream?

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pp. 115-117

The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s had more white sympathizers in the South than has been acknowledged in many of the printed and televised retrospectives. But the core of the movement was black. It had to be so. There had been white activists for many...

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15. Blurred Colors

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pp. 119-124

I never met a black reporter until I went to New York in 1965 and met Charlayne Hunter. I met Paul Delaney afterward in the paper’s Washington bureau, and we became friends. We stayed in touch until both of us left the paper years later. He eventually returned to his...

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16. Outrage by the Book

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pp. 125-129

In August 1965, the cops in West Point, Mississippi, arrested the eighteen-year-old son of a congressman and charged him with manslaughter. Michael Reuss, son of Representative Henry S. Reuss of Wisconsin, had traveled to the state along with hundreds of other young people...

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17. The Story Changes

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pp. 131-136

Writers habitually look for turning points. This or that battle that changed the direction of a war. A congressional victory for the forces of liberalism or conservatism. The University of Arkansas football team defeating its hated opponent the University of Texas, proving...

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18. Reconstruction, Round Two

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pp. 137-148

The elections of 1966 were revealing. Two main themes developed: the newly enfranchised black voters began to make their views felt, and the Republican Party, which had lain more or less dormant since the post–Civil War Reconstruction, started to come alive. The two themes...

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19. Walking across Hell

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pp. 149-158

Meredith set out in Memphis intending to walk twelve miles south into his home state and on to Jackson to prove that he could do it. He might have intended to walk all the way to the Gulf Coast, but with Meredith you never knew what was in his mind. He dared anybody...

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20. Winding Down: Beale to Bourbon

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pp. 159-162

Beale and Bourbon, two of the most famous streets in the South, commanded my attention before I withdrew to Washington for a spell. The Memphis home of the blues and W. C. Handy, the street of “more living and more dying than any place in the world,” had been rotting...

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21. The White House

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pp. 163-168

Tom Wicker, the Washington bureau chief of the Times, arranged for me to transfer from Atlanta to Washington in early 1967 to be the number-two reporter on the White House beat. Max Frankel was in charge. He had been a distinguished foreign correspondent, and I was...

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22. The Viet Cong Has It In for Me

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pp. 169-182

Protests against the war in Vietnam picked up early in 1967. A story of mine on January 31 told of a group of clergymen and laymen demonstrating in front of the White House to urge a reappraisal of American war policy. I thought the protest was remarkable for its restrained...

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23. The Year I Lived with Hubert Humphrey

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pp. 183-187

I still call up a flush of anger at the New York Times when I remember the day that Johnson pulled out of the race. A large group of us reporters were traveling with Humphrey that day to Mexico City as he filled in, once more, for the president on a diplomatic mission. We...

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24. George Wallace Again

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pp. 189-195

I was familiar with his tactics from my days traveling Alabama, and I relished the chance to follow him around the country. The governor’s announced aim was to get enough votes from the two main parties to throw the election into the House of Representatives. That...

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25. Southern Strategy Redux

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pp. 197-203

Richard Nixon became president, and my Washington assignment changed. As an experienced civil rights reporter, I was chosen to keep an eye on how the new administration handled that issue. Nixon had been one of the more liberal members of President Eisenhower’s team...

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26. Rescued in New Orleans

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pp. 205-228

Gene Roberts, recently returned from Saigon to become national editor, asked me to open a bureau in New Orleans—the paper’s first. I loved the city. I decided that it was time to live a more peaceful life. We left Washington and got to New Orleans late in the summer of...

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27. Dixie Takes Washington without Firing a Shot

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pp. 229-231

My last political reporting for the Times, not counting bits of exotica from the British Isles and occasional freelance stories after I left the paper, was during the 1976 elections. President Ford was being pursued by Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination. The...

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28. London

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pp. 233-243

I phoned Dave Jones, the national editor, during the fall of 1976 and told him I was travel-weary and needed a break. Maybe I could move to New York for a year or two and work on the copy desk. He took the suggestion to Abe Rosenthal, the executive editor, who made a...

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29. Is There Life after the New York Times?

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pp. 245-255

You may not have noticed much of Roy in this book that calls itself a memoir. That’s because reporters are seldom as interesting as the people and events they write about. Furthermore, I have deliberately avoided lurid confessions, philosophical musings, and cosmic...

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pp. 257-261

About the Author, Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781610755023
E-ISBN-10: 1610755022
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557289889
Print-ISBN-10: 1557289883

Page Count: 257
Illustrations: 15 photographs
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Reed, Roy, 1930-.
  • Journalists -- United States -- Biography
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