Paul Coates -- Confidential File, April 28, 1959
April 28, 2009 | 2:00 pm
A Fellow to Whom We Should Subscribe
Normally, I don't go around hawking newspapers.
Especially other people's newspapers.
But today, I make an exception.
Right now, this minute, I'm hustling sheets. At no commission.
Like I say, it's not The Mirror News I have tucked under my arm.
It's smaller. Only a four-page weekly. It's put out in the little Mississippi town of Petal. (If you've heard of Petal, you're a well traveled individual.)
The paper, appropriately, is called "The Petal Paper."
It's a one-man operation -- written, edited and printed by 37-year-old native Mississippian by name of P.D. East.
Not so appropriate is the fact that the paper's readership in Petal is, according to today's Audit Bureau of Circulation, zero.
Five years ago, it was 2,300.
But it was shortly after that, that Mr. East began writing the news as he saw it -- not as his advertisers wanted him to see it.
News that included some pretty shocking copy about the "rights" of Negroes in his home state.
With naive honesty, he reported the facts. All of them.
And, when he felt that his fellow townspeople were becoming overly emotional to the point of mob violence about certain race issues, he told them so, editorially.
That's how he fell out of favor.
He was branded a traitor, damnyankee and a few other things not quite so genteel.
But P.D. East kept on cranking his printing press. And, gradually, he built up a circulation outside of Mississippi. It's back to the 2,000 mark now.
Yesterday, I met P.D. East for the first time, and if you want my first impression of the man, the folks down in Petal have mislabeled him, Badly.
Yet, I made a similar misjudgment. I called him a crusader.
"I'm not a crusader," he informed me indignantly.
"I'm not an integrationist, either," he added. "I'm simply against discrimination."
East told me that his troubles began in 1954, right after the United States Supreme Court ruled on integration in the public schools and he began using his paper in the battle against racial hatred.
"And why the fight?" I wanted to know.
"Well," he began, "it was mainly a matter of conscience. I couldn't keep still and let people tear down this country's constitutional government.
East didn't make any home town friends when he published a picture of a Mississippi school for white children alongside one for young Negroes and asked his readers to guess which was which.
The answer was all too obvious. One was a bright new facility; the other little more than a dilapidated shack.
"What kind of social life have you led since you make your views public?" I asked East.
"On Christmas Day of 1956, my wife and I were invited out. That was the last time," he answered bitterly.
I asked him about old friends.
"There are several people," he explained, "People I went to school with. They won't even say hello when we meet on the street. "And I sure wish they would," he added, "because I'd like the privilege of ignoring them."
Living Always Takes Eating
There are some who wonder how East has managed to stay alive. Why some rebel hothead hasn't mowed him down.
"I wonder myself sometimes," he confesses, but adds that he hasn't much time to consider threats of physical violence.
"But what about your wife?" I said.
"She just wishes the whole thing were over and done with. That everybody, including me, would shut up."
But P.D. has refused to be stilled. He wants to continue shouting in print. And he wants, most of all, your help.
He wants you to join the other 2,000 subscribers. It'll cost you five bucks a year, which seems a small price to pay for somebody else's courage.