Ray Jenkins, a 1965 Nieman Fellow and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who served as a special assistant for press affairs under President Jimmy Carter, died from congestive heart failure on October 24, 2019. He was 89.
Jenkins was a member of the Columbus (Georgia) Ledger reporting team that won the 1955 Pulitzer Prize in public service for its coverage of political corruption in nearby Phenix City, Alabama. He went on to cover the civil rights movement and held editorial positions at newspapers in Georgia, Alabama and Maryland.
Born Carrell Ray Jenkins in Sylvester, Georgia, Jenkins graduated from the University of Georgia, where he studied journalism in 1950. He began his career at the Columbus Ledger the following year and, following his Pulitzer win, was promoted to the newspaper’s city editor. He went on to hold numerous positions at Alabama newspapers: first as city editor and then editorial page editor at the Alabama Journal in Montgomery, then editorial page editor of the Montgomery Advertiser. Jenkins befriended Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while working in Montgomery and covered the civil rights movement, following King on the trail to the historic March on Washington in 1963 and the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march. A story by Jenkins, about an advertisement that appeared in The New York Times in 1960 requesting funds to defend King in a Montgomery perjury case, served as a catalyst for the landmark New York Times v. Sullivan libel case, which ultimately restricted the ability of public officials to sue for defamation.
In 1978, Jenkins became the editor and vice president of the Montgomery Advertiser and the Alabama Journal, which were both published by the Advertiser Co. He left that position in 1979 to accept a newly created position, a special assistant for press affairs to President Jimmy Carter.
Jenkins earned a law degree in 1977 after attending night school at Faulkner University in Montgomery. He retired in 1991 after serving as The Baltimore Evening Sun’s editorial page editor. His first book, “Blind Vengeance: The Roy Moody Mail Bomb Murders,” was published in 1997.
Jenkins is survived by his wife and three children.