Former Tri-State Defender editor was a ‘movement’ man
by Wiley Henry
When the clarion was sounded during the civil rights movement for freedom and justice, a young journalist and photographer answered the call – McCann Leronius Reid. He would capture the movement and its aftermath through the lens of his camera and during his stint as editor of the Tri-State Defender.
Reid embedded himself in the movement during some of its most pivotal moments and recalled his experiences long after it had ended. After serving more than a dozen years at the newspaper, he continued sounding off as a contributing writer well into the 1980s on issues germane to African Americans.
The sound of Reid’s voice, however, would eventually fade, and his film camera, now a relic of the past, would no longer capture the spirit of a people determined to break down barriers and overcome racism and injustices.
Reid died Sept. 20 at the Memphis VA Medical Center. He was 90. Relatives, friends and admirers bid him farewell on Sept. 29th during his funeral at Longview Heights Seventh-Day Adventist Church, where he was a member.
Reid had been in ill health at a private nursing home receiving special care, his wife, Cora Reid, said. She’d hoped to move him to Nashville with her to live with their daughter, Angela Kim Reid-Thompson, director of rehabilitation at Nashville Community Care and Rehabilitation at Bordeaux.
Though Reid could not join his wife and daughter, the two hold fond memories of a husband and father who lived life to the fullest and left behind an invaluable legacy and an indelible impression on those he’d encountered.
“I wasn’t too much aware of what was going on at that time until years later,” said Cora Reid, a retired Memphis City Schools teacher. “Then I realized how important of a person my husband was in the civil rights movement.”
What she remembers most was that her husband was away from home a lot, somewhere recording history as a journalist and photographer. “It didn’t dawn on me…but he contributed a lot to the civil rights movement,” she said. “[But] I don’t know whether I felt the danger until years later.”
Reid happened to be in the right places and at the right time as an eyewitness to history, she said. He met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when they were students at Boston University. Dr. King would go on to lead a “movement” and Reid would become an active participant and eventually document it.
For example, as a journalist, Reid put pen to paper and created a narrative detailing the African-American struggle. As a photographer, he captured the heart and soul of those in the trenches and others on the front line for justice. Then he transfixed it all for posterity.
Reid participated in a number of marches and documented his experiences, including the march that drew Dr. King to Memphis to demand better working conditions for the city’s sanitation workers.
“My father had a lot of integrity,” Reid-Thompson said. “The way he lived was in support and alignment with nonviolence. His writing was a statement, his voice. He allowed his pen to be the power.”
Reid-Thompson also remembers her father as a quiet, gentle man with a wit humor. “He was very unassuming, but a renaissance man,” she noted.
Audrey McGhee, the former publisher of the TSD, also remembers Reid as being “quiet and unassuming.” What she remembers most, however, was that he was dedicated and devoted to his job and “always on top of things.”
Though Reid had left the newspaper before McGhee’s tenure as publisher, he’d followed a succession of editors, such as Lewis O. Swingler and Alex Wilson, who challenged the status quo by using the press to affect change.
Reid’s voice was succinct, deliberate, and he used it to get his point across. He also voiced his concerns about segregated conditions. And when restaurants were desegregating, he and William “Bill” Little, TSD’s sports writer, decided they’d test the law by making an entrance.
Not willing to bend under the weight of racism and discrimination, Reid filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that the Memphis Press Scimitar and The Commercial Appeal refused to hire him because of his race and religion.
Reid eventually found employment at the Employment Opportunity Commission, where he served as editor of the E.E.O.C.’s union paper. He continued to ply his skills as a journalist and later spent his golden years with his family.
Cora Reid said she doesn’t have a lot of her husband’s work, but “I do have some of his most important photos.”