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The Confederate Lawyer
September 20, 2010

James Jackson Kilpatrick, RIP
by Charles G. Mills
fitzgerald griffin foundation

GLEN COVE, NY — James Jackson Kilpatrick, who died in August at age 89, was a journalist, columnist, author, editor, and television commentator. He loved and mastered the English language. His genius was not limited to prose and included humorous poetry. His description of American journalism in the first half of the 1950s is illustrative:

The Lib’rals were in clover, they could feast upon the Nation,
Grave Harper’s and Atlantic sang in tintinnabulation;
Backwards came the gospel, in the prose of Henry Luce,
The verbs all running Timestyle, like a southward-bound cabuice,
James Wechsler kept the Posted on McCarthy’s many crimes,
And weekly came the final word, the Sunday New York Times.

Kilpatrick was broad minded. His second wife was a liberal columnist, and he collaborated with Eugene McCarthy in writing a book. His coverage of McCarthy’s presidential campaign disclosed an admiration for the candidate’s refusal to be as banal as political convention required.

As a television commentator, Kilpatrick is remembered mainly for his five-minute segments on 60 Minutes with Shana Alexander. Although these were important in the history of television, Kilpatrick excelled in his longer television appearances in which arguments could be developed more fully. His televised debate with Martin Luther King on the issue of segregation provided an excellent matchup of two masters of the art of argumentation, pitting a brilliant conservative against a left-wing radical tainted with communist connections.

David Susskind created a late-night television program called Open End. This program offered a forum for the discussion of issues until the topics were exhausted, without any fixed signoff time. It escaped the time constraints that cripple so much of television journalism. Kilpatrick excelled on this program.

Kilpatrick’s poetic description of the early National Review might well have been a description of himself:

With arrows sharp, its shafts provoke a bloody howl,
Especially when they find a mark in Adam Clayton Powl
Down with the welfare state, it cries! Preserve an honest dollar;
Cleave to the Right, keep taxes low, and surely it will follar
That free men all will rally ‘round. Provide the final push
To topple tyrants from thie thrones, Fidel, Kadar, and Krush.

Many pundits denounced Kilpatrick’s views on race during much of his career and viewed his evolution in thinking as a kind of conversion. This view would taint a generation of his work. His views actually did not change substantially.

As a journalist, he was a defender of the rights of individual black victims of racism, long before Brown v. Board, whose defects he pointed out effectively. Kilpatrick grew up in Oklahoma, where segregation was assumed to be a fact of life. His initial reaction to integration was that the federal government was interfering in Southern affairs that it did not understand and that the unintended result could harm many rural black people, among others. Although he was a critical voice urging Virginia to resist integration, at the same time he expressed admiration for young Southern black civil rights workers, an admiration he never extended to outsider civil rights workers.

Kilpatrick logically came to realize that segregation by state governments was wrong for the same reason that integration by the federal government was wrong — both lacked a proper concern for the liberty of the individual. History vindicated him because the integration of the South was eventually arranged between Southern blacks and whites far more successfully than by any possible federal government program.

Kilpatrick loved liberty and will be missed by all lovers of it.

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The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2010 by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.

See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.

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