A finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2011, Stanley Nelson was honored in the "local reporting" category for the stories he wrote about the unsolved murder of Frank Morris. On December 10, 1964, Morris' shoe repair shop in Ferriday was burned. Morris was still in the building and injuries he received killed him four days later. It was widely believed that Morris was killed by the Ku Klux Klan. Nelson has written about 150 stories about the murder, including one that identified a suspect. Nelson also earned one of the 2011 Payne Awards for Ethics in Journalism for demonstrating “an extraordinary commitment to ethical conduct, even when faced with economic, personal or political pressure."
Title: Editor, Concordia Sentinel
Hometown: Sicily Island
Now resides in: (Cash Bayou) Catahoula Parish
What brought you to Tech? Two close friends I went to school with at Sicily Island High wanted to be engineers and chose Tech and my first cousin was already enrolled. So it sounded good to me. The first day I visited Tech was when I moved in. My mother dropped me and my trunk off in front of Jenkins dorm and despite her sincere offers to help me unpack, I declined, and she went home.
Why did you choose this career: I knew I wanted to write and on a lot of days as a freshman on my way to the post office at Keeney Hall I'd pass The Tech Talk offices and look in through the window at people my age sitting in front of typewriters writing. I wanted to get on the other side of that glass.
How did Tech help prepare you for life after college: I walked away with a degree and confident that I could at least do one thing (write). I left the University with the belief that I could succeed at something.
Your best memories of Tech: Wiley Hilburn. Plus, his creative writing class and all of the written comments he made when grading my journal (which I still have.) Keeney Hall and the post office (all the girls walked by The Tech Talk sports office, which is why I started out insports.) All of the great journalism faculty, advisors and students there (we had great parties.) Great concerts, all kinds of sports, outstanding professors, a creative environment. When I think about it, I miss those days, and the great friendships.
Tell us how the series of pieces began that led to your Pulitzer recognition: In February 2007, the FBI released its list of 100-plus unsolved Civil Rights-era murders that it was considering reopening. The name of Frank Morris (murdered in the arson of his shoe shop in Ferriday in 1964) was on the list. I wrote my first story about him two hours later.
Talk a little if you would about how your interest/passion for the story grew, and how your life might have changed just a little, or not, since your investigation and storytelling of this issue began: Frank Morris' granddaughter (Rosa Williams) called and said "thank you for writing about my grandfather." She said she'd learned more in my first article than she had in 43 years -- that no one in law enforcement or anyone in authority had ever talked to her about his murder and that for all of her life she had been in the dark. She thought the truth was important, and I soon came to understand that Ferriday and Concordia Parish needed to know the truth, too.
Even if justice can't be achieved these many years later, it seemed crucial that the Sentinel had to do everything within its power to write and investigate these crimes. It became clear that if the newspaper didn't lead the way, who would? And I personally reached a point that I felt to walk away would have been immoral.
I contacted families of other murder victims from the region and I began to realize how deep the limbo of anguish is for victims of unsolved homicides, especially those that occurred during the hate-filled days when the Klan terrorized communities. I promised them all two things: To write and investigate until the crimes were solved or until there was nothing else to be done and secondly, to keep them informed and stay in touch.
The lesson for me is that justice is precious and that we all share responsibility for what happens in our communities. I have a better appreciation today of the Golden Rule.
Your advice to Tech freshmen of today: Enjoy Tech. It's a great place to live and to learn. And don't blink. You won't be there nearly long enough.