Georgia native Claude Sitton distinguished himself during the 1950s and 1960s as one of the foremost reporters covering the civil rights movement for the New York Times. He later served for twenty years as editor of the News and Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, and in 1983 he received a Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary.
Claude Fox Sitton was born in Atlanta on December 4, 1925, to Pauline Fox and Claude Booker Sitton. He grew up on a farm in Rockdale County and in 1943 graduated from Conyers High School in Conyers. Following graduation he worked briefly as a merchant seaman before his voluntary induction into the U.S. Navy. He served aboard a landing ship in the battles to retake the Philippines and received an honorable discharge shortly after the end of World War II (1941-45).
Sitton enrolled at Oxford College of Emory University following the war’s conclusion and after one year transferred to Emory University in Atlanta, where in 1949 he earned a bachelor of arts degree with a major in journalism. He worked as a news agency reporter and editor for International News Service in Miami, Florida, and Birmingham, Alabama, and then reported for United Press in Nashville, Tennessee, Atlanta, and New York City. In 1953 he married Eva McLaurin Whetstone, and the couple eventually had four children: Lauren Lea, Clinton, Suzanna, and McLaurin.
In 1955 Sitton joined the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), serving as the information officer responsible for U.S. public relations in the West African nation of Ghana. In 1957, while passing through New York on transfer to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, Sitton learned of a vacancy on the city copy desk of the New York Times. He applied for the position and worked a short stint as a copy editor before being named the paper’s chief southern correspondent in May 1958.
From his new base in Atlanta, Sitton traveled across the region, from Virginia to Texas, covering the flashpoints and fault lines of the national civil rights movement with clarity and rare insight. Elected officials, fellow newsmen, and partisans on both sides of the racial divide read his articles with interest, and in 1964 Newsweek deemed Sitton “the best daily newspaperman on the Southern scene.”
Sitton returned to New York in 1964 to become the paper’s national news director. In 1968 he became the editorial director and vice president of the News and Observer Publishing Company in Raleigh, responsible for the news operations of the News and Observer and the afternoon Raleigh Times. In 1970 he received the additional title of editor of the News and Observer, a position he held for the next twenty years. Sitton’s commentary in his Sunday columns for the paper received the Pulitzer Prize in 1983.
After retiring from the News and Observer in 1990, Sitton returned to Georgia, where he taught a seminar at Emory University on the press coverage of the civil rights movement, and served as a founding member of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and as a lay member of the Supreme Court Commission on Disciplinary Enforcement. Among other honors, Sitton was awarded the George Polk Career Award in 1991 and the John Chancellor Award for excellence in journalism in 2000.
Sitton died in 2015 at the age of eighty-nine.