William Bradford Huie

By: Devin McKinney
November 13, 2014


WILLIAM BRADFORD HUIE (1910-86)’s decades-long residence in that overcrowded limbo known as Literary Obscurity is a persistent puzzlement, given his ubiquity in post-WWII American political culture and entertainment media. As a staunch critic of the New South, military entitlement, and government secrecy, he was loathed by Dixiecrats, navy admirals, and Harry S. Truman. As an investigative journalist, he authored classics in both long form (The Execution of Private Slovik, 1954) and short (the 1956 Look magazine article that broke the true story of Emmett Till’s lynching). As a conservative intellectual and briefly editor of The American Mercury, he gave early exposure to James Baldwin, Manny Farber, Marshall McLuhan, and others. He was also an interesting minor novelist whose racy fiction and Big Issue profiles Hollywood couldn’t buy enough of (adaptations include Walsh’s The Revolt of Mamie Stover, 1956; Kazan’s Wild River, 1960; [Daniel] Mann’s The Outsider, 1961; and Hiller’s The Americanization of Emily, 1964 — with Frank Sinatra trying for years to get a Slovik film off the ground, before being bullied out of it by John Wayne and other Tinseltown righties).

But Huie’s chief claim to lasting fame was as a civil-rights journalist — the muckraking, interview-getting, bigot-inflaming investigator of race-related killings from Ruby McCollum (Woman in the Suwannee Jail, 1956) to Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman (Three Lives for Mississippi, 1965) to Martin Luther King Jr. (He Slew the Dreamer, 1970). Ever unimpressed by the cants and chants of Right or Left, Huie was a Homo Americanus as caustic, if not as quotable, as Twain. Yet this immensely important writer awaits his latter-day due: not some American Masters recuperation of a prickly, problematic legacy, but a rediscovery of the honest controversy and unvarnished awareness that were the inevitable results of nearly everything he wrote.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: George V. Higgins, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

READ MORE about members of the Partisan Generation (1904-13).


HiLo Heroes, Literature

What do you think?

  1. Kudos to Devin McKinney for firing one of the many shots that will be needed to resuscitate the reputation of a man your father – if you are of a certain age – probably loved to hate.

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