Sunday, July 13, 2014



Nashville, Tennessee (JFK+50) John Seigenthaler*, former editor of the Nashville Tennessean who played a prominent role in the Kennedy Justice Department, passed away Friday, July 11, 2014 at the age of 86.

Seigenthaler, whose career at the Tennessean spanned 43 years, died from complications of colon cancer.  Death came peacefully at his home while surrounded by his family.

In 2008, Mr. Seigenthaler signed over his entire collection of papers to Vanderbilt University upon his death.

The John Seigenthaler Chair of the First Amendment Studies at Middle Tennessee State University began in 1986.

Funeral arrangement include visitation today at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt from 3 to 6 p.m. (CDT).  Services will be conducted tomorrow, July 14, 2014, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation.

Mr. Seigenthaler was a frequent visitor to East Tennessee.  His last event here was as speaker at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Commission Leadership Awards Banquet held in Knoxville.

Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said in a statement on the passing of Mr. Seigenthaler...

"For a half century, John was the conscience of Nashville, a fighter for civil rights and free speech, and a friend Honey and I will greatly miss."

Following is a JFK+50 post for May 20 of this year discussing the anniversary of the attack on Freedom Riders in Montgomery, Alabama in 1961 in which John Seigenthaler represented the Kennedy Justice Department.


"John Seigenthaler dies at 86," Knoxville News Sentinel, July 12, 2014.

"John Seigenthaler, longtime Tennessean editor, dies at 86,"

John Seigenthaler
Nashville Public Library
ETHS Workshop
June 4, 2008
Photographs by John White


Montgomery, Alabama (JFK+50) A bus load of Freedom Riders came under attack here in Montgomery on May 20, 1961.

Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy had convinced Greyhound Bus Company officials to transport this group of Freedom Riders to the Alabama state capital at Montgomery.

When they arrived at the bus terminal,however, 300 segregationists were waiting for them with clubs and metal pipes.Among the most seriously injured were Jim Swerg and John Lewis.

An administrative assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, John Seigenthaler, was sent to Montgomery as chief negotiator for the Kennedy administration.

In Montgomery, as he was attempting to assist Susan Wilbur who was being chased by an angry mob, Mr. Seigenthaler was knocked unconscious with a metal pipe.   

President John F. Kennedy called upon Alabama Governor John Patterson to exercise his authority to prevent further outbreaks of violence.

John Seigenthaler
Nashville, Tennessee
Photo by Curtis Palmer (2005)

*John Lawrence Seigenthaler (1927-2014) was born in Nashville.  He served in the USAF and began his career in journalism with the Nashville Tennessean.  In 1961, John served as RFK's assistant in the Justice Department and worked on Bobby Kennedy's presidential campaign in 1968.  

JLS became publisher of the TENNESSEAN in 1973.  


I had the pleasure of attending two of Mr. Seigenthaler's speeches, the first at a Howard H. Baker, Jr. Center event at the University of Tennessee in 2005 and the second at the Nashville Public Library in 2008. 

It was also a pleasure to speak to Mr. Seigenthaler after both talks.  He spoke about the events in the early 1960s as if they happened yesterday and they were so vivid in his mind that he did not need to use notes.

I thanked him for his service to President Kennedy and to the United States.

John Seigenthaler was a great Tennessean and a great American.