Ray Sprigle was undeniably Pittsburgh’s greatest newspaperman. He worked for more than four decades for the Post-Gazette as an editor and reporter, winning a Pulitzer in 1938 for having exposed Supreme Court Justice Hugo Blacks ties to the KKK.
A great reporter, a prolific, passionate and authoritative writer, he undertook a handful of undercover investigations in coal mines, state mental hospitals, the city’s rich criminal underworld and the black market meat sector during World War II.
His secret trip to the Jim Crow South in 1948, when he passed himself off as a black to see for himself the discrimination and poverty suffered by ten million black Americans, was his most daring act of investigative journalism.
My book 30 Days a Black Man details the story of Sprigle’s 30-day mission, his subsequent 21-part newspaper series and the enormous impact it had on the national media (newspapers and network radio) and Americans living in the North and South.
I had many valuable sources, but Sprigle’s daughter Rae Jean — only 13 at the time of her father’s trip — was the most valuable. She not only saved all his papers, which are now preserved and catalogued at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, but she shared them and her many memories of her father with me.
To celebrate the publication of my book, we had an informal and unscripted party/discussion at the Firehouse on Penn Avenue on April 22. About eighty journalists, writers and Book People attended. Rae Sprigle Kurland was the guest of honor and of course she stole the show.
Here, in its raw and unedited form, is the video of the discussion between ex-Post-Gazette book editor Bob Hoover, Rae and me. It was shot with love by my daughter and writer/photographer Lucy Steigerwald.