- Terror in the Night: The Klan’s Campaign Against the Jews (1993)
- Beyond Reagan: The Politics of Upheaval (with others) 1986
- Captive Voices
- The FBI and the Berrigans (1973)
- The Orangeburg Massacre (1970)
- The Censors and the School (1963)
By. S. M. (SHS) 2000
Jack Nelson was born in Talladega, Alabama, in October, 1929, to Alonzo and Barbara O’Donnel. Although he was raised in Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia, Nelson thinks his roots are more deeply planted in Mississippi and that he is more of a Mississippian than anything else (booknote). Jack Nelson attended Notre Dame High School in Biloxi, Mississippi, (Nelson interview). Here he played basketball, football, and boxed on the school team (Nelson interview). From 1953 to1957, Nelson studied journalism and economics at Georgia State College He was also a Neiman Fellow at Harvard University from 1961-1962 (Nelson book jacket).
Nelson’s interest in writing developed while he served as the sports editor for his high school newspaper (Nelson interview). After graduating from high school, he answered an advertisement for a general assignment position in the Biloxi Daily Herald and got it, With this job he gained a lot of experience and really became interested in journalism (Nelson interview). Nelson worked with the Biloxi Daily Herald from 1947 to1951 and with The Atlanta Constitution from 1952 to 1965 (Who’s Who 2270). While writing for the Atlanta Constitution, he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1960 for local reporting under deadline pressure.. In 1965 Nelson started his work as an investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Times. He opened up the Atlanta bureau and covered the South for five years. He was the Senior Bureau Chief in Atlanta with many responsibilities . For example he covered politics, the White House, and oversaw a staff of forty-six reporters and editors (Nelson jacket blurb). In 1974 Nelson received the Drew Pearson award for general excellence in investigative reporting. Then in 1975, he started working with the Los Angeles Time’s Washington bureau (Who’s Who 2270).
Nelson appears frequently on the public television program Washington Week in Review (Shirley 63), and he is a visiting committee member of the journalism schools of Miami University and Maryland University.. During his early career with the Los Angeles Times, Nelson primarily covered Civil Rights. He covered Martin Luther King right up to his assassination in 1968 (booknote). In April of 1987 he was a chair member of the National Symposium on Civil Rights at the University of Mississippi (Nelson interview).
Nelson has written extensively about J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, the Watergate Scandal, the Richard Nixon impeachment proceedings, and other major events (Nelson blurb). His books include Terror in the Night: The Klan’s Campaign Against the Jews, Beyond Reagan: The Politics of Upheaval, Captive Voices, The Censors and the School, The Orangeburg Massacre, and The FBI and the Berrigans. Jack Nelson has also covered every president since Richard Nixon and every presidential campaign and national scandal since Watergate. Nelson is a founder of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (latspeakers). In 1999, he received a Robert F. Kennedy Life Time Achievement award in Washington (Nelson interview).
Nelson has been a reporter for forty-five years, yet thinks he has a long way to go before his career ends. (booknote). Currently, Nelson remains the Chief Washington Correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. He is planning to do another book but says “it’s excruciating” (booknote). Presently, he is considering writing a memoir (Nelson interview). Jack Nelson currently lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with his wife Barbara Matusaw (Nelson book jacket). Overall, Jack Nelson, as Economist magazine states, “…is a reporter with a magnificent obsession for getting at the facts.”
NOTE: Jack Nelson died of pancreatic cancer December 9, 2009, at the age of 82.
A Review of Terror in the Night: The Klan’s Campaign Against the Jews
by S. M. (SHS) 2000
In Terror in the Night Jack Nelson tells of the Ku Klux Klan’s war against the Jewish communities of Jackson, Mississippi, and Meridian, Mississippi, and the top-secret FBI and local police plan to trap the Klan’s most elusive bomber. The terror begins in the fall of 1967 when Temple Beth Israel in Jackson is bombed. The bombings of the house of Rabbi Perry Nussbaum in Jackson and the Jewish synagogue in Meridian follow.
Jews in the South had never actually given support to the civil right movement, yet the Ku Klux Klan was punishing them. Informants, an immense plan, and money raised by the Jews led to the defeat of the Klan and to the end of the violence against Jews in the South. Jack Nelson does an impressive job of showing how the plan plays out. Nelson compiles the events with a lot of suspense, intrigue, and wonder.
Although a non-fiction story, it is one that, as detective Scarborough (a lead detective against the Ku Klux Klan) says, is “…a story that Hollywood couldn’t make up.” Nelson conveys in the book the terror faced by the Jews, the fanaticism of the Ku Klux Klan, and the good and evil in people. Nelson shows the different points of views of all the characters, which helps the reader understand the atmosphere clearly. He keeps the tone realistic, and the reader can imagine being there and experiencing it personally. Another reader has said that even though she grew up in Mississippi during the time that the events in the book were taking place, she never knew the extent of it until she read Terror in the Night. She also commented that Terror in the Night is almost like a John Grisham novel. What surprised her the most in the book, though, was the double lives that some people in those days lived. In the book, Kathy Ainsworth is a quiet, sweet school teacher during the day and one of the Klan’s best bombers at night.
Overall, Jack Nelson does a thorough and excellent job of revealing this tragic, yet historically important time in Mississippi history. Terror in the Night has twists and turns and an extraordinary quality. Terror in the Night is fascinating reading.
by S.M. (SHS)
1. Where did you go to high school?
I went to Notre Dame High School in Biloxi, Mississippi. It was a really small school with only forty to fifty people in each grade.
2. Who is your favorite author?
I would have to say it is Lincoln Stephens. He was a Muckraker in the early 1900’s.
3. When did you become interested in writing?
Having been the sports editor for my high school newspaper got me started. After graduating from high school I answered an advertisement for a general assignment position in the Biloxi Daily Herald (now it’s the Sun Herald), and I got it. It was easier to get jobs right out of high school like that in those days. With this job I gained a lot of experience and really became interested in journalism.
4. What kind of student were you in high school?
Not very good. I was a boxer and played football and basketball.
5. Are you working on a new book right now?
Well, actually I am taken with an idea for a memoir.
6. Have you received any awards I don’t have listed?
Yes. Last year I received the Robert F. Kennedy Life Time Achievement award in Washington. There are a lot of other awards I’ve won through the years, but I can’t recall all of them right now. I think you would also like to know that in April, 1987, I was a chair member of the National Symposium on Civil Rights at the University of Mississippi.
7. Do you have any advice for future writers?
The most important thing is getting experience and doing a lot of reading. Reading helps a lot in writing. I didn’t do as much reading as I should have when I was in high school.
8. How has Mississippi or living in Mississippi influenced your writing?
I saw so many unusual things there and I wanted to write about them.
9. Do you visit Mississippi often?
My sister still lives in Biloxi, and I will be visiting her this June.
10. What are you doing these days?
Right now for the past three or four years, I have been the Los Angeles Times Chief Washington Correspondent.
- Obituary for Jack Nelson from the Los Angeles Times. Jack Nelson dies at 80; Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter helped raise L.A. Times to national prominence. October 21, 2009 by Elaine Woo.
- New York Times obituary for Jack Nelson is complete biography.
- Pulitzer prize winner Jack Nelson’s obituary in Politico.com Jack Nelson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter best known for his coverage of the civil rights movement, died on Wednesday.
- “Against the Klan.” [Online] Available http://www.economist.com/editorial/freeforall/current/homepage.html, April 17, 2000.
- Barnwell, Marion, ed. “From Terror in the Night.” A Place Called Mississippi: Collected Narratives. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1997.199.
- “Booknotes: Jack Nelson.” [Online] Available http://www.booknotes.org/authors/10146.htm, April 13, 2000.
- Cox, James L. “Profiles of Famous and Notable Mississippians.” Mississippi Almanac 1997-1998. Yazoo City: Computer Search and Research, 1997.154.
- “Jack Nelson.” [Online] Available http://latspeakers.com/jnelson.html, April 13, 2000.
- Nelson, Jack. Telephone interview. 25 April. 2000.
- Nelson, Jack. Terror in The Night: The Klan’s Campaign Against the Jews. New York: Simon&Shuster Inc., 1993. Jacket blurb.
- Shirley, Aleda, Susan M. Glisson, Ann J. Abadie, eds. “Jack Nelson.” Mississippi Writers Directory and Literary Guide. Mississippi: The Center for the Study of Southern Culture, 1995.63.
- Who’s Who in America 1988-1989. 45th ed. Vol. 2. Illinois: Marquis Who’s Who, 1988. 2270.