Haynes Johnson dies at 81; won Pulitzer for civil rights coverage

Haynes Johnson, a Washington journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the civil rights movement and migrated from newspapers to television, books and teaching, died Friday at a hospital in Bethesda, Md., after suffering a heart attack. He was 81.

Johnson was awarded a Pulitzer in 1966 for reporting on the civil rights struggle in Selma, Ala., while with the Washington Evening Star. He spent about 12 years at the Star before joining the Washington Post, its chief rival, in 1969. From 1977 to 1994, Johnson was a columnist for the Post, which confirmed his death.

"I don't say this lightly. He was a great journalist," said Dan Balz, the Post's senior political reporter. "He had everything a good reporter should have, which was a love of going to find the story, a commitment to thorough reporting and then kind of an understanding of history and the importance of giving every story kind of the broadest possible sweep and context."

The author, co-author or editor of 18 books, Johnson also appeared regularly on the PBS programs "Washington Week in Review" and "The NewsHour."

Johnson had taught at the University of Maryland since 1998.

He was born in New York City on July 9, 1931. His mother, Emmie, was a pianist and his father, Malcolm Johnson, a newspaperman. The elder Johnson won a Pulitzer Prize for the New York Sun in 1949 for his reporting on the city's dockyards, and his series inspired the story told in the Oscar-winning film "On the Waterfront."

Haynes Johnson studied journalism and history at the University of Missouri, graduating in 1952. After serving three years in the Army during the Korean War, he earned a master's degree in American history from the University of Wisconsin in 1956.

Johnson resisted working in New York journalism to avoid being compared to his father. He worked for nearly a year at the Wilmington (Del.) News-Journal before joining the Star as a reporter.

Johnson's books include "The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election," (2009) with Balz; "The Best of Times: America in the Clinton Years" (2001); and "The System: The American Way of Politics at the Breaking Point" (1996) with his longtime Post colleague David Broder.

Johnson and Broder helped redefine Washington reporting, getting outside the Beltway to talk with voters about candidates and issues, rather than letting politicians dictate daily coverage. Both then wove that reporting into broader articles that examined the political process, the workings of government and the mood of the country.

Johnson's survivors include his wife, Kathryn Oberly, an associate judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, and three daughters and two sons from a previous marriage that ended in divorce.


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