Former President Jimmy Carter recalled newsman John Pennington as his “political savior” and friend Tuesday during a ceremony organized by former colleagues to launch a journalism scholarship in Pennington’s memory.
Carter credited Pennington with rescuing his political career by exposing vote fraud in Quitman County in 1962 that would have cost Carter his election to the Georgia Senate. During the ceremony at the Carter Presidential Center, the former president retold the story of that election and his own unsuccessful efforts to stop ballot-stuffing by a powerful state legislator.
"We were hopeless," Carter said. After the state Democratic Party and other state newspapers ignored his complaints, Carter called Pennington, who agreed to look into the story but "came down quite dubious about my claims."
After Pennington found ballots cast by at least one dead person, and a man confined to a federal prison, a new election was ordered.
During his 22 years with the Atlanta Journal, John Pennington covered the 1957 school integration crisis in Little Rock, Ark., and the bombing of Atlanta's Jewish Temple in 1959. Pennington won awards for his reporting on Georgia prisons, gambling, speed traps, clip joints, the environment, aviation, space shots, crime and politics, as well as the 1962 vote fraud.
Carter joined a cousin, former Atlanta Journal City Editor Don Carter, former University of Georgia President Henry King Stanford and UGA Journalism Dean Tom Russell in paying tribute to the prize-winning reporter, who died in 1980 of cancer at age 56.
Don Carter, who hired Pennington as a reporter in 1951, said compassion set him apart from other reporters. "The people he championed . . . were those ground underfoot by uncaring bureaucracies or unfortunate circumstances."
Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, donated $1,000 to the scholarship fund. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also donated $1,000.
Others attending the ceremony included Jack Nelson, Washington bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, former Attorney General Griffin Bell, and members of Pennington’s family.
> RELATED: Jimmy Carter’s election to the Georgia Senate made him part of the influential Class of ’63
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