Ralph McGill papers, 1853-1971

Emory University

Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library

Atlanta, GA 30322


Permanent link:

Descriptive Summary

Creator: McGill, Ralph.
Title: Ralph McGill papers, 1853-1971
Call Number:Manuscript Collection No. 252
Extent:62.75 linear ft. (126 boxes), 75 oversized bound volumes (OBV), 73 oversized papers (OP), 2 framed items (FR), 7 microfilm reels (MF), AV Masters: 6 linear ft.
Abstract:Papers of Atlanta jounalist and editor Ralph McGill including correspondence, writings, subject files, committee and foundation records, scrapbooks, photographs, and memorabilia.
Language:Materials entirely in English.

Administrative Information

Restrictions on Access

Special restrictions apply:

Researchers are required to use the microfilm copy of Scrapbooks 18-73 in Series 9.

Researchers must contact MARBL in advance for access to audiovisual materials in this collection.

Researchers must contact MARBL in advance for access to unprocessed born digital materials in this collection. Collection restrictions, copyright limitations, or technical complications may hinder MARBL's ability to provide access to unprocessed born digital materials.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Special restrictions apply: Videotapes in Subseries 14.5 may not be used for or included in any film, video, or television program without written permission.

Additional Physical Form

Daily editorial column clipping in Scrapbooks 18-73 in Series 9 are also available on microfilm.


Gift, 1969 with subsequent additions.


[after identification of item(s)], Ralph McGill papers, 1853-1971, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.


Processed by various staff members.

Collection Description

Biographical Note

Ralph McGill (February 5, 1898 - February 3, 1969), journalist, editor, and publisher, was born Ralph Waldo Emerson McGill in the farming community of Iqouls Ferry, ten miles from the coal-mining town of Soddy, in Hamilton County, Tennessee. The son of Benjamin Franklin McGill, a small farmer, and Mary Louise Skillern McGill, Ralph was the oldest of four children and the only son.

When Ralph was six years old, the family moved to Chattanooga, thirty miles south of Soddy, where he attended elementary school and McCallie Preparatory School, graduating in 1917. He entered the freshman class at Vanderbilt University in the fall of 1917, left in the spring of 1918 to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps, and returned to Vanderbilt in the fall of 1919. In 1922, several months before he was to graduate, McGill was expelled for a prank. He never received a college degree.

During his final year at Vanderbilt, McGill began working as a reporter for the Nashville Banner covering political, police, and sports stories. In 1923, he was made sports editor. In March 1929, he left the Banner for a position as sports editor for the Atlanta Constitution, beginning work there on April 3, 1929. As in Nashville, McGill wrote occasional features on political and economic subjects, and in 1937, a series he wrote on Georgia agriculture won for him a Rosenwald fellowship for a year of travel and study in Europe. From this trip came a series of articles published as Two Georgians Explore Scandinavia by Ralph McGill and Thomas C. David, Atlanta: State Department of Education, 1938. Upon his return in 1938, McGill was made executive editor of the Constitution, and in 1941, was promoted to editor-in-chief, a position he held until 1960, when he was named publisher.

Throughout his career, McGill traveled widely, to Europe, Cuba, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, and wrote on national and international affairs. He became best known as a spokesman for his region during the racial turmoil of the 1950s and 1960s. Often called the "Conscience of the South," McGill took a moderate position on racial issues and appealed for racial cooperation and obedience to the law of the land after the Supreme Court ruling in 1954, thereby becoming identified with the "liberal" element in the south and gaining national acclaim.

In 1959, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished editorial writing. He also received the Lauterbach award for "distinguished service in the field of civil liberties" in 1960, the Florence Lasker award of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1964, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964, and many honorary degrees.

In addition to newspaper columns and magazine articles which appeared in such periodicals as Harper's, Saturday Evening Post, New Republic, and Atlantic Monthly, McGill also wrote four books: Israel Revisited (1950); The Fleas Come With the Dog (1954); A Church, A School (1959); and The South and the Southerner (1965), which was awarded the Atlantic Monthly non-fiction prize for that year.

McGill's circle of friends was wide and varied. Among his close friends (in addition to Harold Martin, Grace Lundy, and others on the Constitution staff, and his lifelong friend, Rebecca Mathis Gershon) were Robert W. Woodruff, Harry Ashmore, and Carl Sandburg. Adlai Stevenson, Edward Weeks, Lawrence Winship, Westbrook Pegler, and Harry Golden, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon, Ernest Hemingway, and Carson McCullers were numbered among his acquaintances and correspondents.

McGill was first married to Mary Elizabeth Leonard (January 14, 1905 - March 21, 1962) of Nashville, on September 4, 1929. Two children were born to the marriage, a daughter Elizabeth, who died in infancy (January 6-10, 1936) and Ralph E. McGill, Jr. (b. April 25, 1945). In the spring of 1936, after the death of their first child, the McGills adopted a daughter whom they named Virginia Colvin McGill (February 3, 1936-December 20, 1939). Virginia died of leukemia at the age of 3 1/2 years.

McGill's second marriage was to Dr. Mary Lynn Morgan (b. April 5, 1921), an Atlanta pedodontist, on April 20, 1967. Ralph McGill died in Atlanta on February 3, 1969. McGill, his first wife, and their two daughters are buried in Westview Cemetery in Atlanta.

For a more detailed treatment of the life of Ralph McGill, see Harold H. Martin, Ralph McGill, Reporter (Boston: Little Brown, 1973). Biographical information is also found in various locations throughout the collection, particularly in letters of the following dates filed chronologically in the general correspondence: April 12, 1948; February 26, 1949; May 6, 1949; June 11, 1949; September 7, 1949; December 1, 1958; March 4, 1960; March 16, 1960; May 13, 1960; and November 9, 1967.

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of the papers of Ralph McGill of Atlanta, Georgia from 1853-1969. The collection documents McGill's personal life and his career as a sports journalist in Nashville, Tennessee; as an author of books and prize winning articles; and as a columnist; editor; and editor-in-chief of the Atlanta Constitution. The papers include correspondence (1919-1975) pertaining to personal and professional issues; McGill's writings (1913-1969) which includes books, articles, speeches, and interviews; subject files (ca. 1938-1969) ; records relating to committees and foundations on which he served (1947-1969); records of travels and speaking engagements (1945-1969); financial business, and legal papers (1941-1969); scrapbooks (1912-1970) including copies of his daily editorials in the Constitution; photographs (ca. 1920s-1970s); memorabilia; and posthumous additions.

Arrangement Note

Organized into fourteen series: (1) Family and personal correspondence; (2) General correspondence; (3) Correspondence: Readership views on integration; (4) Writings; (5) Subject files; (6) Committee and foundation records; (7) Records of travel and speaking engagements; (8) Financial, business, and legal records; (9) Scrapbooks; (10) Photographs; (11) Personal and professional; (12) Audiovisual material; (13) Posthumous material; and (14) Collected material.

Finding Aid Note

An index to correspondence in Series 2 and to McGill's daily editorial columns in Series 9 is available.

Selected Search Terms

Uniform Title

Personal Names

Corporate Names

Topical Terms

Form/Genre Terms


Description of Series