Posted in Poynter
June 11, 2021

Virginia columnist earns Pulitzer Prize for columns challenging white supremacy

Local journalism won today.

For his thought-provoking columns addressing the history of racism in Virginia and the prevalence of white supremacy through Confederate monuments, Michael Paul Williams of the Richmond (Virginia) Times-Dispatch has been awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Commentary.

The Pulitzer Board, made up of 18 industry leaders and editors, awarded Williams for what they described as “penetrating and historically insightful columns” that served as a north star for the city of Richmond, a former Confederate capital, during a time of racial reckoning across the country.

“The oppression of black folks will not end with the removal of these monuments,” Williams wrote in his “The Lost Cause is dead” column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “Racism is a system that touches every person and every aspect of our lives.”

Williams’ work includes a thought-provoking piece criticizing city officials’ efforts to preserve the state’s Robert E. Lee monument, which a city circuit court judge said belonged “to the people.” Williams firmly proclaimed he’s “one of those people, and I want it to come down.”

His commentary proved timeless, as debates surrounding Confederate monuments in the city of Richmond continued in the year after the murder of George Floyd. His work is prevalent in a town with a rich history of racism dating back to the Civil War.

The recognition marks Williams’ first Pulitzer Prize. He is a multiple-time winner of the Virginia Press Association column writing award, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s second Pulitzer winner after Virginius Dabney won the award in 1948 for Editorial Writing.

Finalists for the 2021 award were Melinda Henneberger of The Kansas City Star, whose columns addressed failures in the criminal justice system; and Roy S. Johnson of Alabama Media Group, for his columns on race.

Williams did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Poynter June 11, 2021 at 11:48PM Jaden Edison

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