An American Legend

Ira B. Harkey, Jr.

Shipmate, Civil Rights Pioneer and Activist,
Patriot And True American

January 15, 1918 - October 08, 2006

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Captain Tom Wimberly, USN (Ret), former XO of HANCOCK (1970-71) extracted the following Biography of Ira Harkey, Jr., a former WWII Shipmate, by permission from Crystal Eye Entertainment, LLC of Pascagoula, MS.

From a section of the Ira B. Harkey, Jr. story...

Ira B. Harkey, Jr. came into the world in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1918, southern born and bred. His father was a self-made, wealthy businessman who went from poverty stricken middle Mississippi to owning the National Fruit Flavor Co. in New Orleans as well as several Coca-Cola bottling companies in Oklahoma. His mother was born in Tennessee and also lived in Mississippi as well as Louisiana. Ira grew up in New Orleans. He attended Tulane University in New Orleans where he received his bachelor's degree and he spent a year attending the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, New Mexico where he is an honored alumni.

"How did you get this way? Why are you different?"

According to Mr. Harkey, this is something that has intrigued people then and now. He gives several reasons for 'How He Got That Way'.

Though raised in a Southern home, he was not exposed to the prevailing vile concepts of the time. He spent his childhood with parents, grandparents and great-grandparents that never allowed rancor and racism into the home. In an interview with Nick Marinello for the Tulane Magazine he said, "I never heard any disparaging racial words in my home." He even tells the story of the one time he used a disparaging racial word at home and almost got his mouth washed out with soap by his mother.

Ira was also raised with two servants that were "in" his family when he was a boy, two ex-slaves that chose to remain with his family - William and Pigeon, twins born in 1858. There is no doubt that he loved them and that they were a positive influence in his life.

He says other contributors were the teachings of Sunday school and the rightness of what he learned about democracy in school. And his feelings were further shaped by two men he met while in college who, he says, taught him in intellectual terms about equality.

But, according to his accounts, the defining moment came for him during WWII while serving aboard the aircraft carrier The USS Hancock.

In his autobiography, "The Smell of Burning Crosses", Mr. Harkey poignantly describes this defining moment aboard the USS Hancock:

"But most of all I got this way because of one moment in the western Pacific in 1945 when all of these thoughts and feelings I had lived with for nearly 20 years came together in my mind on the flight deck of a crippled aircraft carrier."

That was the day when a 500 pound bomb accidentally exploded on the deck of the aircraft carrier upon which he served, the USS Hancock CV-19. Fifty-two men died that day, men of "all brands and colors", men that were buried at sea the next day. The words he so eloquently wrote about this tragedy are as powerful today as they were when he originally wrote them:

Fighting Fires from the Bomb explosion - January 1945

Deck Hands struggle to put out Fires from the exploded 500 Lb. Bomb
"As I watched the blur of canvas sacks slip over the side the conviction came to me that the Negro, who is good enough to be gutted by an unsegregated explosion, to be trussed in an unsegregated sack, to be dumped into an unsegregated ocean and dispatched to an unsegregated heaven or hell, is just exactly good enough to live an unsegregated life in the nation of his birth. And I thought further that the Southern Negro, in his century of unemancipated emancipation, has shown himself through his infinite patience and incredible loyalty to be the best American there is."

Burial at Sea of 52 Shipmates killed that day in January 1945

Burial at Sea of 52 Shipmates killed that day in January 1945
After wars end, Ira went on to become the Owner and Editor of the Chronicle Star, a small town newspaper in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where he became active in the Civil Rights movement; writing many editorials about the abuses taking place everywhere.

Failing to be intimidated by the local racism and violence which often made him a target, he was dauntless in his determination to see freedom come to the black man in Mississippi.

Ira worked hard to bring freedom to everyone

From the beginning he changed the way the paper reported the news he dropped all tags (such as negro, jew, etc.), mixed the news rather than having a white section and colored section, and was one of the first to call African-Americans Mr., Mrs., and Miss which was very radical for the time. He used the paper to promote integration and civil rights from the time he bought it. In 1954 Harkey wrote in support of the Brown vs. The Board of Education judicial decision. He had a cross burned on his front lawn for this and brought about the title of his autobiography of his time at the Chronicle "The Smell of Burning Crosses". This was due to what he wrote in a column in the paper after the cross burning: "Ah, autumn! Falling leaves the hint of a north breeze stirring in the night The Smell of Burning Crosses in the air!

He never wavered in the use of his editorial voice to fight against racial violence and champion equal rights throughout his entire time at The Chronicle in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

In 1963 he won a Pulitzer Prize for editorials he had written calling for people to accept the idea that James Meredith had a right to attend Ole Miss. For those editorials he had another cross burning, this time at the Chronicle offices and was shot-at, several times. For a while he had FBI protection during this time.

Pulitzer Prize Photo by Tommy Lavergne

Pulitzer Prize Photo by Tommy Lavergne
The Pulitzer was not the only award he won. Among other honors were the Sidney Hillman Foundation Award for his editorials, a national Sigma Delta Chi medallion and plaque for distinguished public service in newspaper journalism, a citation from the Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award Committee of the New York City chapter of the American Newspaper Guild, the Society of Professional Journalists' medal for outstanding national newspaper public service, a media award from the National conference of Christians and Jews, and the Silver Em Award from the University of Mississippi.

After leaving Mississippi he went on to get his Master's Degree and PhD at Ohio State University where he also taught, he then taught journalism in Fairbanks in 1968-69, and taught and lectured at various other schools before settling in Texas where he lived with his wife, Virgia, until his untimely death on October 8, 2006.

Besides his autobiography "The Smell of Burning Crosses", Harkey also wrote the biography "Pioneer Bush Pilot: The Story of Noel Wien", "Dedicated to the Proposition" and "Mississippi Sounds" and co-authored "Alton Ochsner: Surgeon of the South" with John Wilds.


Ira B. Harkey, Jr.

It is the estimation of the Yeoman of Jake's 'Yankee Station' - USS Hancock CV/CVA-19 Memorial, that our nation has not produced in our times, a Patriot and citizen of much higher integrity than it has in the person of Ira B.Harkey, Jr.

Mr. Harkey stood up for Freedom for all our citizens, in a time when certain death could be the reward for his charity, patriotism and good will. His courage, devotion and intrepidity is seldom found in our world today. Yet, Ira was a modest man who sought no honor or tribute for himself, rather wishing that all men might enjoy the freedoms that our Constitution guarantees.

Against the odds of his time, his early home life was a great spawning bed for such an individual, and his later service aboard the USS Hancock CV-19 only continued this tradition of Excellence. This is why Ira Harkey, Jr. won the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism (Editorials) in 1963, and why he has become an American Legend, while yet he lived, and why this Website wishes to remember and honor him with this little niche aboard the U.S.S. HANCOCK CV/CVA-19 MEMORIAL.


For a complete reading of the Ira B. Harkey's Story, you can visit
CRYSTAL EYE ENTERTAINMENT, LLC Web Site and read it in its entirety.

CRYSTAL EYE ENTERTAINMENT, LLC., has been working on a Documentary chronicling the Life and Times of IRA B. HARKEY, JR., but due to KATRINA in the Gulf in 2005, the project was put on hold.

We all can look forward to the completion of this monumental work in the near future.

To be added to a Mailing List for Project Updates and to be notified when the Project will be screened, go
here.

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