Nov. 15, 1948: Ray Sprigle was a top-notch investigative journalist. “He posed as a black-market meat operator to expose graft and corruption in the war-rationing system; he got himself committed to a mental institution to prove inhumane conditions; he disguised himself as a black man traveling through the South to produce a groundbreaking 21-part series in 1948” (Post-Gazette, Sept. 16, 1986).
In 1937, Sprigle won the newspaper’s first Pulitzer Prize for a story proving that Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, who was then newly appointed to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court by President Roosevelt, had been once a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Sprigle’s report was accompanied by transcripts, names, signed affidavits, Black’s application for membership in the Klan from Sept. 11, 1923, his membership dues and Black’s handwritten resignation from July 9, 1925.
This photograph captures Ray Sprigle posing as a black man for the 1948 series titled “‘I was a Negro in the South for 30 Days.” In this disguise and using the name James R. Crawford, Sprigle traveled through the South and experienced firsthand what life was like for 10 million people living under Jim Crow’s system of legal segregation. To “pass” as an African American, as Springle writes in one of his dispatches, he “had shaved head, practically down to the skull, had my glasses reset in enormous black rims, and acquired a cap that drooped like a Tam o’Shanter.” Only twice in his month-long travels was his status as a black man “even remotely questioned.”