Kuralt Of News Wins Pyle Award
January 15, 1957

Charles Kuralt, 23-year-old Charlotte News reporter, has been named a 1956 winner of the Scripps-Howard Ernie Pyle Memorial Award.

Mr. Kuralt and Gordon S. (Bish) Thompson of the Evansville, (Ind.) Press each received cash awards of $1,000 and bronze medallion plaques which annually go to the two newspapermen whose writing and reporting is judged as "most nearly exemplifying the style and craftstmanship" of the great World War II reporter and human interest columnist.

Mr. Kuralt, who joined the News staff in May, 1955, scored with a collection of feature stories that appeared in The News in a column called "People." They included such off beat subjects as a one-armed banjoist philosopher, a Rescue Mission poet, a little girl's sunny afternoon frolic in an ancient cemetery, and a mountain lad's impressions of his first visit to the city.

"Kuralt’s writing," the judges commented, "is sensitive, warm with affection for obscure people, and with excellent touches of humor where that is needed." . . .


I was twenty-one years old, a year out of the University of North Carolina, and prowling the streets for The Charlotte News. I wrote a daily column called 'People.' (That was a more original title in 1956 than it is today.) Each day I would seek out some cop or kid or cab driver and tell his story in a few hundred words. I carried a battered Rolleicord camera over my shoulder for taking a picture to go with my column. I felt there was some kind of romance in my job: I was Damon Runyon, recording life in the streets, except that the streets I had to work were Trade and Tryon rather than Broadway. It didn't matter. I used to walk bravely up to panhandlers and back-alley crapshooters -- the sort of people others avoided -- and strike up a conversation.

-- Charles Kuralt (from the Foreword to "Suitcases" by Anne Hall Whitt. Kuralt interviewed Whitt's father. His story appears in the book.)

As a reporter for The Charlotte News, Charles Kuralt wrote 170 "People" columns. I stumbled upon them while researching my book "Remembering Charles Kuralt" and thought then that they deserved a better home than the dark, closed drawers where they were stored on microfilm.

It is no small testament to the literary merits of Kuralt's columns that in 1957 they garnered the Scripps-Howard Ernie Pyle Award (Kuralt is pictured above receiving a check for $1,000 and the award). The award, then as it does now, recognizes newspaper writing most nearly exemplifying the style and craftsmanship of the great World War II reporter and human interest columnist Ernie Pyle.

While the Pyle award suggests that Kuralt's columns should be stitched between the covers of a book that may be pulled from the shelf and read without having to roll through coils of microfilm, there is a more compelling reason to present these stories in a place where they might live on in the public eye: Kuralt taught us to how to see people. By penetrating the exterior, he found not only meaning and worth in the lives of others but also an interior sheen that was often hidden beneath a dull surface. To Kuralt, all people possessed dignity. His gift was that he looked deeply enought to see it.

Moreover, “People” represents the beginning of a comforting, reassuring and still-longed-for dialog that Kuralt continued with Americans for more than four decades. Through him, we learned that the world was not falling apart around us, despite the news and images of chaos that the media fed us. Kuralt told us in 1956, and up until his death in 1997, that we were better than we thought we were, more noble than we had imagined we could be and that there was, and is, much to marvel at in our fellow countrymen.

Throughout his life, Kuralt trumpeted these same themes again and again. That's why "People" will ring familiar to anyone who in later years turned to CBS to watch "On the Road" or "Sunday Morning." The tone, style and reportorial substance laid down by 22-year-old Kuralt -- trim, bright-eyed and as fresh as the starched white shirt he wore -- differed little from that of the balding, roll-bellied reporter who collected 13 Emmys and other awards for his stories of hope and unheralded heroes.

There is startling continuity between the early "People" columns and the work Kuralt did at CBS for nearly four decades. He was, by and large, unchanging. All his life, he found meaning in places where no one else thought to look. At the tip of his reporter's pen, small characters loomed large; seemingly insignificant events symbolized larger, universal truths: One man's desire to grow an orange tree in Charlotte, for example, represented similar dreams tucked away in the aspirations of all.

Kuralt's "People" columns are insightful and poetic -- as edifying as they are entertaining, and with a purity of spirit that is too good to be buried in microfilm stored and forgotten in dark filing cabinets.

After getting the green light from Charlotte News' Managing Editor Tom Fesperman, Kuralt wrote his first "People" column in April 1956, nearly a year after he joined the "largest evening newspaper in the two Carolinas." He penned the daily column for nine months and offered no explanation as to why he stopped writing it at the end of 1956. Even so, Kuralt remained with the News several months into the new year, writing front page stories and feature articles before CBS Radio took note of his talents and recruited him to New York in the spring of 1957.

Of the 170 "People" columns he wrote, one, dated December 18, 1956, has vanished. That entire issue of the News missed being archived on microfilm. Perhaps someone fortunate enough to find yellowed copies of the News stored in an old attic will turn up the missing story one day.

"People" did not appear in the latter half of August. Nor did Kuralt's byline appear in the News during that time. My guess is that the young reporter took some time off from work in the final dog days of summer. September opens with a story filed from breezy Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, where Kuralt writes about a boy who built a castle in the sand only to watch the ocean tear it down. Kuralt saw elements of heroism in such trivial events. After all, the boy would go on to build other sand castles, despite their impermanence.

Some years before his death, Kuralt was asked why he referred to those he interviewed, whether he found them on the Atlantic shores, the streets in Charlotte or the backroads of America, as "heroes," despite their relative obscurity in a fame-obsessed world. Kuralt responded thoughtfully, "They keep the spirit of the country alive."

I suggest you read "People" in chronological order. By doing so, you will meet familiar faces as you notch off another week or month. Those faces have been absent from the streets of Trade and Tryon for nearly five decades now, tucked away in the dark bottom drawers among boxes of microfilm -- an inappropriate resting place for heroes and the young reporter who spent a lifetime telling us stories—about people.

Ralph Grizzle
September 2002

Charles Kuralt's People (Kenilworth Media, copyright 2002)
ISBN 0-9679096-1-9 | Hard cover | 384 pages with photos | $25.95