He has been called a “loose cannon,” a “pain in the ass,” and a “white traitor.” Whatever he’s been called, Jerry Mitchell, 48, has never given up in his quest to bring unpunished killers to justice, prompting one colleague to call him “the South’s Simon Wiesenthal.”
Since 1989, the investigative reporter for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., has unearthed documents, cajoled suspects and witnesses, and quietly pursued evidence in the nation’s notorious killings from the civil rights era. His work so far has helped put five Klansmen behind bars.
For his work, the Pulitzer Board in 2006 named Mitchell a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
And in 2007, he received the John Peter and Anna Catherine Zenger Award for Freedom of the Press.
For his work, Mitchell has received more than 20 national awards, including the George Polk Award for Justice Reporting. Other national awards include the Vernon Jarrett Award for Investigative Reporting, and the Elijah Lovejoy Award, named after the nation’s first martyr to freedom of the press.
Two awards he’s received recognize his work over the past 18 years, including the Toni House Journalism Award and the Tom Renner Award for Crime Reporting from Investigative Reporters and Editors.
Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting recognized Mitchell’s two decades of dedication, selecting his collection of work as one of 20 national stories that have made a difference over the past two decades.
In 2005, Mitchell received another career award, becoming the youngest recipient ever of Columbia University’s John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism.
In 2005, Newsweek featured Mitchell as one of “America’s Best,” and CNN nominated him as a “Person of the Day.” ABC Evening News has featured Mitchell in its “First Person” segment.
Nightline, USA TODAY, The New York Times, American Journalism Review, Mother Jones and others have profiled Mitchell, who joined The Clarion-Ledger in 1986. He has appeared as an expert on all the major networks, the Lehrer News Hour, CNN, National Public Radio and others.
In 1996, he was portrayed in the Rob Reiner film, Ghosts of Mississippi. He was featured in the Learning Channel documentary, Civil Rights Martyrs that aired in February 2000 and was a consultant for the Discovery Channel documentary, Killed by the Klan, which aired in 1999.
For his investigative work, Mitchell received the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service.
In addition to the Sigma Delta Chi award, Mitchell has received the Heywood Broun Award, the Sidney Hillman Award, the American Legion's Fourth Estate Award, the National Association of Black Journalists' Award for Enterprise Reporting, the Abraham Lincoln Marovitz Award and the Inland Press Association Award.
In 1999, Gannett honored him with the Outstanding Achievement by an Individual Award, the Best Investigative Reporting Award, the Best In-Depth Reporting Award and its highest honor — the William Ringle Outstanding Achievement Career Award — making him the youngest recipient ever to receive it. Two years later, he received the Best Beat Reporting Award from Gannett. In 2006, Mitchell received the Outstanding Achievement by an Individual Award a second time, this time for work leading to Edgar Ray Killen’s conviction.
Peers have recognized Mitchell’s work. In 2000, he received the Silver Em Award from the University of Mississippi. In 2002, editors Judith and William Serrin featured his work in their anthology of the nation’s best journalism over the past three centuries, Muckraking! The Journalism That Changed America.
In October 1998, Mitchell was recognized along with three other journalists at the Kennedy Center in Washington by the Anti-Defamation League.
He received the Associated Press' Outstanding Writing Award for his 13-chapter narrative, The Preacher and the Klansman, which also received a Columbia Journalism School Citation for Coverage of Race & Ethnicity.
In 1997, Mitchell received his master’s in journalism from Ohio State University, and in 2006, he received an honorary doctorate from Colby College in Waterville, Maine. He lives in Mississippi with his wife. They have two children.