J. Zollie Howard
J. Zollie Howard began his 46-year Tennessee newspaper career in 1907 at age 10 in Gainesboro as a printers devil at the Jackson County Sentinel where he set type by hand, read proof, inked the flatbed press, and delivered its tri-weekly editions.
Ten years later after discharge from two years World War I U.S. Army Tank Corps service, he entered the University of Tennessee and graduated in 1924 with an English degree. He remained to teach English and Journalism during 1924 and 1925 while continuing graduate work, then joined The Knoxville News as city hall reporter.
After its merger with the Knoxville Sentinel, Howard was the newspaper’s city editor and news editor for 15 years, while building his professional reputation as an effective trainer of young reporters. His reporting and editing dictum was, “…use strong, vivid verbs instead of meaningless adjectives, and go over every piece of copy until every surplus word is deleted.”
As Knoxville Sentinel city editor, Howard worked with the Knoxville Bar Association to devise and press through the state legislature a constitutional bill creating Knox County General Sessions Courts. This followed years of repeated editorial fights to replace the corrupt Justice of the Peace system, and his success established the constitutional basis for Tennessee’s county level General Session Courts.
In 1940, Howard transferred to the Memphis Press-Scimitar as managing editor, and after many reporters left for World War II service, he worked as news editor, “slot man”, and make-up editor. He reported on Memphis aviation developments, post-war economic and social adjustments, and editorialized for equal treatment for blacks and whites.
In 1947, Howard won the “Courage in Journalism Award” of the national Society of Professional Journalists for his successful editorials castigating city officials opposed to equal access for white and black citizens. Also in 1947 he won the SPJ national award for “Public Service in Newspaper Journalism” for directing his newspaper’s efforts to reform Shelby County Criminal Court citizen jury procedures.
In 1957, Howard wrote a series of bylined columns entitled, “Positive Thinking and a Positive Program for the South” urging an end to racial troubles and attitudes among Tennesseans and Southerners. Positive reader reaction required mailings of its 24,000 reprints. Howard received the 1958 national Freedoms Foundation George Washington Honor Medal recognizing the extraordinary impact of these columns.
In 1963 as Tennessee suffered highway death carnage of historic proportions, Howard’s editorials urged public schools to teach automobile safety and driver training classes. For Child Safety Month he supplied all state newspapers with editorials and cartoons while leading the successful highway safety campaign of the Tennessee Press Association. The state legislature responded with mandates requiring automobile seat belts, and Howard received the TPA President’s Plaque for this demonstrated leadership.
On February 17, 1967 Howard began his successful editorial campaign to repeal Tennessee’s anti-evolution law which remained in place 42 years after the Scopes Monkey Trial. Under his editorial’s headline, “Strike off This Shackle” and its follow-on commentary, “Beat the Courts to It!” exactly three months to the day after his editorial campaign began the Tennessee legislature repealed the law.
J. Zollie Howard twice served as a Tennessee Press Association Director, and chaired its Press Institute, Freedom of Information, Clean Elections, and Highway Safety Committees. Under his direction, the Memphis Press-Scimitar won the UT-TPA Press Contest Public Service Category first place award in 1951, 1950, 1949, and 1948. And in 1947 it won the General Excellence Award.
As an original 1949 Meeman Foundation Trustee, Howard secured grants of $30,000 for the University of Tennessee’s honorarium payments for judges for the UT-TPA Press Contests, a $200,000 grant to establish University of Tennessee School of Journalism distinguished professorships, and a $250,000 grant to build the Memphis State University Journalism Building.
J. Zollie Howard tenaciously editorialized against closed government meetings, and used his copy pencil to mentor, teach, and inspire Tennessee’s newspaper journalists…with brevity and correct grammar.