Pearl River The other day I read a belated obituary on Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Nick Kotz. He had passed away at 87 on his cattle farm in Virginia of a freak accident involving a vehicle. The obit celebrated his work, while an investigative reporter based in Washington for the Des Moines Register and the Minneapolis Tribune, in winning the prize through his reporting on unregulated meatpacking plants, that were escaping inspection, because they were not involved in interstate commerce. This reporting in the mid-1960s, led to the passage of the Federal Wholesome Meat Act of 1967, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson with Kotz, Ralph Nadar, and Upton Sinclair, the notorious muckraker who had exposed conditions in meatpacking a generation earlier, in the White House ceremony.
I knew Nick, and his wife, Mary Lynn, in another context as the authors of A Passion for Equality: George A. Wiley and the Movement, published in 1977. George Wiley was the founder and director of the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) from 1966 to about 1972, and earlier had been deputy director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) I had met them when I was an organizer for the National Welfare Rights Organization in 1969 and 1970 in Massachusetts. They were reporters obviously, and that meant that as organizers we were hardwired not to trust them, but it was hard to deny their support for welfare rights, which was never a highly populated crowd.
George Wiley died in a boating accident in August of 1973. The Kotz book wasn’t published until 1977. Nick interviewed me for the book, so a passing mention was included and some note of the Springfield riot in 1969 and my arrest.
I always wondered what George would have thought of Nick’s book, if he had had the opportunity to read it. Like any biography of someone you knew personally and respected greatly, you underline the parts that seemed right and chafe at the parts that seem wrong. Any inaccuracy rubs like a cocklebur in your shoe.
Nonetheless, I liked the fact that Nick and Mary Lynn had written the book and were serious people who took George and NWRO as seriously as those of us did who worked there or were leaders and members of NWRO. Their love for George matched that of so many of the rest of us, and it shone clearly throughout the book. That counted for a lot.
The book’s title alone was a gift. I always felt I owned Nick a debt, along with Mary Lynn, for doing their part in making sure that George Wiley, his life, and his work would not be forgotten. They served his memory and legacy well. It’s hard to ask more. We all do our part, each in our own way.
Thanks again, Nick.