[Marxism] William Worthy, a Reporter Drawn to Forbidden Datelines, Dies at 92
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Sun May 18 09:36:01 MDT 2014
NY Times, May 18 2014
William Worthy, a Reporter Drawn to Forbidden Datelines, Dies at 92
By MARGALIT FOX
William Worthy, a foreign correspondent who in the thick of the Cold War
ventured where the United States did not want him to go — including the
Soviet Union, China, Cuba — and became the subject of both a landmark
federal case concerning travel rights and a ballad by the protest singer
Phil Ochs, died on May 4 in Brewster, Mass. He was 92.
His death, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, was announced on
the website of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Mr.
Worthy was a Nieman Foundation fellow in the 1956-57 academic year.
A correspondent for The Afro-American of Baltimore, a weekly newspaper,
from 1953 to 1980, Mr. Worthy also contributed freelance reports to CBS
News, The New York Post and other publications. He became an
international cause célèbre in the early 1960s when, returning from
Cuba, he was found guilty of violating United States immigration law.
The son of a distinguished obstetrician, William Worthy Jr. was born in
Boston on July 7, 1921.
“Despite the respect and certain privileges derived from membership in a
professional ‘black bourgeoisie’ family, my sisters and I were clearly
aware, as children, of our ‘inferior’ minority group status,” Mr. Worthy
wrote in a 1968 article for The Boston Globe. “ ‘The problem’ was
discussed at the dinner table. More importantly, it was all around us.”
After graduating from the Boston Latin School, Mr. Worthy earned a
bachelor’s degree in sociology from Bates College in Lewiston, Me., in
1942. In World War II, though an ulcer would have let him be classified
4-F, he chose to become a conscientious objector.
Mr. Worthy began his career as a press aide for the civil rights leader
A. Philip Randolph. During his years at The Afro-American, he kept one
foot in the realm of direct advocacy, joining Freedom Riders on their
pilgrimages through the South and later becoming a close ally of Malcolm X.
As a journalist, Mr. Worthy quickly earned a reputation for venturing
into forbidden places to report on the effects of war, revolution and
colonialism. In 1955, he spent six weeks in Moscow, interviewing
ordinary citizens and the Soviet premier, Nikita S. Khrushchev.
Toward the end of 1956, during his Nieman fellowship, Mr. Worthy, who
had spent years petitioning the Chinese government for a visa, learned
he had been granted one.
Defying a United States travel ban, he crossed into mainland China from
Hong Kong. He was one of the first American journalists admitted there
after the United States broke off relations after the 1949 Communist
He spent 41 days traveling the country, interviewing the premier, Zhou
Enlai, as well as people in schools, factories and hospitals.
He also visited the Shanghai prison, where he interviewed American
P.O.W.s captured during the Korean War. The United States knew the men
were being held somewhere in China, but in several cases Mr. Worthy’s
reports were the first to pinpoint their location.
After returning to the United States in 1957, Mr. Worthy tried to renew
his passport. The State Department refused.
In a statement, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles said, “It is
evident from Mr. Worthy’s testimony that should his passport be renewed
he would not feel obligated, under present world conditions, to restrict
his travel abroad in any way.”
Indeed, Mr. Worthy felt no such obligation. In 1961, without a passport,
he went to Cuba, debarking in Havana from a ship bound from the United
States for Mexico. He interviewed Fidel Castro and filed articles about
the country under Communism, with particular attention to race
relations, which he judged far better than those in the United States.
Returning, he was arrested in Florida and indicted on a charge of
entering the country illegally — that is, without a passport. (He had
shown immigration officers his birth certificate as proof of citizenship.)
In 1962, in a nonjury trial in federal court in Miami — Mr. Worthy’s
lawyers included William M. Kunstler — he was found guilty and sentenced
to three months’ imprisonment plus nine months’ probation.
The case became a sensation. Rallies on Mr. Worthy’s behalf were held in
cities around the world. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell
petitioned the United States attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy, in
support of him.
Mr. Ochs wrote “The Ballad of William Worthy,” which includes these lines:
William Worthy isn’t worthy to enter our door.
Went down to Cuba, he’s not American anymore.
But somehow it is strange to hear the State Department say,
You are living in the free world, in the free world you must stay.
In 1964, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
overturned Mr. Worthy’s conviction, ruling that the lack of a passport
was insufficient ground to bar a citizen from re-entering the country.
Concurring in the opinion was Judge Griffin B. Bell, a future United
States attorney general under President Jimmy Carter.
Mr. Worthy was not granted a new passport until 1968. Over the years,
his other travels — with a passport or without — took him to North
Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia and Algeria.
In 1981, Mr. Worthy and two colleagues traveled to Iran to examine the
effects of the Islamic revolution there. He bought a multivolume set of
books said to be reprints of intelligence documents taken from the
United States Embassy in Tehran after revolutionary militants seized it
Though the books were readily available in Iran and were already
circulating in Europe, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, deeming them
classified, seized them on the journalists’ return to the United States.
Mr. Worthy was able to furnish a duplicate set to The Washington Post.
In 1982, after authenticating them, The Post published a series, based
partly on their contents, about United States intelligence operations in
The federal government agreed that year to pay $16,000 to settle a suit
by Mr. Worthy and his colleagues over the seizure.
In later years, Mr. Worthy taught journalism at Boston University; the
University of Massachusetts, Boston; Howard University; and elsewhere.
In 2008, he received the Nieman Foundation’s Louis Lyons Award for
Conscience and Integrity in Journalism.
His survivors include a sister, Ruth Worthy.
Mr. Worthy was the author of a book, “The Rape of Our Neighborhoods,”
published in 1976.
In 1982, The Associated Press asked Mr. Worthy why he had brought the
Iranian volumes into the United States. His response could well describe
what propelled his entire career.
“Americans,” Mr. Worthy said, “have a right to know what’s going on in
the world in their name.”
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