Retired AP reporter Hoyt Harwell dies at 93. He covered key events in the American South

Jun 17, 2024, 2:23 PM | Updated: 3:28 pm

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Hoyt Garland Harwell, a longtime reporter for The Associated Press who covered key events in the American South and was a mentor to young reporters, has died. He was 93.

Harwell died at home June 12 following a brief illness, according to his obituary.

Harwell worked for the AP for 42 years, including stints in Atlanta and also in Mobile and Birmingham, Alabama. He retired in 1993. He covered the aftermath of the 1963 bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and the Freedom Riders, civil rights activists who were protesting segregation in the American South.

While working as an AP reporter in 1988, Harwell was one of two reporters who volunteered to walk into a hostage situation in Alabama to help secure the rescue of elementary school students and a pregnant teacher being held by an armed man.

During the siege at Tuscaloosa’s West End Christian School, the gunman sent a request for an AP staffer to enter the school building to “get my message out” and would release some hostages if he did so, according to news reports from the time. Nine children were released by the gunman after Harwell entered, according to news reports. The man held a gun angled above Harwell’s head during their meeting as he made his statement, according to the AP account from 1988. The hostage situation ended when authorities tricked the gunman into thinking he had secured a gubernatorial pardon.

Kendal Weaver, a former AP editor for Alabama, said Harwell was a mentor to young journalists both inside and outside of the wire service.

“Through his journalism skills and his gift for warm, thoughtful assistance to newcomers he had an impact on the news — and how millions would get to know of the successes and travails of the state during extraordinary times,” Weaver wrote in an email.

Former colleague Phil Rawls said Harwell was known for his kindness. “At his funeral Monday, people told story after story of being helped by Hoyt. It was an encouraging word, a funny story, a word of advice or a flower from his yard. Hoyt left a wonderful legacy as a reporter and a human being,” Rawls said.

Harwell covered both sports and news. His awards included being named to The 50 Legends of the Alabama Sports Writers Association.

Harwell had asked that his memorial service — which was held Monday at Shades Crest Baptist Church in Hoover — be called a “Celebration of a Happy Life.” Harwell also taught journalism at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and at Samford University.

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