An ardent Democrat, Lathan was also an active affiliate in many professional associations, including the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the advisory board to the University of South Carolina School of Journalism.
Editor, writer, Pulitzer Prize winner. Lathan was born in York County on May 5, 1881, the son of the Reverend Robert Lathan, a Presbyterian minister and educator, and Frances Eleanor Barron. Lathan received his bachelor of arts from Erskine College and then taught English and journalism from 1898 until 1899. In 1900 Lathan joined the editorial staff of the State newspaper in Columbia, where he remained for three years. From 1903 to 1906 he worked as an official court reporter and studied law. After moving to Charleston, in 1906 he became state news editor and city editor of the News and Courier. In 1910 he became editor with the News and Courier, a position he held until 1927.
The political nature of Lathan’s writing underwent substantial growth during this period, which was best represented in his editorial entitled “The Plight of the South,” which appeared in the News and Courier on November 5, 1924. Something of a culmination of his political philosophy, “Plight of the South” focused on the South’s lack of influence and leadership at the national level. “What political leaders has it who possess weight or authority beyond their own States? What constructive policies are its people ready to fight for with the brains and zeal that made them a power in the old days?” The essay offered no solution to the South’s “plight” but rather presented its situation in bold terms in the hope that answers might soon be found. “Who is to speak for the South? How many of her citizens are prepared to help formulate her replies?” A highly respected and widely read piece of contemporary journalism, “Plight of the South” earned Lathan and the News and Courier the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 1925.
An ardent Democrat, Lathan was also an active affiliate in many professional associations, including the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the advisory board to the University of South Carolina School of Journalism. In addition he served as president of the South Carolina Press Association (1925–1926) and was a life member of the Poetry Society of South Carolina. The Carnegie Endowment provided Lathan with opportunities to travel among several western and eastern European locations, where he learned the economic and political histories that surfaced in his later writing.
Lathan closely monitored both the S.C. and the U.S. Supreme Courts. He was concerned about all matters agricultural, as was most pronounced in a July 1926 address before the National Press Association calling for the “radical revision” of the South’s agricultural system, in which he stated his belief that “every farmer (should be) a landowner.” In the formative years of the Great Depression, Lathan wrote numerous editorials on farm foreclosures and described the rise in joblessness as a unique consequence of “Republican misrule.”
Lathan also wrote on the traditional southern themes of states’ rights and taxation, which he deemed as continual punishment from the North upon the South. He viewed state government as the “people’s government” and was an ardent opponent of American entry into the League of Nations. He spent his last years as editor for the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen. He died in Asheville on September 26, 1937. He was survived by his wife, Bessie Early of Darlington, whom he had married in 1904. They had no children. Lathan was buried in Grove Hill Cemetery in Darlington.
Brennan, Elizabeth A., and Elizabeth C. Clarage, eds. Who’s Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners. Phoenix: Oryx, 1999.
Lathan, Robert. Papers. South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston. –––. Papers. South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
Sloan, William David, and Laird B. Anderson, eds. Pulitzer Prize Editorials: America’s Best Editorial Writing, 1917–1993. 2d ed. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1994.