Helen O'Neill, special correspondent with The Associated Press, has won the 2010 Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Writing Award for her article "One Man's Journey,” which was published on April 4, 2009, Ball State University's Department of Journalism announced today.
O'Neill’s article chronicles a former Ku Klux Klan supporter's hate-filled past and his search for forgiveness and redemption. As a young man in South Carolina, Elwin Wilson had boasted about his racism and his assault of Freedom Riders and civil rights activists, notably Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta. As an older man in his seventies, beset by diabetes and other ailments, Wilson confronted his own mortality and lingering guilt and remorse. O’Neill was fascinated by Wilson's public apologies to Lewis and others. She wondered whether his heart had truly changed and what motivated his actions.
According to the Pulliam Award judges, O'Neill's story is a compelling, expertly written retrospective of this "sad, sickly man haunted by time." They note her remarkable use of description and judicious use of details. They praise her nuanced storytelling that explores paradoxes and contradictions and avoids simple explanations.