The son of Raleigh News and Observer owner/editor Josephus Daniels and grandson of North Carolina Governor Jonathan Worth, Jonathan Worth Daniels (1902-1981) was a distinguished writer and editor in his own right. As a student at the University of North Carolina, he was an active participant in the Carolina Playmakers, and edited The Daily Tar Heel. He passed the North Carolina bar exam despite failing out of Columbia University Law School, but never practiced law.
In 1930, after three years as the News and Observer’s Washington reporter, Daniels moved to New York City to write for Fortune magazine and finish a novel. Clash of Angels won him a Guggenheim Fellowship in creative writing, which he spent in France, Italy, and Switzerland. After another brief stint with Fortune, he returned to Raleigh in 1932 as associate editor of the News and Observer, taking over the editorship when Josephus Daniels was appointed Ambassador to Mexico. During his ten years at the News and Observer, Daniels, a southern liberal and strong supporter of FDR’s New Deal, used the editorial page to advocate for equal rights for African-Americans and support of organized labor. He also published two books, contributed articles to national magazines and wrote a weekly column, “A Native at Large” for the Nation.
Daniels spent the war years, 1942-1945, in Washington DC, working for President Roosevelt on various projects, including the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Rural Electrification Administration, wartime overseas baseball, and domestic race relations. In 1945 he served briefly as President Roosevelt’s, then President Truman’s press secretary.
Daniels returned to Raleigh and to the News and Observer, succeeding his father as the newspaper’s editor on Josephus Daniels’ death in 1948. During his years at the newspaper, he followed a liberal editorial policy, writing in favor of civil rights and school desegregation. He continued to publish dozens of books and articles: biographies, historical studies, including three for children, and social and political commentaries. His devotion to public service included six years representing the United States on the United Nations Subcommission for the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities. He was awarded the North Carolina Award for Literature in 1967.
The Charlotte Observer called Daniels “a graceful writer and tart social critic…also a force for progress in North Carolina,” especially in race relations.
Watch Georgann Eubanks discuss the North Carolina town of Centre, birthplace of Jonathan Worth Daniels, among many other writers:
(Courtesy of Georgann Eubanks.)
Listen and read along with the transcript of Charles Eagle’s 1977 interview with Jonathan Worth Daniels, part of the Southern Oral History Collection.