Ruth Sulzberger Holmberg, newspaper publisher and civil right stalwart

by | Apr 28, 2017 | Obituaries

Ruth Sulzberger Holmberg, a newspaper publisher and civil rights activist in Tennessee, has died at 96.

Holmberg, a member of the family that controls The New York Times, challenged racial barriers, political skulduggery and environmental adversaries as publisher of The Chattanooga Times for nearly three decades, the newspaper reported. She died in Chattanooga.

Growing up in a newspaper family in New York, Holmberg would lead the Chattanooga daily to become known for aggressive, analytical reporting and editorials that denounced racial segregation, exposed government corruption and demanded cleaner air in a city of heavy industry, according to the Times article.

For years she was a pariah in a city where many regarded her as an Eastern liberal interloper, also because she was Jewish, according to the article.

Holmberg served as publisher of The Chattanooga Times from 1964 to 1992, then stayed on as publisher emeritus and chairwoman until 1999, when it was sold to a small chain and merged with a rival newspaper.

She was a granddaughter of Adolph Ochs, who bought The Chattanooga Times in 1878 and The New York Times in 1896, and the second of four children of Iphigene Ochs and Arthur Hays Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times from 1935 to 1961.

Her brother, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, who died in 2012, became publisher of The New York Times and chairman and chief executive of the Times Company. One sister, Marian Sulzberger Heiskell, became a New York civic and philanthropic leader. Another, Judith Sulzberger, who died in 2011, became a doctor affiliated with the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University.

A Red Cross volunteer in England and France during World War II, she had four children with her first husband, Ben Hale Golden, before they were divorced in 1965. She replaced her husband as publisher of The Chattanooga Times in 1964.

The Chattanooga Times championed the racial integration of schools and universities, supported civil rights legislation in Congress and backed clean-air laws, provoking anger in a city where industrial pollutants shrouded scenic mountain backdrops and whose air, according to a 1969 federal report, was the dirtiest in the nation.

The Times also endorsed reforms to root out corruption in government, expand the voting franchise and give black residents, a third of the population, a larger voice in municipal affairs.

In 1972, she married Albert William Holmberg Jr., who oversaw the production, advertising, and circulation departments at the paper. He was later named its president.

In 1987 she became the second woman, after Katharine Graham, the longtime publisher of The Washington Post, to be elected a director of The Associated Press, the dominant news service in the United States. (JTA)