Seigenthaler's work has shown just how important journalism is to the proper functioning of American democracy.
Early in his career, in 1953, he won a National Headliner Award for tracking down a Nashville businessman who disappeared more than 20 years earlier, and was living in Texas under an assumed identity. Less than a year later Mr. Seigenthaler once again made national news for saving a suicidal man from jumping off the Shelby Street Bridge in Nashville.
Later he launched an investigation into illegal Teamster's Union activities that led to the impeachment of a Chattanooga Criminal Court judge. Still later he was instrumental in the jury tampering conviction of Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa.
Seigenthaler was appointed as administrative assistant to United States Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and during the Freedom Rides of 1961. As special assistant to the Attorney General, he initially served as the intermediary between the federal government, the Freedom Riders, and white segregationist state officials, and he was the chief negotiator for the government in efforts to protect the riders. In Alabama he was severely beaten while trying to rescue a young girl who was herself being clubbed by members of a white mob.
Seigenthaler returned to the Tennessean, but soon took a temporary leave of absence to work on Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. During this period, the he was described by the New York Times as, "one of a handful of advisers in whom Kennedy has absolute confidence." Moments after a victory in the California primary, Kennedy was shot by an assassin and died on June 6, 1968. Seigenthaler served as one of the pallbearers at his funeral, and later co-edited the book An Honorable Profession: A Tribute to Robert F. Kennedy.
In the 1970s, as publisher of the Tennessean, Seigenthaler worked closely with then-reporter Al Gore on stories about corruption within the Nashville City Council.
In 1982, Seigenthaler was named editorial director of USA Today, and in 1991 he founded the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. During this period, he also served on the board of directors for the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and from 1988 to 1989 was its president.
Through his internationally recognized work, John Seigenthaler has distinguished himself by outstanding service to the profession of journalism, and has brought great honor to himself, his community and the State of Tennessee.