Marshall Frady ’63 / Furman magazine


Master of the Skewer

The unsparing Marshall Frady ’63 took on politicians, critics, social norms and Furman of the 1960s.


By Kelley Bruss

John Quinn looking through binoculars

A page from his work as a Furman student / Kelley Bruss

There’s no record of Marshall Frady ’63 mincing words. A piece he called a “manifesto” raged against a smoking ban at Anderson High School and gloated over a win in an unnamed sport: “Anderson High has always regarded Greenville as a kind of burly, sneering bully, a loud smart aleck. And nothing delights the soul more than to see the bully paddled. And the Jackets very thoroughly paddled Greenville. No, they flogged them.”

His typewriter went right on flaming when he arrived at Furman. “A few days past, our local covey of nervous conservatives paid a kind of homage to Martin Luther by thumb-tacking some five or so theses to the classroom bulletin board on the question – and, you must believe them, it is a grave one – of liberalism among the faculty,” a draft on a torn page reads. “Their declaration is in no danger of a prize for preciseness or, what’s more, for rationality.”

Frady went on to a prolific and varied career as a writer, first for newspapers, then for magazines such as Newsweek, The Atlantic and Life. He also spent several years in television journalism with ABC. His books include biographies of civil rights icons Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King Jr., evangelist Billy Graham, and segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace.

Frady’s years at Furman had an early influence on both the writer and thinker he became.

“He needed to be challenged, and I think Furman certainly did challenge him,” says his sister, Nancy Huggins ’66. Frady died in Greenville, South Carolina, in 2004. His papers are held in 58 boxes at Emory University in Atlanta. They include everything from a letter to his grandmother to school papers to notebooks full of interviews – a record of a writing life.

John Quinn installing audio recording device to capture bird song activity

A newspaper article from when Frady’s family had first moved to Anderson, South Carolina / courtesy photo

Nothing sacred

Box 56 holds several pages of what seems to be a story. One character in it is described as “a gluttonous, raging, satanic fiend”– which is interesting, because it’s written on Second Baptist Church letterhead, with “J. Yates Frady, Minister, Augusta, Georgia” printed at the top. That’s Frady’s father, a one-time Furman student and lifelong Baptist pastor. His typical response to his son’s ideology was to throw up his hands, pray and then get on with life. His mother worried more.

“My job was to fly under a radar screen and not give them any trouble, because he was giving them all he could,” says Huggins, the older of Frady’s two sisters. After his junior year of high school, Frady told his parents he wanted to go to Cuba and report on the turmoil there. They said no.

He borrowed money from a friend and traveled anyway, waiting in Florida for a chance to get to the island. He didn’t make it during that trip (although he did years later) but he stayed long enough to miss a large part of what should have been his senior year. For the rest of that year, “He stayed mainly back in his room, reading and writing,” Huggins says.

When Frady finished high school a year late and came to Furman, he arrived at an institution more closely aligned with his parents’ ways of thinking than his own. Still, Huggins credits Furman professors with pushing her brother to understand the world and his own thoughts about it. “They would challenge him and open him up to new ideas and ways of thinking,” she says.

John Quinn pointing and holding binoculars

Frady’s portrait in the 1960 edition of Bonhomie

‘Frady here’

Boxes 1 and 2 hold much of the work saved from his Furman days. Frady argued passionately against a suggestion that the Paladin student newspaper should reflect the values of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“In other words, sir, this paper is not a kind of college-style junior Baptist Courier,” Frady said in a column that was later honored as best in the state by the South Carolina Collegiate Press Association. The university itself was not spared. In a Paladin column called “Frady Here,” he took on a new rule banning cigarette ads while Furman continued to accept money from The  Duke Endowment.

“It really does seem a trifle ingrate of our esteemed university to help itself so heartily to funds offered by the cigarette industry and then to place a rather sanctimonious taboo on cigarette advertising in campus publications,” he wrote. He argued for several paragraphs about the hypocrisy of the rule, then wrote: “Just to demonstrate the cigarette advertising won’t result in a general moral collapse at Furman, we will here break the ice with – brace yourself! – a cigarette ad, unsolicited, unpayed-for (sic), and rather overall: BUY CIGARETTES Then, if you want to, SMOKE them.”

Responses from the administration, if there were any, weren’t saved in the boxes with these pieces. But one professor seemed to reference his student’s public voice on a paper graded with a large, red C. “Frady was here, obviously; but Frady was in a hurry, wasn’t Frady?”

A memo from Wayne Freeman, then editor of The Greenville News, is more complimentary: “The editorial was well done, especially the reasoning and logical presentation. Forgive me for having taken the liberty of revising and polishing in part. I wish you had time to do the same for some of mine. Many thanks. You have rendered Furman and The News a service.” Freeman doesn’t identify the piece he’s referring to, but the memo was saved with a copy of an editorial taking to task the Broad River Association of the South Carolina Southern Baptist Convention, which had “armed a missile in the form of a resolution demanding a ban on dancing by Furman University students.”

Huggins, four years younger, often found herself in her brother’s larger-than-life shadow, “which is not a bad place to be when he’s behaving himself,” she says, laughing. After graduation, Frady started his career in newspapers, then went to work for Newsweek. Huggins says it wasn’t his style, though. He wanted to “elaborate.” Frady’s books gave him that chance.

John Quinn installing audio recording device to capture bird song activity

An early 1960s photo from The Greenville News Piedmont introducing its college interns / courtesy photo

‘Lofty things’ and a legacy of words

Box 18 of the Emory papers  includes a 15-page response to  Christianity Today’s critical review  of his Graham biography.

“Usually, there is no more graceless – and bootless – exercise imaginable than quarreling with reviews, no matter how woefully mis-witted, of one’s work. But for some while now, I’ve been hearing that certain denigrations … were being widely distributed about by parties connected to Graham – suggestions, such as that I took absolutely no notes through the course of all those interviews, that up to this point have seemed really beneath comment.”

Incidentally, the same box includes multiple notebooks full of Graham’s answers to Frady’s questions. Of all his books, the Wallace biography won the most acclaim. Decades after it was published, Frady adapted it into a screenplay for a television miniseries on the four-term Alabama governor and notorious segregationist. The production was nominated for eight Emmys and won three.

Late in life, Frady moved back  to Greenville to join the Furman faculty. But he died before he could begin teaching. He left behind a staggering number of words, a record of a life devoted to “lofty things, not on the little details that everyone is expected to take care of,” Huggins says. “I think he felt like he was excused from doing things in an ordinary way.”

For five years, the Upstate Medical Legal Partnership between Furman, Prisma Health and South Carolina Legal Services has been finding solutions through collaborations.

Saul Antonio Rivera ’13 finds renewal through forgiveness.

Laura Putney ’92 has all the paints and brushes.