The Associated Press

William A. Emerson Jr.

UNDATED (AP) - William A. Emerson Jr., a journalist and author who covered civil rights flashpoints as part of a cadre of gutsy Southern reporters and later served as editor in chief of The Saturday Evening Post, died Tuesday. He was 86.

Emerson, whose health had declined following a stroke, died at his home in Atlanta.

A boisterous, outsize figure in an era of colorful New York magazine editors, Emerson stood 6-3 and his booming voice took over any room. His gifts as a phrasemaker made him a sought-after speaker for years. Last month, he included hundreds of speeches - on subjects from journalism to religion - with the papers he had donated to Emory University's archives.

A veteran of the China-Burma-India theater in World War II, Emerson took up journalism at Collier's magazine in New York after graduating from Harvard in 1948.

He was appointed Newsweek's first bureau chief covering the South in 1953, one year before the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which ordered an end to public school segregation and triggered years of resistance and violence across Emerson's native region.

Emerson wrote about Klan cross burnings in the piney woods of Florida and school integration fights from Nashville to New Orleans. In Montgomery, Ala., he covered the historic bus boycott and the emergence of its leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Emerson later held a succession of editing posts in New York at Newsweek and then The Saturday Evening Post, where he was promoted to editor in chief in 1965.

He was the author or co-author of a number of books, including a colorful layman's biography titled "The Jesus Story" and "Sin and the New American Conscience."