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Obituaries

Paul Weeks, 86; reporter covered L.A.'s blacks

July 22, 2007|Jon Thurber | Times Staff Writer

Paul Weeks, a versatile reporter for The Times who pioneered the paper's coverage of Los Angeles' African American community in the 1960s, died July 10 of liver cancer at his home in Oceanside. He was 86.

A veteran newsman who had worked for several Los Angeles newspapers, Weeks joined The Times in 1962. That same year, one of the paper's managing editors, Frank McCullough, asked him to look at the lives and concerns of blacks in the city.

It was a groundbreaking assignment for the paper at the time. Although the black population of Los Angeles had boomed since World War II, The Times had done little to report on the community's problems and concerns.

But McCullough got the right man for the job. According to Bill Boyarsky, who served as Times city editor and columnist a generation later, Weeks was a white man who had a "social conscience," a rare and often scorned quality in newsrooms at the time.

Writing in his blog on the website LA Observed, Boyarsky, now the city ethics commissioner in Los Angeles, called Weeks "an overlooked hero of Los Angeles' traumatic civil rights struggle."

Accepting the assignment from McCullough, Weeks worked to establish relationships with black community leaders. It was often a struggle and Weeks told Boyarsky that leaders were "at first suspicious of anyone wanting to put anything in the white press about them."

His assignment also raised suspicions among co-workers. Colleagues criticized him often to his face with accompanying racial slurs.

But several months later, he produced a series exploring how the civil rights movement was playing out in Los Angeles, discussing such issues as discrimination in housing, overcrowding and substandard education in predominantly black schools and long-standing tensions with local law enforcement agencies.

The lack of trust that black leaders felt for the mainstream newspapers is evident in the fact that many leaders would only allow themselves to be quoted anonymously in the series.

As Robert Gottlieb and Irene Wolt wrote in their 1977 book, "Thinking Big: The Story of the Los Angeles Times, Its Publishers and Their Influence on Southern California," much of the information in Weeks' series was "not taken fully to heart" at The Times.

"Many of the staff writers and editors at The Times shared Police Chief William Parker's feelings that 'In overall race relations this community has done a magnificent job,' " they wrote.

And as Boyarsky pointed out in his blog, "such coverage was not a career booster." After McCullough left the paper, Weeks was reassigned to the War on Poverty beat in 1964 and, according to Boyarsky, told editors, "This town is going to blow up one of these days, and The Times won't know what hit it."

When the Watts riots broke out in August 1965, Weeks was on vacation and The Times had no black reporters and no one covering racial issues.

Weeks left the paper in 1967, worked for a time with the federal Office of Economic Opportunity, which administered the War on Poverty programs, and in 1970 became the first director of public information at the Rand Corp., the Santa Monica think tank.

A native of Mott, N.D., Weeks grew up in Albuquerque and graduated from the University of New Mexico. As a teenager, he was an office boy at the Albuquerque Journal, quickly rising to sports editor. He served in the Army during World War II and joined the old Los Angeles Daily News as a rewrite man and feature writer after his discharge. When that paper folded in 1954, he went to work for the Los Angeles Mirror, the afternoon tabloid owned by the parent company of The Times. He joined The Times when the Mirror folded in 1962.

After retiring from Rand in 1988, he moved to Oceanside with his wife, Barbara, who survives him, as well as his children Bill Weeks of Signal Hill and Barbara Huntington of Bonita from his first marriage, which ended in divorce. He is also survived by a sister, Lois NeSmith of Claremont; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Services were private. The family suggests donations be made to the California First Amendment Coalition, 534 4th St., Suite B, San Rafael, CA 94901.

jon.thurber@latimes.com

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