After all, it’s been the Anniston Star publisher’s companion through much of his career.
“If you’re a lonely left-of-center person in the Deep South, you might as well be in love with defeat because that’s all you’re going to see,” Ayers said with a laugh.
Ayers, 77, will be on hand at The Star from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Monday to sign copies of his memoir, “In Love with Defeat: The Making of a Southern Liberal,” available in all major bookstores. The book chronicles the Anniston native’s life, from his childhood and early years as a correspondent in Washington D.C. in the early 1960s to his coverage of the civil rights era in Anniston. The book also describes Ayers’ dealings with the administrations of Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
“I’ve led an interesting life on the second ring on the circle of power and had a front seat on the shifting of the axis of our society,” Ayers said.
Ayers touches on one early flirtation with defeat in the book, describing an encounter with racism while at his prep school, the Wooster School in Danbury, Conn. Ayers had reserved rooms for his parents and their chauffeur, Eli Wilkins, at a nearby hotel so they could attend his graduation in May 1953. However, when Wilkins arrived, he was turned away from the hotel for being black. Offended by the discrimination against his longtime friend, the indignant teenage Ayers found a cot and brought Wilkins to spend the night with him and his roommates at the senior suite on campus. It was the first time a black man had ever done such a thing at the school, Ayers said.
“My roommates and I integrated the school,” Ayers said with a smile.
Ayers’ liberal leanings were further shaped during his time as a news correspondent in Washington, particularly in 1962 when the integration of the University of Mississippi caused a riot between segregationists and federal forces. After the riot, Ayers had several encounters with then-Mississippi Sen. James Eastland, who wanted to call a special committee to investigate what he claimed was federal authorities’ brutalization of Ole Miss co-eds.
“This was a man who saw things in inverse proportions … up was down, black was white,” Ayers said. “If being close to a man like that doesn’t push you in a liberal direction, you’re not paying attention.”
But while the book delves into Ayers’ development through life, it also catalogs the growth of his hometown of Anniston and its progress beyond racial discrimination.
“It’s been a good ride and out of it comes a sense of appreciation for what this town did,” Ayers said. “Our path through the civil rights movement was a rough one but it’s a positive story and one the town should be proud of.”
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.