- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Longtime journalist Randall Pinkston remembers the assignment where he wasn’t sure if he would return home.

During the war in Afghanistan, the-then CBS correspondent gained access to the caves abandoned by fleeing members of Al Qaeda. The only illumination inside was provided from the faint flame of a cigarette lighter but enough to make out the danger posed by the ammunition surrounding him.

“It did occur to me that I might go in that cave and not come out,” Pinkston later recalled in a retrospective with the network.

“Thankfully, nothing exploded or we would not be having this conversation today.”

The moment is just one of many in a career where he has covered many domestic and international stories. Along the way, he’s made stops at the James S. Brady Press Briefing room and overseas such as in 2011 when he reported on Haiti’s struggle for survival and determination in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake.

But the Jackson, Mississippi, native is the first to point back toward his humble beginnings.

Born in Yazoo City, Pinkston spent his growing years on the famed Church Street. During segregation, the community was compromised of a who’s who of black Jackson professionals.

His family’s landlord was Sidney Redmond, an attorney who represented an African-American student in the case of Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, a landmark Supreme Court Case which helped pave the way for integration in post-secondary education.

It was from Redmond, Pinkston learned a valuable lesson: “always ask questions, young man,” Redmond told him.

After graduating from Lanier High School in 1968, Pinkston enrolled at Wesleyan University in Midtown, Connecticut, before transferring to Millsaps College, where he received a bachelor’s degree in history.

While in college, an opportunity became available when WLBT offered on the job training to minorities as the result of a lawsuit challenging the network’s FCC challenge due to its discriminatory coverage practices.

During his stint at an affiliated radio station, WDFX, Pinkston was asked, “Don’t you want to be on TV? And I said no.” Gradually, his feelings toward the medium evolved and he began anchoring a 15-minute newscast at 10 p.m.

After attending the Michele Clark Fellowship Program for Minority Journalists at Columbia University in 1973, Pinkston became the first African American to anchor a 6 p.m. newscast at the NBC affiliate. He didn’t hold the groundbreaking position for long. Within a year he jumped nearly 50 markets to a CBS affiliate in Jacksonville, Florida.

After leaving the station in 1976, he began working at WSFB in Hartford, Connecticut. Off air, he earned a law degree from The University of Connecticut School of Law in 1980. Within the next decade, he would join CBS as a White House correspondent, where he covered the presidency of George H.W. Bush. He remained with the network until 2013. His final story was on Medgar Evers’ fight to receive airtime on WLBT - the station that gave Pinkston his first break.

His retirement didn’t last long, the same year he joined the newly launched cable network Al Jazeera America as a freelancer.

Tuesday, Pinkston was in Jackson to shoot a feature story on Clarion-Ledger reporter Jerry Mitchell. Mitchell’s work on civil rights cold cases has been credited with renewing interest and ultimately bringing justice for the families of Evers and Vernon Dahmer, who were some of the movement’s most high-profile martyrs.

The piece is among some of the last he will do for Al Jazeera.

On Jan. 13, the cable startup announced the network would be phased out by April 30.

When asked about his next step, Pinkston seems at ease.

Then again, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

This is the man who went from a newspaper carrier for The Jackson Daily News, whose “Covering the Crossroads” editorials by James ‘Jimmy’ Ward contained vitriolic statements about African Americans in the state, to delivering the news on air to many of the same residents who had undoubtedly been exposed to the pro-segregationist’s propaganda.

When one thinks of the evolution of the media landscape over the past thirty years, such as the advent of non-linear editing and the transition from print to digital it becomes apparent that Pinkston had to embrace change to survive.

Now’s he’s taken a role instructing the next generation, having taught several media performance courses at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism.

And although Pinkston hasn’t applied for other on-air jobs, don’t count on his final sign-off just yet.

“If someone came along and said, ‘Do you want to do this?’ I’d probably say yes.” ”Do you have a job lined up?” he laughed.

___

Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com

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