Mary Berner takes helm at Reader’s Digest

Dear Editors:


I am happy to see Ms. Berner take the helm of this important icon in American publishing history. This is indeed a brand worth saving because it has meant a great deal to Americans of all colors and from all walks of life. In many homes during the ‘50s, ‘60s & ‘70s it was as familiar as the King James Version of the Bible.


As a young Black boy growing up in the delta of  Mississippi (Ruleville) it was “Reader’s Digest”  “Boys Life”, “Look” “Ebony” and “Jet” that fed my interest and imagination and made me want to be a writer. It was particularly the coverage of the story of the investigation of the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby (who can forget JFC?) that intrigued me.


Later as an 18 year old sophomore at Tougaloo College in 1968 I won the 1968 Reader’s Digest/UNCF 1st Place Award in Poetry, and was invited to New York where I enjoyed 1st class treatment at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and was invited to lunch at the Reader’s Digest compound in Pleasantville, NY with Mrs. Lila Wallace and her immediate staff on or about May 12th 1968. I remember during lunch she received a call from Rudolph Bing at the Met who apparently was seeking some assistance and without breaking stride in the conversation she said to her assistant just “give him what he needs.”


The visit to Pleasantville was a bitter sweet experience for me having been notified of winning the award just prior to an April 4th, 1968 concert at Carnegie Hall with Duke Ellington (who had just completed his first book of poetry and was eager to pick my young brain). That night while on stage with the Tougaloo Concert Choir, and Duke and his orchestra we learned Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated.


Via her staff Mrs. Wallace kept in touch with me throughout my college career and encouraged me to continue my writing. If Ms. Berner can find the remnants of that spirit lurking in the walls and timber of the Pleasantville, campus she will do just fine.


John Milton Wesley



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