Conversations around race and racial justice

Darnella Frazier, Star Tribune win Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of George Floyd's killing

Minnesota novelist Louis Erdrich was also honored, for her book 'The Night Watchman'

A protester carries a U.S. flag upside down next to a burning building
A protester carries a U.S. flag upside down, a sign of distress, next to a burning building on May 28 in Minneapolis. The Pulitzer Prizes awarded a special citation to Darnella Frazier, the teen who filmed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, along with the Star Tribune for breaking news coverage and the Associated Press in photography.
Julio Cortez | AP file

Updated: 6:25 p.m.

The Pulitzer Prizes awarded a special citation to Darnella Frazier, the teen who filmed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.

The Star Tribune also won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for its coverage of the May 25, 2020, killing of George Floyd and the resulting civil unrest that tore through the city.

Floyd, a Black man, died as he was being pinned to the ground by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

Frazier’s video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds sparked a wave of protests, first in the Twin Cities and then nationwide.

The Pulitzer board said they were awarding her the special citation “for courageously recording the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists' quest for truth and justice.”

Los Angeles Times executive editor Kevin Merida, a member of the Pulitzers board, later tweeted that Frazier’s special citation was “perhaps the most meaningful thing we did as a Pulitzer Board."

Frazier was 17 when she recorded the video of Floyd’s death.

She later testified at the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s killing.

"When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, my brothers, my cousins, my uncles because they are all Black ... I look at how that could have been one of them. It's been nights, I stayed up apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more," Frazier said in her court testimony. She was one of four young witnesses, including her 9-year-old cousin, to testify in the trial.

Star Tribune journalists covered Floyd’s death and the rage that followed in Minneapolis, where protesters burned buildings including a police station. The Pulitzer board called the coverage “urgent, authoritative and nuanced.”

The Pulitzer Prizes in journalism were first awarded in 1917 and are considered the field’s most prestigious honor in the United States. The awards were announced Friday during a remote ceremony that honored the best work in journalism and the arts in 2020, a year upended by the coronavirus pandemic, the racial reckoning after the police killing of George Floyd and the U.S. presidential election.

Prizes highlight coverage of Floyd’s killing, COVID-19

Coverage of the global coronavirus pandemic and racial injustice protests in the U.S. dominated this year’s Pulitzer Prizes.

In addition to the prizes awarded to Frazier and the Star Tribune, the Associated Press won two Pulitzer Prizes in photography Friday for its coverage of the racial injustice protests and the coronavirus’s toll on older people, while The New York Times won the public service award for its in-depth, but accessible reporting on the pandemic.

The honors were among a series awarded for coverage of the pandemic and protests in 2020.

The AP and The New York Times each won two prizes.

The feature photography prize went to AP’s chief photographer in Spain, Emilio Morenatti, who captured haunting images of an older couple embracing through a plastic sheet, mortuary workers in hazmat gear removing bodies and of people enduring the crisis in isolation.

The breaking news prize for protest coverage was shared by 10 AP photographers. One widely reproduced photograph by Julio Cortez on the night of May 28 in riot-torn Minneapolis shows a lone, silhouetted protester running with an upside-down American flag past a burning liquor store.

“It is a tremendous honor to win not only one, but two Pulitzer Prizes for photography, and a true testament to the talent and dedication of AP photojournalists,” said AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt. “These photographers told the stories of the year through remarkable and unforgettable images that resonated around the world.”

The New York Times won its public service prize for pandemic coverage the judges said was “courageous, prescient and sweeping coverage” and “filled the data vacuum” for the general public. Wesley Morris of the Times won for criticism touching on the intersection of race and culture.

The Boston Globe received the investigative reporting Pulitzer for a series demonstrating how poor government oversight imperils road safety. The series detailed how the United States lacks an effective national system to keep track of drivers who commit serious offenses in another state. It also reported how the increasingly deadly trucking industry operates with minimal federal government oversight.

The prize for explanatory reporting was shared by two recipients, including Reuters. Ed Yong of The Atlantic won for a series of deeply reported and accessible articles about the pandemic.

Erdrich wins for fiction

The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich
The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich
Beth Novey | NPR

One of the country’s most esteemed novelists, Louise Erdrich, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her book, “The Night Watchman.”

The Pulitzer board called the Minnesota writer’s book “a majestic, polyphonic novel about a community’s efforts to halt the proposed displacement and elimination of several Native American tribes in the 1950s, rendered with dexterity and imagination.”

MPR News’ Kerri Miller wrote of the book last year: “Louise Erdrich succumbed to a nasty bug and took to her bed for a time. She slept, she daydreamed and she finally rose with a conviction that her next novel could be found in letters that her grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, had written in a particularly tumultuous period of his life.”

Louise Erdrich
Louise Erdrich at her store Birchbark Books in Minneapolis.
Dawn Villella | AP file

“The Night Watchman” is a fictional story constructed around the real-life 1950s history of the attempt by the U.S. government to “terminate” the rights of Native Americans to their lands, assets and their sovereignty.

Erdrich’s grandfather was the chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Advisory Committee, even as he held down a job as a night watchman at a local manufacturing plant. Unpersuaded that this was the “emancipation” for Native Americans that members of Congress claimed it was, he quickly saw the federal resolution for what it was: a move to strip Native people of their remaining independence.

In the novel, we sit with Thomas Wazhushk through his solitary hours as he guards the plant and strategizes about how to fend off the termination. We meet his daughter Patrice, or “Pixie,” as she embarks on a dangerous quest to find her sister. And we travel with the next generation — Wood Mountain, a young boxer, Patrice’s dear friend, Valentine and the book-smart Millie, who is brought into the tight circle of the family.

More than 100 tribes lost land to the termination policy, although 78 would regain it. Erdrich confides in the novel’s afterword, “Much of this book was written in a state of heavy emotion, as I remembered the grief my grandmother and mother’s siblings suffered as the continued political fights took their toll and my grandfather’s health began to suffer.”

Other winners for books include the late Les Payne and daughter Tamara Payne for their Malcolm X biography “The Dead Are Arising.”

NPR wins audio award

A team of journalists from NPR was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for audio reporting, for their investigative series about “No Compromise” gun rights activists.

The Pulitzer board said the work “illuminated the profound differences and deepening schism between American conservatives.”