The Forum | Western Civilization

In Memoriam: James T. Neal, 1921–2016

October 5, 2016 by Michael B. Poliakoff

At a time when freedom of the press has been challenged by a disquietingly large number of college students, ACTA pays tribute to the memory of a principled and unwavering defender of this core freedom.

James T. Neal died at the age of 95 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was born on January 5, 1921, and raised primarily in Noblesville, Indiana, where he had a distinguished career in journalism as owner, publisher, and editor of the Noblesville Daily Ledger. He was the third generation of Neals to lead the paper.

Perhaps his most remarkable moment in journalism came in the mid-1960s, when Mr. Neal gained national coverage for defending freedom of the press. In 1965, a local judge had Mr. Neal arrested for writing “a disdainful, despicable, scurrilous and contemptuous article about this court” in his daily column, “County Line.” Rather than back down from his criticism of the judge for his manner of clamping down on traffic violators, Mr. Neal stood firm for three years, until the charges against him were finally dismissed by the Indiana Supreme Court. As the Ledger intoned, “Freedom of the press is not a freedom for newspapers or other news media such as radio and television but for the people themselves.”

James T. Neal is survived by his wife of 63 years, Georgianne Davis Neal, and two daughters, one of whom is ACTA cofounder Anne Neal, whose career in higher education policy carried on the family tradition of defending the First Amendment. His granddaughter, Alexandra Petri, penned a tribute in his memory that describes in detail his “steady dedication to doing what was right.” ACTA extends its deepest sympathy to his family and honors his legacy of civic virtue.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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