Observer reporter wrote about KKK

Dwayne Walls, an author and former Charlotte Observer reporter whose investigations into voting fraud, poverty and the Ku Klux Klan won him many prizes in the 1960s, died Thursday at a Veterans Administration nursing home in Walterboro, S.C. He was 76 and had battled Alzheimer's disease.

Walls was born in Morganton. He graduated from the UNC Chapel Hill, which he attended on the G.I. Bill. He was in Korea with the Air Force during the Korean War and entered college after the war ended.

Walls joined the Observer in 1961. He teamed with fellow reporter James Batten, who went on to become the Observer's executive editor and chairman of former parent company Knight-Ridder Inc., for investigations of the resurgent KKK, cigarette smuggling and rural poverty. He was a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.

“He would just get his teeth into something and just kind of shake it until he got something out of it,” said M.S. Van Hecke, who was state editor at the Observer at the time.

Walls became interested in a pattern of migration of young, promising black people from the South to opportunities in the North. He left the Observer to write his 1970 book, “The Chickenbone Special” – the nickname for a northbound train because so many Southerners who boarded carried a suitcase in one hand and a fried chicken lunch in the other.

A memorial service will be scheduled in Chapel Hill.