September 27, 2020

Kurt Luedtke, Newspaperman Turned Screenwriter, Dies at 80

Mr. Luedtke then enrolled in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, but a summer internship at The Miami Herald turned into a full-time job, and he did not return to his studies. He married Eleanor Kruglinski, a fellow Herald reporter, in 1965, the same year they moved to Detroit, he to join The Free Press. She went into public relations and later became a vice president of the University of Detroit. She is his only immediate survivor.

At The Free Press, Mr. Luedtke became the first writer of Action Line, a column that cut through red tape and helped solve readers’ problems. It ran on the front page for 14 years and was copied throughout the newspaper industry.

By 1967, he had been named assistant city editor. That summer, Detroit exploded in one of the most destructive periods of civil unrest in the nation’s history. Five days of violence, fueled by deep frustration with racism, unemployment and police brutality, left 43 people dead, most of them African-American. More than 1,300 buildings were burned, and the National Guard and Army were called in.

Mr. Luedtke joined his reporters on the streets, dodging bullets and bayonets. After the riots, he assembled notes from other reporters, who had conducted more than 300 interviews, and wrote a hard-hitting article that concluded that few of the 43 who died had been rioters and that their deaths had mostly been avoidable. The article was part of a Free Press package that won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for spot news reporting.

He also wrote about how, during the rioting, the police had stormed the Algiers Hotel and killed three young Black men who were staying there. That infamous episode became the subject of a book, “The Algiers Motel Incident” (1968), by John Hersey, author of “Hiroshima” (1946), and of a critically acclaimed movie, “Detroit” (2017), directed by Kathryn Bigelow.

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