Opponents of the Byhalia Connection Pipeline celebrate at Alonzo Weaver Park in Southwest Memphis after the developer announced the project’s cancellation July 2. Photo by Lucy Garrett for MLK50

MLK50: Justice through Journalism reporter Carrington J. Tatum is the winner of a first place National Headliner Award for his coverage of Southwest Memphis residents’ fight against the Byhalia Connection Pipeline

Carrington J. Tatum, MLK50 staff reporter and Report for America fellow. Photo by Wiley Brown.

The national award, given by the Press Club of Atlantic City, is one of the oldest and largest annual contests in journalism; this marks its 88th year honoring  the best journalism published in a calendar year.

Tatum was recognized in the online beat category, for a selection of the stories he wrote on the pipeline battle. This is the second national award for this work: In October 2021, MLK50 won the Breaking Barriers Award from the Institute for Nonprofit News for Tatum’s  stories.   

“I’m honored to have my work recognized,” Tatum said. “ But I’m even more honored that it was for work that created impact in service to the community. That will always be the highest journalistic honor for me.”

A 2020 graduate of Texas State University, Tatum joined MLK50 as a Report for America corps member in the fall of 2020. He quickly carved out an environmental justice beat, and has covered criminal justice issues. 

He wrote just shy of 40 stories that followed the community’s efforts to fight Plains All American Pipeline’s and Valero Energy Corporation’s plans to build the Byhalia Connection Pipeline through majority Black Southwest Memphis against the wishes of residents. The residents and their supporters saw the project as environmental racism and a threat to the city’s water supply. In July, after months of demonstrations and protests led by community residents, including Memphis Community Against the Pipeline, the developers canceled the project

Tatum was the first to report on the Plains’ use of eminent domain in Memphis to force access to land that owners would sell to them. 

In its announcement, the Headliners judges said this about Tatum’s work: “It’s rare enough to win against an eminent domain challenge; it’s even harder for people of color. So when Southwest Memphis residents were able to get the Byhalia Connection Pipeline shut down, it was a major victory. This victory may not have been possible without the dogged stories written by Carrington J. Tatum that gave Black residents the fortitude to fight. The issue got so big that even former Vice President Al Gore weighed in on the controversy.”

“Reporting that makes a measurable, tangible difference in the lives of vulnerable Memphians is our reason for being and Carrington’s work did that brilliantly,” said Wendi C. Thomas, MLK50’s publisher and founding editor. “That he did this work as a rookie reporter speaks to his ability to expose how policy and power conspire to the detriment of low-wealth Black residents. I could not be more proud of him.” 

The announcement of the Headliners award follows another notable moment for MLK50. On April 18, housing and development reporter Jacob Steimer was named a finalist for the 2022 Diamond Journalism Awards, a regional competition hosted by the Arkansas Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Winners will be announced in June.