Portrait of Vernon Merritt. (Photo by Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Portrait of Vernon Merritt. (Photo by Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

“He was the epitome of a Southern gentleman,” said Bill Eppridge of Vernon Merritt (1940-2000). This apparently included having the courage to stand up to other Southerners. As just one example, when integration was ordered in Tuskegee, in his home state of Alabama, black students were bused to another town. Merritt got on one of the buses, and “when we got there, Sheriff Jim Clark came onboard. I had a couple of Nikons around my neck, and he snatched them off and whacked me with a cattle prod. I was shocked a few times and hit a couple of times and then thrown out on the street. I wound up in jail.” In Vietnam, he was shot by a sniper and paralyzed for months. Co Rentmeester was in Vietnam with him: “He was soft-spoken, but he was also a major daredevil. He was somewhat of a risk taker, which in the world of journalism and photography makes you successful.”

Adapted from The Great LIFE Photographers

Photographer Vernon Merritt at work on an Apache Indian reservation. (Photo by Vernon Merritt/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Photographer Vernon Merritt at work on an Apache Indian reservation. (Photo by Vernon Merritt/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Model walking on the street in "New York" fashion. (Photo by Vernon Merritt/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Model walking on the street in “New York” fashion. (Photo by Vernon Merritt/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

More Like This

President Franklin D. Roosevelt listening to speeches. (Photo by Thomas McAvoy/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Thomas McAvoy

Photographer

Anthony Linck

Tarsiers,an animal native to Indonesia and Philippines, eating a lizard alive. (Photo by Sam Shere/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Sam Shere

American soldiers of 7th Marines landing on the beaches of Cape Batangan during the Vietnam War. (Photo by Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Paul Schutzer

A pilot looking out the window of a plane. (Photo by Bill Ray/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Bill Ray

Inside a cell at the notorious Breendonk Nazi prison camp, a former Flemish SS guard is imprisoned after overthrow of German forces. (Photo by George Rodger/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

George Rodger