ST. PETERSBURG — In April 1989, the St. Petersburg Times published a searing inside look at a Jordan Park neighborhood nearly ruined by crack cocaine.
"The Twilight Zone: Life in Crack's Grip," a three-day series, introduced readers to life-and-death struggles going on right under their noses, a world of cheap guns and cheaper sex most readers had not seen so starkly.
In the second installment, writer Elijah Gosier told readers what it was like to watch a young man fatally shot a few yards from the car Mr. Gosier was driving.
He wasn't just near the shooting at 22nd Street and Ninth Avenue S — he was in the line of fire. "The Twilight Zone" took readers uncomfortably close to the bullets, and concluded with the disturbing account of a jailed crack addict about the cycle of addiction, the drug trade and its effect on the young.
Mr. Gosier, who followed that debut with 12 years as a columnist for the Times, died Tuesday in the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville, of lung cancer. He was 63.
"Before I came to the Times in 1994 as a columnist and editorial writer, I read his column religiously," said Bill Maxwell, who retired from the paper in 2009 but who still writes a Sunday column. "He was one of the reasons I decided to come to the Times."
In hundreds of columns, Mr. Gosier stayed unflinchingly close to the downtrodden. He championed a woman struggling to fix code violations before she lost her house. The man who raised two boys worried about other single parents. In the run up to professional baseball, he peered behind the curtain of a cleaned-up Dome district to interview the people living there.
"Elijah was an extraordinary writer," said Goliath Davis, who has served as St. Petersburg's police chief, deputy mayor and a senior administrator. "He was very effective in making sure he portrayed injustice as it was where he found it, and he wrote about it in a very convincing and moving way."
In a 1994 interview, Mr. Gosier described himself as "not a 'black columnist,' but a "columnist who's black.' "
"About a third of the columns I write focus on racial issues," he said, "but that's because race is still a factor in this country."
His first appearance on earth was a grand entrance. Mr. Gosier was delivered on a set of railroad tracks in rural Brooks County, Ga., in 1949.
He turned down a full scholarship to Harvard University to attend Morehouse College, then Morris Brown College and Valdosta State University, his family said.
In 1970, he married a woman with a psychiatric disorder who killed the couple's infant son, said Elijah Gosier II, Mr. Gosier's son. Mr. Gosier divorced his wife but never remarried.
He served in the Army for 12 years and worked his way up to bureau chief in Stuttgart, Germany, for Stars and Stripes, the newspaper for the U.S. military.
He wrote for the Times from 1989 until 1998, when he left to work on a book and co-open a bar.
He was a nationally rated competitor at both pool and chess, and was respected for his skill and poise. "He had an understanding of the game, and he was very patient," said Lander "Pops" Clements, 86, who played pool with Mr. Gosier in a league.
Mr. Gosier returned to the Times in 2000 and retired in 2003. He moved to Quitman, Ga., a few years ago. An autobiographical novel has attracted the interest of a publisher, his son said.
Gosier II said his father was "really into nonstandard thinking."
"He always said, 'If you do everything like everybody else, you shouldn't expect different results. You really have to do something great.' "
In recent months, Mr. Gosier also penned his own obituary, noting his past associations in causes alongside Jesse Jackson, historian John Hope Franklin and civil-rights activist the Rev. Joseph Lowery.
Despite that company, Mr. Gosier wrote, "Elijah enjoyed most being able to give a voice to the people who otherwise would not be heard, those people often mistakenly called ordinary."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.