The prestigious national prize honors "outstanding achievement in newspaper writing in the fight against racial and religious intolerance and discrimination."
Lyons, 31, received the award for a pair of Observer cover stories: "Bred into hatred," an investigation of the death of Craig Thomas, a 29-year-old black man who died in the custody of Corsicana police after being hog-tied and beaten unconscious by white officers there; and "The trashing of Ferris, Texas," which chronicled how a tiny, impoverished black community came to be dominated by a trash-disposal company and its giant dump. Lyons' story revealed that the FBI was investigating possible corruption in the successful campaign by Waste Management Inc. to win permission to expand the dump in Ferris.
"In two epic stories, Julie Lyons showed that bigotry lives on in this country in ways that are both achingly familiar and haunting," Columbia journalism professor Craig Wolff, a member of the Tobenkin selection committee, said in a statement. "Elevated by vivid writing and detail, the stories paint a disturbing portrait of a time that seems well in the past, but is not."
Lyons received the prize Tuesday at a ceremony in New York.
The Tobenkin judges also gave a special citation to Margaret A. Jacobs of The Wall Street Journal.
The awards are given to work that reflects "the spirit of Mr. Tobenkin," a reporter for 25 years with The New York Herald Tribune.