W. Horace Carter died this month. Carter was a newspaper editor and publisher who, during the 1950s, challenged the Ku Klux Klan in his small North Carolina town. Filmmaker Walt Campbell, is making a documentary about Carter. He says Carter ignored death threats and always insisted he was just doing his job.
Artist: Prefuse 73
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The newspaper biz lost one of its greats last week, W. Horace Carter, longtime editor and publisher of the small-town North Carolina Tabor City Tribune. In 1953, Carter won a Pulitzer Prize for stories and editorials he'd written about the Ku Klux Klan, then terrorizing the area. His meticulous reporting on local Klan wrongdoing eventually drew the FBI to the region and culminated in federal and state prosecutions of several dozen Klansmen. The Pulitzer Committee wrote that Carter’s work, along with that of Willard Cole, another local publisher, frustrated the Klan’s expansion efforts in the Carolinas. Walt Campbell is in the process of making a documentary about Carter’s life, and he describes what Carter brought about himself for standing up to the Klan.
WALT CAMPBELL: They would call up and say, well we're going to come and get you and your family tonight. We're going to attack your home. There were people who would park out in front of their home and shine the lights inside of their living room and just sit there for hours at a time. There were times when his dogs were kidnapped and killed.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Carter even faced resistance from his own family and friends. Here’s Carter in his own words:
W. HORACE CARTER: Some of the best friends I had in the world said, you’re going to get in a lot of trouble if you keep on writin’ this stuff. Don't you know that they did the South a favor after the Civil War, and you hadn't ought to be riding these people. They're trying to make this a better place to live.
WALT CAMPBELL: The prevailing opinion in textbooks and other things was that the Klan had done the South a favor, following the Civil War, by coming out and routing out the carpetbaggers and the scalawags. And his father shared many of these same assumptions about the Klan and, for the most part, the surrounding population of the entire South felt that way about the Klan.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Carter started reporting on the Klan after they paraded through Tabor City in 1950. Can you describe that scene and how it played out?
WALT CAMPBELL: It was a Saturday night. Mr. Carter had been warned, if you will, that something was going to happen that night and that he should be downtown about dark. Well, he heard a siren about 6 or 7 o'clock at night and he went out, and he saw a line of cars coming through the center of Tabor City. The Klansmen had on their robes and hoods. Tabor City was a center for the surrounding community of farmers, and they would come in on Saturday night, so that was a good time for the Klan to catch them there. They had a little money in their pockets. They might want to take out a membership in the Klan. And they quickly paraded through town, threw out some literature on the sidewalk and went through the black area of town, known as the Bottom. Horace Carter saw that, and the next day he sat down and drafted an editorial which came out in the next Wednesday’s newspaper.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Can you read a salient line or two from that editorial?
WALT CAMPBELL: Sure. “The Klan, despite its Americanism plea, is the personification of fascism and Nazism. It is just such outside-the-law operations that lead to dictatorships through fear and insecurity.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What was his reaction to winning the Pulitzer?
WALT CAMPBELL: He was happy, of course. But I still think he felt of himself as having not done anything another newspaper editor wouldn't do. There was much made of it around the country and much made of him and his stance, and he handled it like the working class Southern boy that he was.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Walt, thank you very much.
WALT CAMPBELL: Well, thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Walter Campbell is a scholar, author and independent filmmaker. W. Horace Carter, publisher and editor of The Tabor City Tribute, died September 16th at the age of 88, not far from Tabor City, North Carolina.
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W. HORACE CARTER: I just believe, as I have told many people, that I did what any weekly newspaper would do. If he was a Christian and he was trying to do the right thing and trying to raise a family in this community, I believe anybody would have done the same thing I did.