Editor’s Note: Jimmy Robertson, a native of Greenville, has written a new book entitled Rowdy Boundaries: True Mississippi Tales from Natchez to Noxubee (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2023). The book will be available on November 14, 2023. CABA has the exclusive privilege of publishing the following excerpt.
Article byPosted Featured AuthorSeptember 2023
Hammond, Louisiana, is not exactly on any facet of the Mississippi state line. But if you start on the right point on Hancock County’s western line and proceed toward that part of the sky where the sun sets, it doesn’t take much skill to hit Hammond, thence ninety-odd degrees northerly, after which you can’t miss Amite County, Mississippi. About 1935, some good Greenvillians mentioned above made a sojourn to Hammond and enticed a bold and sometimes trouble-making young newspaper editor into moving upriver to Greenville and Washington County.
To add sauce and spice to the moment, it is widely understood and well believed that, when “Kingfish” Huey P. Long was gunned down in the Louisiana state capitol in Baton Rouge in September 1935, Betty Werlein 1 Carter 2 (1910–2000) and her husband, Hodding II (1907–72), happened to be in separate southeastern Louisiana locales. And, upon hearing the assassination news, Betty’s first words — uttered in a matter of moments and in her inimitable and oh so dry, direct and non-melodic manner — were “Where’s Hodding?!?” 3
There was little room for doubt among many, if not most, responsible citizens that the Kingfish “needed killing.” That much was understood, in southern Mississippi, at least. After all, we had our Governor Theodore Bilbo, 4 a more crude and just plain mean iteration of the more colorful Kingfish. But Hodding’s Daily Courier had taken so many editorial shots at Huey Long that Betty, and no doubt many others, could easily have imagined that Hodding had done what many thought needed doing. Except, of course, who or what would Hodding have had left to editorialize against and about, if he got rid of the Kingfish?
More formally, Will Percy and local author David Cohn 5 wasted little time in extending an invitation to the Carters that they move northerly, and set up camp in Greenville, where Main Street still meets the foot of the levee. In short order, Hodding began daily publication in the area, given the inadequacies of the rather placid Delta Star6, then the only would-be newspaper in town. Terms were quickly agreed upon and, as they say, the rest is history.
By 1952, Hodding Carter II had won a Pulitzer Prize arising out of his journalistic warfare with Bilbo 7, and for calling the U. S. Government to account for its outrageous treatment of Japanese Americans. And 1952 was also the year when Carter published his memoir then to date, via Where Main Street Meets the River. People in those environs well knew that the busy southeast quadrant of Main Street and Walnut Street was host to the offices of The Delta Democrat-Times, with Lake Ferguson, formerly The River, just westerly, a hop, skip and a jump over and across the levee, ever so essential to the wherewithal of that once wonderful community.
And May 17, 1954, arrived soon enough. Hodding Carter II and the DDT went to war with the Sunflower County-based, all-white-male Citizens Councils, and those white men based beyond, who would fight so fiercely and at times so viciously, to secure and defend racial segregation in the state’s free public schools. 8
Curtis Wilkie, author, journalist and retired professor at the University of Mississippi, has preserved a Hodding Carter classic from that era. When Carter defended the SCOTUS Brown public school desegregation decision, the racially all-white Mississippi House of Representatives voted 89–19 to censure him for his action. Carter quickly fired back, “I hereby resolve by a vote of 1 to 0 that there are 89 liars in the state legislature!” 9
In time, family tragedy and substantial health difficulties besot Carter. Youngest son Tommy Carter, still a teenager, died in a gun accident. Toward the end, Hodding II’s health and related woes prompted Curtis Wilkie’s appropriate and poignant comparison of Carter’s latter years to Shakespeare’s King Lear. 10
Eldest son, Hodding III (often simply “Three”), born in 1935, once saw his father as a “Disraeli conservative,” “an internationalist in a parochial setting.” As he turned over more of the responsibility for running the DDT to his eldest son, “Big,” as Hodding II was often referred to, and with affection, was seen in Greenville less and less. Not infrequently, he would be big game hunting in South Africa. Admirers back in the Mississippi Delta were known to observe that on those occasions, “at least the game he sought on those hunts were worthy adversaries, often majestic, who had a fighting chance.” “Big” has been enshrined in the Mississippi Hall of Fame. 11
For a time, Hodding III had been his father’s certain successor at the helm of the presses that ran where Main Street meets The River. As a young teenager, Hodding III had left the prestigious northeastern prep school, Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and returned home and to Greenville High School, where he served as head cheerleader for the Greenville Hornets football team. Hodding III wanted to learn about — and get to know better — the people, and particularly his near contemporaries, in the town whose newspaper he would manage and edit in the years ahead.
For many months, the plan seemed on track. A never-ending stream of eager and promising and productive young would-be journalists came to Greenville, made a mark or two, and moved on and up. The Carter touches were all over the facility that in time had been built on North Broadway, after the corner of Main Street and Walnut became too crowded and cramped.
But then, just past midnight on a dark night in June 1963, about 110 miles away, danger lurked. Shrouded and well hidden within the shrubbery near a home on Guynes Street in northwestern Jackson 12, a cruel white bigot named Byron De La Beckwith 13 (1920–2001) lay in wait until he was able to ambush and murder Medgar Evers, tired from a long day of public service endeavors, as he approached the front door of his home.
In short order, Beckwith was arrested, upon the occasion of which the then still Hederman-controlled 14 Jackson Clarion-Ledger ran a large, front-page headline,
“Three” loved it! At the time, Beckwith was making his home in Greenwood, Mississippi, his parents having left California when he was five years old. That journalistically irresponsible and bogus Clarion-Ledger front page was framed and mounted in Hodding III’s office. It remained there, in time fading, long after President Jimmy Carter’s State Department lured “Three” to Washington, D. C.
Hodding Carter III has had a distinguished public career through the years. 15 Most recently, he served as president of the Knight Foundation, a non-profit enterprise dedicated to modernizing and advancing journalism, followed by service as a professor of leadership and public policy at the University of North Carolina. [Hodding Carter III died May 11, 2023.]