[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Ritchie: Well, Betty, I wanted to backtrack just a bit this morning and talk about Hodding's political career in Louisiana.
Carter: Oh, that was hot stuff. Well, you see, they felt that they had to have somebody run for the legislature, an anti-Long, and so he ran. He really loved it, running. In those days they went out with sound trucks and they'd go through the town and announce that, either Long was coming or we'd hired our truck and the loudspeaker blares out that "Hodding Carter will be at the crossroads or at the drugstore or whatever it is at 6:00 p.m." Everyone turns out and you have little handbills, six by nine, pink/yellow dodgers that you hand out.
He went and he made the talks. He kept going back to Kentwood and I said, "Why do you keep going back to Kentwood?" He said, "It's 'cause they like me up there." It's ridiculous. Of course they did. They were an anti-Long community.
He went out to Pumpkin Center and he got there and he made his talk, and there were, I think, three or five people standing there. After he'd made his pitch this man came up to him, he had been standing there with his wife like Grant Wood types, and he said, "Now, son," he said, "I don't agree with a word you're saying but I'm going to come and vote for you because you had the courage to come out here." So he recognized his courage, and Hodding did get two votes in the town. It was a man and his wife, so that was nice.
But he was badly eliminated in the primary—they had an election but the primary was it. So he was badly eliminated in that. And it was the beginning of—it was a big fight between Mr. Roosevelt and Huey Long. So Hodding was given all these work forms and you'd give that little slip to somebody and then they could go work in the mattress factory that the federal government had, the WPA or maybe it was the PWA, remember, the names changed in there. The mattress factory—you brought your old mattress and they took out all of your ticking, all of your insides, and cleaned it and put it in fresh ticking. That was a job that the government could give that didn't require materials, except for the ticking, I guess.
So, you were supposed to say to the man who you gave the little work form to that you expected him to vote for you. But Hodding couldn't do it. He said, "That poor devil, I know he's a Long man," but he couldn't do it, he'd just give him the slip, anyway. So I don't think Hodding was any asset to Mr. Roosevelt, either, although we were for Mr. Roosevelt. But he couldn't do it. He wasn't a politician.
Ritchie: Did he ever consider politics here in Mississippi?
Carter: No, oh, no. No, no, no, no. And Mississippi is so conservative, how could he have done it?
Of course, young Hodding came and broke all of that. He was very, very influential in getting the Democratic party in the state of Mississippi changed so it would be the Democratic party of the national party. And that was good. We worked all along for a two-party system, we thought that would help to be one of the ways that the state could change and go ahead, because nobody had to pay any attention to Mississippi. The Democrats because they had it, and the Republicans because they couldn't get it. That was why when Mr. [Jimmy] Carter came to Greenville it was the first time a presidential candidate had ever come to Greenville looking for the nomination. He didn't come as a candidate, he came looking. But it paid off and we knew it would pay off for Mississippi. But no, Hodding didn't run for anything.
Ritchie: Did you support candidates?
Carter: Yes, but we would only do it in the election, not in the primary. They had, the Democratic party—who did it? The state cut the legislature—how did that work? There was something there that said that you had to promise to support—if you were going to vote in the Democratic primary—and you had to vote in the Democratic primary because that was where the decisions were made. If you voted in the Democratic primary, you had to swear to support the candidate when he got to the election. Now, is that correct?
Hodding said nobody was going to tell him who he was going to support when he went into a booth and voted quietly and privately, as guaranteed by the Constitution. He went with his lawyer, and everybody knew that he wasn't going to vote for the candidates when it got to be the presidential or—presidential, I guess—that he was going to vote for who he was going to vote for. And he said, "Now I'm going to vote," and he said, "I'm going to vote for whoever I please—vote for in the election. And here's my lawyer to take down everything you say," and they let him vote.
I'm confused on exactly how that was. But that was the whole theory there. You see, and we did not vote for Mr. Roosevelt in the third and fourth election because Hodding said even if it was wartime he felt it was dangerous for the commander-in-chief to be reelected for a third term. So we didn't vote for him. And it seems to me we voted for [Wendell] Willkie and then for [Thomas E.] Dewey, God help us. But we did. I rather liked Willkie. I thought he had good ideas and he believed in one world, which I believed in.
Ritchie: Well, so the paper, Hodding would support candidates after the primary.
Carter: That's correct. That's correct. And always against [Theodore G.] Bilbo, from the beginning of the first moment, he'd be against Bilbo, and that was a hot, ridiculous campaign with both Bilbo and Hodding—Bilbo from the stand and Hodding from the editorials, just calling each other every name they call each other. And I don't remember whether the county went for Bilbo or not.
About then comes [Dwight D.] Eisenhower and unfortunately, we had been at the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention and Hodding had made an early commitment to help. Now, Hodding was having lunch with Senator—he was a Bowdoin man who was the senator from Illinois [Paul Douglas]. And Hodding had a long-standing luncheon date with him. So right after General [Douglas] MacArthur made his speech in the Congress, Hodding went to lunch at the Senate Office Building and this old friend of his said, "Now the only man who can save America and bring everybody together is Eisenhower."
And Hodding having been moved by the horror of MacArthur's arrival on the white horse, practically, decided that was true. So he went to the telephone, immediately left the table in the Senate Dining Room, and dictated an editorial which because of the hour difference we were able to get into the paper that day, coming out for Eisenhower. Having done that, along comes our good friend Adlai [Stevenson] but we couldn't vote for him because we'd already committed to Eisenhower. We were sad over that.
And we carried the congressional district for Eisenhower. But our congressman, Frank Smith, didn't want to say that we had carried it for Eisenhower because he needed the support of the Democratic party. So he juggled some figures that somehow proved that per district we had gone Democratic. We didn't, we went Republican.
So, I guess that was a political victory in part for Hodding but we didn't really like it in many ways. It's funny how you get what you pray for but it ain't always what you want. [Laughter.]
And let me tell you about that election. There was a girl that we had had out to lunch, her husband was at the air base. We'd had the Stehlis to lunch, and she was having a baby. So I knew she was in King's Daughters Hospital four blocks from the courthouse which was her voting precinct. And she was in labor and
we needed every vote. They said no, they couldn't bring the books to her but could she come to the courthouse. And I said, "Well, look, if I phone you and say she's on her way, can you march her right through?" So I said, "All right, now, how fast are your pains?" And she said, "Fifteen minutes, pretty close." And I said, "We're going. So you get ready, the minute this pain is over, we're going." And we went over and she voted. Her daughter became Hodding's—my son Hodding's researcher in Washington, that little baby girl. Isn't that cute?
Ritchie: Oh, my.
Carter: Well, anyway, that's just a little side story.
Ritchie: Well, local elections would have brought in advertising revenue for the paper.
Carter: Oh, well, we did that. We were delighted to get the advertising revenue and did that. Then they passed, the legislature passed a law that said that you couldn't charge more than a certain amount for ads for candidates, political candidates, and John Gibson brought to Hodding's attention that this was a control of the press. We had to not accept political advertising after that. Because the right to control what you pay for an ad is a way of control—and of course, it was those legislators that just didn't want to have to pay the—
Ritchie: Their money.
Carter: Yes. And so that was the end of the political advertising in the Delta Democrat-Times.
Ritchie: So it was no longer accepted.
Carter: Un-un. He was right, it was a philosophical point, there were very few philosophical points that we agreed with John on, but we agreed on that. And of course, I don't know any other paper in the world that agreed with that, it had to only be Mississippi. I don't know if it was every taken to the Supreme Court or not, but everyone accepted the advertising revenue that they were permitted to charge, but we didn't do it.
Ritchie: And that would have allowed the politicians to get more advertising for their money.
Carter: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Ritchie: They could spread their money.
Carter: That's right. So I don't know, it had two sides, I'm sure.
Ritchie: Was the paper ever accused of being controlled by a group or a faction?
Carter: No. If anybody'd said anything like that, they knew Hodding would go up and bip 'em in the chin.
Ritchie: And he did that on occasion?
Carter: Well, I don't know that he ever really did. No. But people knew that he was not just words, he would be action. Now, how they knew that, let me figure.
I don't know. The only bad time was—they were having the fundraiser for the building of the new church and they went up to Cottingham's Lodge up on Lake Washington, and the men all had plenty to drink, that's the way the Episcopal church raises money. The president of one of the banks, Conwell Sykes and Hodding just plain disagreed on every issue. So they disagreed on some issue at the bar at that party and Conwell said something and Hodding hit him. The Episcopal minister was very upset over that and of course
it was the talk of the town by coffee time. It sounded terrible. He came to Hodding and he said, "Now, you all have to make up, you have to be seen publicly shaking hands." So they had to go in front of the post office at about nine or ten o'clock in the morning and publicly shake hands, which they did. Now that I remember. Any other time that he hit anybody, I don't know.
Of course, there'd been the time when he hit Barry when he resigned from the United Press.
Ritchie: That was earlier in his career.
Carter: Oh, much. But I'll tell you one time—this is nothing political. This was when Philip was about ten or eleven and we were out at the big house and we were having dinner. Philip was sitting on the edge of his chair, sort of like he couldn't really sit down, and his father said, "Sit down!" And he said, "Well, why? Why can't you sit down?" He said, "Cause my bottom hurts." "Why does your bottom hurt?" "Well, 'cause Coach licked me."
So his father said, "Come with me." They went to the bathroom and Philip pulled his pants down. The skin on his bottom was broken. That was enough for Hodding. He went to the telephone and telephoned the man and he said, "You get out here as fast as you can get here," and I've never—you've heard about blowing your top, well, I just saw the blood going up to the top of Hodding's head and I thought, "There's death ahead for this man."
Well, he came, he came as fast as he could get there, he got there in half the time I would have thought it possible. And Hodding just told him—I really thought he was going to kill him, but he didn't touch him. And he said, "If you ever touch a child of mine again," et cetera, et cetera. And that was the end of that. But I'll tell you—and I think that's one reason that people didn't actually come to the house if they said they were going to come to kill Hodding Carter. I think they knew that Hodding Carter would be there and wouldn't fool around. I really think that that reputation was what saved us.
Ritchie: That he wasn't afraid.
Carter: Wasn't afraid, wasn't physically afraid. And he was going to back up what he had to say. I don't know, but I think that reputation was very good. And of course, we encouraged it, I'm sure. I don't remember encouraging it but why not?
Ritchie: So it was his character.
Carter: Absolutely. He would—he got very mad, very fast, and when he did, there wasn't much that could hold him in check, you just had to watch it, and say, "Well, now, come on, why don't you relax a little bit here."
Ritchie: Well, at work in the newspaper, would he have gotten mad?
Carter: Never at anybody like that. Hodding was remarkable because he saw people as human beings and he would certainly not want to—what is the expression? —he wouldn't want anyone to lose face and he was conscious of the humanity of each person. So he wouldn't do that.
No, he was easy-tempered, easy-going, and you could do things that you would think he would get furious about but if you did it—I'm making him sound awfully intemperate an awful lot—he wasn't. It was just that if an issue came up that was really something, you could expect him to get very upset over it.
Ritchie: Well, I think that someone lashing your child is something to get upset about.
Carter: Absolutely. Absolutely. But I'm trying to think of the political thing. He wrote one editorial that was marvelous about the legal eagles, the legal eagles that roost in the Weinberg Building. That was one building that had all the lawyers. And that was in the campaign when Frank Smith was running for Congress. A man named Oscar Wolf who was very conservative and he was running for Congress against Smith.
I said we didn't come out for candidates in the primaries but we certainly came out for Frank Smith in the primary. So maybe I have to take that back. Maybe it was in the local elections that we didn't take—that's probably what it was. We certainly fought for Frank Smith all the way down the line. And that editorial about legal eagles—the lawyers hated it because they sort of hated the idea that they were classified in a group, in a roost in the Weinberg Building.
Ritchie: Yesterday we talked a little bit about your involvement in the community with the Junior Auxiliary.
Carter: Oh, it wasn't just that. Within the first five years when we got back, maybe it has to be—well, anyway, I was president of the women of the church, I was president of the Carrie Stern PTA, then I was president of the junior high PTA, eventually the president of the senior high PTA, we moved to the country, I was president of the Trigg PTA, and I was president and organized the PTA Presidents' Council.
They organized something here—well, they had it nationally—called the Altrusa Club, I was organizer and first president of the Altrusa Club. In the meantime, there was the Pilot Club, women, and they got me. So I was a Pilot, I never was president.
When I'd left Greenville for the war, I'd been a member of the Alice Bell Garden Club, which was a very good and very active garden club. But I hadn't been active in it, it was just a nice thing to have been invited to belong to. [I] came back and the Greenville Garden Club, which was the older club, invited me to membership because by then I had been a citizen for two years, with the war intervention, still two years. The Greenville Garden Club asked me to be a member and I thought, "Well, I'll just quietly not pick up my other membership."
But Mrs. Wetherbee announced they had saved my space, so I'm still a member of the Alice Bell Garden Club. And wrote their Arbor Day ceremony when I was supposed to plant Arbor Day trees. Mary Effie Parks and I—she was in charge of getting the trees, I was in charge of setting it up. There was no Arbor Day ceremony, so I wrote the Arbor Day ceremony, and we got a national honorary mention for the Arbor Day ceremony.
But I went on to be president of the Greenville Garden Club. And of course I was president of the Junior Auxiliary. Now all of this is taking place in about six years, maybe five.
Ritchie: When returning from the war?
Carter: Oh, from the war. So it was a period of really emphasizing that we were here. And the whole time working. The worst thing was that Hodding decided—well, we both decided but he decided that we were going to go ahead and build out in the country. Well, I said, "Hodding, have we got time to do it?" Not asking have we got the money to do it. We didn't. But he said, yes, we would find the time. Well, that takes time, to think what you want to do.
Ritchie: To oversee it all.
Carter: Absolutely. So we did that, we actually broke ground. We built the little house, I designed the little house and the builder who built it for us, I think he had a plan, and I said, "How many square feet?" and he said a thousand. And I said, "Well, I just don't like what you've given us at all, it's a terrible plan. You have to go through the master bedroom, everybody has to go through to get to the bathroom, the one bathroom."
And so he said, "Well, we're going to pour the concrete on Monday morning." This was Saturday. I sat down and struggled with it. And he took it and he said, "Yes, that will do." And he won a prize with the floor plan. It was good. And that's that little house you've seen out on the place.
We built that and we moved out there in 1950 and the big house was not finished until '51 because it was about a fifteen months' period and the Korean War was going on, supplies would not be available and we didn't have the money. That's about the time that Hodding began going out as a lecturer. And he decided that if we were going to build the big house, we would also build the south wing which was where the big playroom was. So he would go out on these lecture trips and say he was building the south wing, which he was.
I remember he went out on this big lecture trip. He was going to be at McAllen, Texas, and he'd been gone for about four or five weeks and he said I had to come and meet him, bring the car. So I got in the car and went out to meet him.
The fascinating thing about that trip was that while we were out there I was able to see this little Mexican girl. Right after the war, Greenville had a new secretary of the Chamber of Commerce. Some little girl from McAllen, Texas, wrote a letter to the Chamber of Commerce. She said she was in the fourth grade or the fifth, and that her class, they were all writing to get information about the towns. So she wanted a little brochure or something. And he said, "Wouldn't it be wonderful to bring this child to Greenville, Mississippi, and show her the town and show her the state." Big excitement, they did it by telephone. He phoned and invited the child to come. Nobody knew that she was in a retarded class. But here she was, she wasn't really retarded, probably. She was Mexican-American, the only time she'd ever been out of the state was that she'd gone to Florida for the lettuce picking with her family on the truck. She was oversized for her age, no cute figure or anything, and the school quite marvelously chose to take a teacher, who was not her teacher but who had done work like Girl Scout work, and they asked her to take over this situation and accompany the child.
They came to Greenville and they had arranged for her to go to Jackson and be greeted on the floor of the legislature, which she was. The best thing was when they took her to the local radio station here and asked her what song she would like for them to play, what music, she said "God Bless America." I really thought that was fantastic. Whether she knew ahead of time, whether Faytine Zumwalt coached her, or whether it came spontaneously, it was the perfect answer.
Anyway, on that trip to McAllen I was able to go by and see the child. It was now a year later and she met me, I went to her house with Faytine and she was wearing the faded dress that they—the McAllen Chamber of Commerce—had bought for her. She was wearing that dress but it had been washed so often, all the life was out of it. She'd gotten bigger. The house was a shack and her little brother came out in the Mexican fashion with the little short shrift that came above everything so that if he wet, it wouldn't wet anything. Poor, toothless mother came to welcome us. The wash tub fastened on to the outside of the house. And when we left, the little girl cried.
And I often wondered whether they should have done it or not. I was talking to the superintendent of education here, Mrs. [Norma] O'Bannon, and she said, "Well, at least she's had that." She said, "It is something that she has had." And she said, "I think it was all right." I was worried about it. And I was worried about my part in it because I'd helped to publicize the whole thing, and helped to whip up the—boy, you've got to know a lot more than you ever know before you start. But you start and there you are, you've got the situation and you helped to create it. But Norma O'Bannon said she thought it was good for the child. I hope so.
Then we come back from that. Hodding's been out five weeks, maybe six, but anyway—he had to go to Jackson for a big luncheon given in his honor by the head of the office supply company which was also the school books supply, Boyd Campbell. Boyd Campbell was an enlightened businessman and I guess it was while we were away on the Nieman he had had—oh, God, the Metropolitan opera singer, the black girl,
black woman from Laurel, Mississippi—Leontine Price. And he'd had her come to sing at the high school auditorium, Bass Auditorium—we weren't here for that.
Now he was having this luncheon in Jackson for Hodding who was a Pulitzer prize winner, therefore that was the proper thing to do and a lot of people turned out for it. And we ran into—well, Rodney Defenbaugh came, his wife came to the luncheon, and that was the man who had been our advertising manager, who took over from me, and they had two little boys. And he was now the advertising manager for one of the Jackson papers. Grace said that she had this problem and that they were considering going into business for themselves in Grenada. And she couldn't decide what to do. And what should they do? And she said they just didn't have time to think, with the children and with all the problems, and I said, "Well, look, I'll take the children and we'll bring them with us to Greenville."
Out of Jackson, after the die was cast, and the children were coming, I telephoned the house and David Brown, then a reporter and later editor [Tom Karsell was editor then]—David Brown and Sue, his wife, were staying with our children over on Arnold Avenue while I went off on the trip. I phoned the house and I said, "Sue, everything okay?" And she said, "Yes, but the children have chicken pox." And I said to Grace, "It's all right with me but the children have chicken pox." She said, "Well, we'll just have to take a chance on the chicken pox because this is an important decision for the whole family."
Then we arrived at our house with the two children, in the house with the chicken pox. So there was confusion already. And as we drive up, there was an old Essex that I recognized. That Essex had appeared in Rockport, Maine, the first summer that we were in Rockport—I guess it was the second summer—you see, the dates are confusing. And I had telephoned from the country club where I was putting on the children's annual party and said to our maid, mother's maid, it has to be '46 because Mother had died by then and I had Sophie [Phillips] for that summer—and I said, "Sophie, is everything all right," because Ben Ames Williams and [his wife] Floss were coming to have dinner with us, maybe spend the night, I don't know. She said, "No'm, it isn't all right." And I said, "What's the matter?" She said, "Mr. Carter's got two people in there and he says they're staying at the house." And I said, "Well, do we know them?" She said, "No, ma'am, you don't know them." And I said, "Well, just add the places to the table and I'm on my way as soon as I can."
When I got home I found the guests were a young Dutch artist and her husband. They stayed six weeks. They had no place to go. We eventually had to buy a few pictures from them which we couldn't afford to do but we did. There was no other way that they could have left.
So here I arrived with Hodding, the house in confusion, and here is the Essex in front of the house. And Hodding was due at the Hebrew temple at the seven o'clock service where they were going to drink the Kaddish in his honor, where you go up in front and they take the goblet, et cetera. And I hadn't planned to go. Not but what I wanted to go but I thought I had enough to do to straighten. But when I saw that car, I knew I had to go, I had to have time to think.
We walked on in and welcomed them, and I said, "Look, I'm so glad"—well, I was lying, but it was all right, another time where you build up people's egos, you cannot destroy people. So I said, "Well, it's so good to see you, but you can only stay one night, you can see this, and you're going to have to sleep on the sofa in Hodding's study. The two of you are going to have to sleep there." And I said, "But do that." And I said, "And I have to go to the Temple."
I went to the Temple with Hodding and that gave me time to sit and figure how I was going to take care of the chicken pox, my children, and the visiting children, and have breakfast and get—what was her name? Cock von Ghent and [her husband] Arrie. They would reappear through the years. And I don't know what's happened to them. I think she did fairly well; she had some pictures in the Cleveland or Cincinnati Art Museum.
Well, that's all beside your point. But then we were still on Arnold. So then, I don't know what date, how I got off for a week, I don't know, but I did.
Ritchie: Well, who took care of the paper when Hodding was gone?
Carter: Well, you see, when he'd be gone, whoever was the editor. That was Tom Karsell at that time. And as far as the actual running of the financial, paying and doing all that, that would be John Gibson, who was a partner and the business manager. And we had an advertising manager. So I was just a supernumerary who came in and filled in wherever the responsibility was for the moment. And doing a lot of just public relations and writing up things that needed to be written up.
At some point later I became Farm Page editor, which I enjoyed. That was when David Brown became editor, I guess, and that was once a week. I really learned a lot about that because, strangely, back at McGehee's in high school some American Chemical Society or some such thing held a national competition for essays on chemistry in industry, chemistry in agriculture, chemistry in something. It was the beginning of chemistry in a big way in the twenties. So I wrote on chemistry in agriculture. Well, I didn't win, I got an honorary mention, in Louisiana, and a girl I knew who didn't go to McGehee's but I knew her, she got it nationally. And she wrote on chemistry in industry. Well, all those years my chemistry in agriculture had been lying fallow. That's why, I think, who knows what is relevant. Everything is relevant.
Ritchie: So, was the Farm Page a new page?
Carter: No, David Brown had been doing the Farm Page. But then when he became editor, somebody else had to do it so I was doing it, and I loved it. And I can't remember whether it was before or after that that I brought out, I did the land use edition.
Ritchie: Which would have tied closely—
Carter: Absolutely. And I can't remember the sequence there.
Ritchie: So you would have written about local issues concerning farmers.
Carter: Oh, yes, on the Farm Page, and mostly you were picking up material from the county agent and looking the material over that came in from the various sources on farming and the latest things.
Ritchie: Cotton and soybeans would have been the main crops?
Carter: And you see we had a period where we were struggling with trying to get cattle going. We thought that took less labor but it rains too much through here and the soil is too wet in the winter for cattle. So that did not become a big agricultural asset.
And along about the time of the Cuban missile crisis, we were in Washington for ASNE [American Society of Newspaper Editors] and they had a panel on the government printing and how much they were printing that had absolutely no meaning at all. And one man held up this pamphlet on the care and feeding of catfish and he said, "And this sort of thing." I went up to him afterwards and I said, "I just want you to know that catfish may well be the economic salvation of the Mississippi Delta, and it's not for nothing that the government is printing [this].
Of course, I was right. But I knew enough about the agricultural situation to know that we were—and the other thing that we worked on here was rice and Wade Hollowell had worked on rice and put up some money at the bank to put a well in that they had to have because you have to have a lot of water for rice.
Ritchie: So there was too much water for the cattle but not enough for rice?
Carter: Exactly. Because you have to put the water into the rice field when you need it. And that might not be when you got the rain.
Ritchie: Had rice ever been a crop here?
Carter: Not in this area—across the river in Arkansas, up by Stuttgart, that's one of the big rice areas. We have rice here now. And you'll see the rice fields as you drive, perhaps. You'll see fields that have very low ridges, plowed ridges, little levees, and that's so that the water can be flooded to that height, whatever it is.
Ritchie: Keep the water in.
Carter: Oh, yes, and you flood it when you need to. And then you have the catfish ponds that are rectangles, you'll see them.
Ritchie: And those are controlled areas where catfish are raised?
Carter: Oh, yes. And you have the people—on those places you'll frequently see that there's a little trailer near by. And it's really, it's gotten to be that the rustlers come and just steal your catfish. So you have to have somebody out there to protect your pond.
Carter: That's the point.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Ritchie: I'd like to talk a little bit about your involvement with the educational system—
Carter: Always, always interested in the education. And you see, the PTA's were a way to get into the schools. I didn't look at it as the way to get into the schools, you went into the schools and you learned a lot from that. And then you learned a lot from the day nursery and you learned a lot from—I don't know, I just always was interested in education as the way that you might build the community and people would—of course we learned about that, all the education in the world won't do it, you have to have the right heart back of it. Because look at the people that were running those horror chambers, a lot of those people were very highly educated. So education isn't going to do it. That's the tool. But the motivation has to be something else.
Ritchie: It's a combination. When you first arrived in Greenville, the schools would have been—
Carter: They were completely segregated, of course. I remember taking an out-of-town guest over to the newest school, Webb, a black school, and we got over there, and in the hallway they were ringing the bell for the change of class. They hadn't put in an electrical system to ring the bell and this was after the war. I don't think that's important. It would probably be a lot better if all the schools just rang a hand bell That would be a reminder that you weren't just going to spend money on things you didn't have to spend money on. But the teachers couldn't get mimeographs and for multi-choice questions, horrible, how could you put out multi-choice questions?
And they needed a piano. They didn't have a piano. We went over to Carrie Stern, white school, they had seven pianos, everybody had given them their old piano—a lot of them were not usable. But here they had
all this and these had nothing, and I think I told you before, the public black schools getting one-fifth as much funding as the public white schools. That was just downright wrong.
Ritchie: Would this have been throughout the state or was it just—
Carter: Oh, in the state it was far worse. The state would be worse. We were fairly bad [in Greenville]. I can't say fairly good. But it was terrible.
Now, on education—well, I think organizing the PTA presidents' council was good because that was a way—we didn't have black PTAs. If they existed we didn't know about them. They didn't participate in that, they were not in at all. Now people wonder why the PTAs are so weak. Well, in the integrated school you don't have the background of PTA work.
What else did I do for education? Oh, I had the Cub Scouts. Ah, ha. And what else?
Ritchie: Your boys were going to—
Carter: Public school.
Ritchie: Walked to public schools?
Carter: Yes, they walked. It was wonderful, until we moved out to the country. And we moved out there in '50 and at that point, I guess Hodding was in college—well, he was somewhere, he was either at Exeter—oh, he was at Exeter the year that we moved out there. And we built a two-bedroom house and had double-deckers so that when Hodding was home for Christmas he had to sleep in one of the double-deckers.
I'll tell you, the thing I think was the most very, very valuable to this community was when the big house got built and Hodding had been off to Southeast Asia for the State Department and the State Department began channeling people through Greenville. So from '51 on, we just had people coming through so fast, and it was good for the community. That was about as educational a thing as could have happened because there were lots of—they came to see about diversified agriculture and cotton, and they'd go to the Stoneville experiment station for that or they'd go up to Scott Plantation to see the project, that big cotton plantation up there. And they'd talk to Hodding about race relations and they would sit and I would say we had company five nights a week. And they would be from all over.
And the children, unless it was a dinner party, they'd be sitting there so that they learned. Now, at that time, at the beginning, we did not have any black Africans but we had quite a few people from India and some of them tend to be quite dark.
Ritchie: In the community or visiting?
Carter: Oh, visiting. So they would come and I remember this very attractive girl that Hodding had met in Delhi, she was the top political woman commentator/ columnist in Delhi. So Raj Chawla came and stayed with us. In the morning, she was in the guest room, and Hodding and I were having breakfast in the kitchen when Martha Collins was there, our maid, and I'd fixed the tray and I said, "Now, you just take that in to the lady."
She came back and she came and stood by me. And I said, "Anything wrong, Martha?" She said, "Yes'm." I said, "What?" She said, "Is she going to eat in the dining room?" She was dark. And she could see that I sent her the tray, which we did to all the guests, keep them out of the way for a while in the morning. "But is she going to eat in the dining room?" So the house had to learn certain things, which they learned.
And then there was a very black man from Bombay. I would take these people quite deliberately into the stores and downtown so that people came to see that you didn't have to be lily white or even sunburned white. You could be black and be dark.
But it was not until into the sixties that we began having black Africans. We went to South Africa in '59 on an exchange and were down there in Capetown for four months and made our way back via Cairo. We came back and after that, I guess, there would be an occasional black African that the State Department would send.
Now, frequently they would stay at a hotel, which came to accept them. But frequently—and I don't remember having any black Africans until later staying at the house. But as Hodding's eyes got worse and worse, and in '64 after he lost all reading vision—after that it was simply easier for us to have the out-of-town persons stay at the house rather than me have to take them back in to the hotel at 10:30.
Ritchie: Right. Run back and forth.
Carter: That being out on the highway wasn't the most—so it was easier for me to have the people in the house and we did that.
We had quite a nice group of young people, Hodding's age and older, who got very used to meeting and mingling with people of all types. It was good. I remember a man that came from Yugoslavia, and we took him out to the country club and one of the planters said, "I knew Hodding Carter was a Communist but I didn't know he'd be so brazen as to bring a Communist to the country club." But nothing came of it. And the others accepted it because by then they'd gotten used to what they were going to see with the Carters, I guess.
So I think that was about as educational a part of my relationship with the community as anything. And then arranging for these people to go into the schools to see what was going on and tell the schools what they did in their own country. Or to arrange for them to go to the Corps of Engineers and talk about the waterways and take them down and show them the levee and explain the alluvial plain to them.
Ritchie: So, in addition to establishing yourselves here in the community, Hodding made the community known.
Carter: Oh, very much, through his magazine articles and books. Part of what got him into trouble with the state, in addition to his local material, was that he would write, I think, a well-tempered piece about conditions in the state—one such he did for one of the magazines, and the name that they put on it was "A New Wave of Terror Threatens the South," which was an inflammatory headline, and then had a picture of a burning cross and Ku Klux Klansmen. The article was about the founding of the Citizens' Council. It had nothing to do with the Klan. The Citizens' Councils were backed by the same mentality as the Klan but they didn't do the overt things. It was a jump that the magazine headline writer and picture man took which really got us into a hell of a lot of trouble.
Ritchie: Was that the time that the state legislature censured Hodding?
Carter: Yes, that's right. That's right. And then when Hodding made the talk at Brown, at the women's college at Brown University—
Carter: Pembroke. And he gave, I'm sure, a very temperate [talk]. Hodding's theory was that he was interpreting the South for the North and the North for the South. That's really what we thought was our job. And really to open communication between people and get to know each other.
So anyway, he made this talk and then on the fifth question they said what do you think about Oliver Emmerich at McComb? (The editor of the McComb paper was a friend of ours and somebody didn't like an editorial he'd written. So when he was in front of his building, they hit him so hard that he fell into the windowpane on his office and cracked it.) Hodding replied, "Well, if the local authorities can't control it, then you should bring in the National Guard. If they can't control it, they should bring in the marshals and if that won't work, bring in the Marines." Well, he was thinking about his friend. So, the Jackson Daily News, which knew better, had a headline that said, "Hodding Carter Says Bring in the Marines."
Well, that Christmas—I was not president of the garden club but I was in charge of decorating Christmas trees or something minor, and I was over at Mary Read Harbison's and we were wrapping presents—wrapping bricks to look like presents to put under the tree. And John Carter phoned me—oh, I phoned the house and I said to Martha or whoever was the maid, the evening maid—we had to have a morning one for cleaning and an afternoon one for cooking all that supper. And I said, "What's going on?" I always say, "Is everything all right?" That's just my question.
Ritchie: And then you wait to hear—
Carter: Yes. And sometimes it would be that one of the children had let a snake loose upstairs.
She said, "No'm." I said, "What's the matter?" She said, "I don't know," but she said, "The chief of police and Mr. John Carter are out on the front lawn talking." And I said, "Well, get me Mr. John." So Mr. John came in and I said, "What's up, John?" He said, "Well, there's a posse coming from"—he didn't say `posse.' "There's a group, there's something coming from Glen Allen down on Lake Washington and they're going to hang Hodding in effigy and they're going to meet him at the airport when he gets in from Brown, Pembroke." He said, "Don't leave there, I'm coming, we'll go out together," because I was going to drive out to get him. So we went on out to the airport.
Well, the thing that's great about Greenville is that throughout there was a fine judge here, a local judge, Emmett Harty, and his theory was that the police had to do their duty and then it was up to the courts to decide who was right and who was wrong. And that was a marvelous thing. So John and I rode out and there was the sheriff. Now he wouldn't have had anything to do with the city court but I was just giving you that as the way that we looked at this community leadership, conservative leadership, [we] looked at it that way.
There was the sheriff. And I said, "What are you here for?" He said, "Here to meet a friend." Well, he was there to meet Hodding and to be sure that Hodding got off the plane safely. So we went on home and the group did not come up, and they burned Hodding in effigy down at Lake Washington without coming up. But it was something that Hodding had said, way off in Providence, Rhode Island, you see. And the distortion—you talk about how the press covers the news. I know this, and you probably do, too, that you read a story and if it's an involved story, it means there's something there that you need to know but it might not necessarily be what you're reading. And what you ought to do is to read five versions at least. Unfortunately who has the time to read five versions.
And I know this, that in writing a story that I tried to make as clear and put over these difficult facts and you do the very best you could, honestly, and the press would be rolling and you'd learn one other thing that just meant that everything you'd said was not in proper perspective.
Ritchie: You do the best you can.
Carter: You do the very best you can, but you know that what you're doing is not the story. The reader must know that that is not the story. And I read these boys in the Democrat-Times today—well, their use of adjectives, their use of nouns. They talked about a woman who was doing fine things with her art and had a good deal of notoriety. Well, they didn't mean notoriety at all. I'm sure our boys did the same thing.
But we knew them and we loved them. We paid them very little because we didn't have it, but also because we paid for their mistakes. So that was one way of looking at it.
Ritchie: I'm curious about one thing that you said earlier about education, that young Hodding went to Exeter.
Carter: Hodding had had an honorary degree from Bowdoin and from Harvard. He was up there at a lunch with a lot of college presidents, and he said, "What if you have a young man in your family and he seems to have unusual ability, do you think I should send him away to school and if so, where?" And they said, "Well, if he's getting the stimulation that he needs, we wouldn't send him off. But if he has to have more stimulation, then the best"—they conferred, the president of Harvard, [James B.] Conant, and the president of somewhere else, and they said, "For a small school go to Deerfield, for a big school go to Exeter." Hodding decided that maybe we couldn't get him in to Deerfield, anyway, but we tried for Exeter and he went for his ninth and tenth grades.
Well, by then we were building the big house, we were in the little house, and that summer of '51, I guess it was, Hodding said did he have to go back to Exeter, that he might never be able to live in the big house, that he would have to go away to college, he might have to go away to make his living, and he'd like to be home. And his father said, "Well, if you stay home and go to the public school, and we see that you're not letting up, that's fine. But if you let up, you go back."
Well, he didn't let up; he came and he worked very hard. He was elected to everything that he could have been elected to and he was a speaker at the graduation and he was on the state high school debating team and he was on the state tennis team—I think, I don't remember about that, but he played tennis and he was good. And he was senior class president which was the highest honor he could get, not knowing the rest of the student body. We felt that it was absolutely right that he came home.
Then Philip came along and we felt that he needed the stimulation and we sent him to Episcopal High and he stayed the whole—I think four years, but three if not four.
Ritchie: And where is that located?
Carter: That's at Alexandria, Virginia. It's a good school. So he went there.
And then came Tommy's turn and for some reason my husband decided that—I sound sort of critical, don't I? But anyway, Hodding as a child reading St. Nicholas had seen the ads for Culver and he thought that would be good for Tommy. It would be different from what the other boys had had and he didn't want any of them following in the footsteps of the other, each to do his own thing.
But any Carter to go to a military school, looking back on it in retrospect—how could you put a child who came from a home where we would talk about so much, where he had so many window openings and experiences, into the discipline of such a place? He didn't like it but he stayed and graduated. So that was his experience with the thing and the whole time he wanted to be at home—he was not homesick or anything like that but he would have preferred to be at home. I don't know.
So, the children did go away in high school and when the integration thing came, Catherine, the oldest of the Carter children, Hodding's children, stayed all the way through high school here. Finn, however, went off, they sent her off to a prep school which had a lot of the dancing which she wanted. That was why she went. Then Hodding IV—they sent him off to Lawrenceville. Hodding and Peggy got divorced and Margaret stayed with her mother and did not go off to school—they moved from here and went to Baton Rouge and then to New Orleans and that child went to McGehee's and couldn't stand it, they were too cliquish. Then she went to Newman and liked it very much.
So now, what else did I say?
Ritchie: So the integration of the schools came after your boys went to college?
Carter: That's right. That's right.
Ritchie: You weren't actively—
Carter: And the integration, I don't think we were here, I don't think that my boys were involved with that because the Supreme Court decision was in '54 and they had something here called freedom of choice which lasted, and if we'd had that—it would be not like a magnet school but something like it. You chose the school you wanted to go to.
But the court came in and said we had to integrate. And that blew the thing wide open because it would be court-ordered integration and no choice at all. And that was when the private schools—the Washington school—took the scene.
Ritchie: So this would have been in the early '60's?
Carter: Yes. It was hard on the families that chose to stay with the public schools. That would be Hodding's children. Because the children that they would normally be playing with, the snide remark was, "Well, we don't want the children to play because if you have the Carter children over and then you go to their house, how do you know, you may have black children there?"
Ritchie: Because they were going to school with black children.
Carter: Yes, yes. So that their social relationships were cut down, it wasn't good.
Ritchie: And the schools today are predominantly black?
Carter: Ninety-two percent black public schools. I think we're going through a tremendous upheaval right now in the public school system. I don't know what's going to come out of it. If there were any way to get those white families back into the public schools it would still be overwhelmingly black but if they could do it throughout the country, if you could hold it to about 65% black, you have a workable mix. I don't think it's because they're black, I think it's because of the economic background from which so many of those children come. I don't know that that's true everywhere but that certainly is true here.
Ritchie: You mentioned last evening, speaking of education, in the early days here in Greenville there was a Chinese grade school.
Carter: Yes, and that was over near where Trigg School was, now called Jessie McBride after integration came. They built a new white school and called it Trigg and changed the name of the old Trigg to McBride, who had been a very nice black woman, a friend of mine, a teacher.
Right near there was sort of a shotgun house where the Chinese children went to school and the public school system paid for their education, I think up through the eighth grade, and the Chinese community provided a Chinese teacher who came in and taught Chinese in the afternoons. When they got to high school, they were going up to Cleveland, Mississippi, to go to a school there that had a lot of Chinese kids. But the school system saw that they were going to have to provide public high school for the Chinese children and they couldn't afford to do it because there were too few of them to put in all the labs and the necessary specialized teachers that you have to have in the high school. So they knew they were going to have to integrate the Chinese and the question then was how would they integrate.
So the City Council put Hodding on the school board to fill an unexpired term, knowing they could get rid of him at the end of that time. And the purpose of putting him on was to figure what they'd do with the Chinese children. He and a committee worked it out with the Chinese community leadership. If the Chinese—who were not permitted for so long to bring their wives in—if they had black wives the children were black Chinese; that was one category. If they had white wives their children were white Chinese. Then there were the Chinese who did have their wives with them and who had Chinese children—so they had three categories: the black Chinese, the white Chinese, and the Chinese Chinese. And they said that the black Chinese would go to the segregated black school and the white Chinese and the Chinese Chinese would go to the white school. And that's the way it was up to the time of integration and then all Chinese came into the public school system.
Ritchie: How did there happen to be a Chinese community here?
Carter: The Chinese came in, a lot of them were Cantonese who came in to sell to the Chinese who were working on the levee. The Chinese who were working on the levees either died or went back or disappeared. But the Cantonese remained and they have run little grocery stores, in the black community, primarily. There's one down on Broadway now, Bing's which is a Chinese family. That is a big supermarket that does very well and everybody, meaning the white community—you know, it's horrible how the habits of your childhood—anyway, so everybody, meaning the white community people, goes down to Bing's. The Chinese local stores—as a whole those little stores are pretty tawdry things, selling to a very impoverished group in the population.
Ritchie: And you also mentioned that there was a considerable Irish community here?
Carter: They came in, I'm not exactly positive when, but they certainly were here in the days that the steamboats were important. They had the bars, the saloons, and I don't know what else that the Irish—but they did and they became quite prominent in some ways. By the time we got here, there were several families that were known—or into the power complex.
Ritchie: Was there an active Catholic church?
Carter: Definitely. There was a Catholic church and in the yellow fever epidemic of 1878, there was a tremendous death toll although everybody who could, left. And the man who was the clerk of the City Council—I think in those days it was aldermanic—in the minutes of the aldermanic board, he took a page and he put an inch-wide black ink border all the way around solid in memory of the members of the city government who died in the yellow fever epidemic of '78. He named the mayor and the three aldermen, and he said, "I alone remain," and he named the clerk.
Now, there were three ministers, there was the Episcopal church minister, the Presbyterian minister, and the Catholic minister. What other churches were here, I don't know, but these three were here and they didn't go, they stayed to take care of the sick. So I know that there was a Catholic church here in '78. They've had it as a history of that church, too, which the Washington County Historical Society has had its talk on but I don't know anything more about it.
Oh, I do know one other thing. The Catholic church in 1907, I think it was, not the church but an order came in here and established a school for black children, Sacred Heart School. They also were training priests. And they had nuns that they brought in, white nuns, different branches, maybe the women of their order—and that was a good school, probably the best school for the blacks in this community up until integration.
Ritchie: So it stayed open until—
Carter: It did, until integration. After that I guess that they saw, too, that they couldn't compete with all the things that were being offered. So the Society of the Divine Word moved down to Bay St. Louis where they are still operating, I believe training priests but I'm not sure of that, also I believe they have a school.
Ritchie: Well, it's evident that your involvement in the community—you've been very active in many areas. The Carter family is important in this community.
Carter: I believe it. I believe it. I believe it because we were involved and we tried to be and we tried to get all groups together. I don't know. Of course, young Hodding picked up right where his father had ended, in that when I say "where his father had ended," I think each generation has to take the step and I think that we took a terrific jump. But I also think that young Hodding did fantastic things with the Democratic party, changing it, and getting the blacks into the political structure and getting them seated at the national convention. Really he's the one who'd had the closest involvement with the blacks on terms of citizenship equality. Because our position was more to try to get them involved but his was they are involved.
Ritchie: Of course he was doing it after you had laid the foundation.
Carter: That's right. You only can do—I never get furious with the people who had slaves. I don't know what the things are that we shouldn't be doing today but I am sure that there are things that we are doing that later generations are going to say, "Weren't they terrible?" And it may be that they're environmental things that we're doing today that are just unbelievable.
But I think that you do the best within the system that you're living in until it comes time to break that system wide open which is what the government did for us with the integration situation.