[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Ritchie: Before we turned the tape on, Betty, we were talking a little bit about your observation that you really weren't a newspaperwoman.
Carter: I don't know, you see, I was one to start with. Of course, the years in Hammond, there was no question but what I was a newspaperwoman because that was what it was all about. And then certainly I was a newspaperwoman up till the time that we went off to the war but—well, what happened there was that we had the Nieman fellowship in the middle and we were only at the Nieman fellowship for one term because I'd had that miscarriage and Hodding didn't want to go for the first term because I was pregnant again. So we went for the second term.
Well, I wasn't doing anything then but recuperating from having been sick. Then we had the Nieman. Then we came back. There was a point there where I was doing, as I told you, sitting on the front porch and being the correspondent for—the stringer for the Picayune, et cetera. And then I went back to the paper, as society editor, I think—women's page for a period.
Then we went off to the war. Well, first Hodding went off to the war. He went to Camp Blanding [Florida]. The national guard went in a year before Pearl Harbor. So they went off to Camp Blanding but I stayed in Greenville to keep in touch with the paper so that was my job then. But in June before Pearl Harbor, Hodding had been transferred to Washington and he said he didn't care if we lost the paper, that I had to come on. So the two boys, Philip and Hodding, and I got on the train and went to Washington—which in a way broke my heart at that moment because I had said that it would be wonderful for Greenville to have a water parade, like Mardi Gras in New Orleans but all the floats would be boats and we would go on Lake Ferguson. So it was all organized, it was going to happen June the 15th. And Hodding said, "No, you cannot wait. Come at once." So I came at once.
So then he got the job to write Civilian Defense of the United States. And his eye was in terrible trouble, the one he'd hurt at Camp Blanding. And so I did all the research for that. Now you see I'm going on and talking about stuff that I've probably already told you.
Ritchie: Well, this is a good summary.
Carter: All right. So then I knew more about civilian defense, probably, than anybody else in Washington when the bombs actually fell on Pearl Harbor. So then all of my newspaper experience was used as the basis for getting a job with the Office of Facts and Figures. Now, being a newspaperwoman—which we were discussing whether I was or I wasn't—I learned a lot about radio techniques through being head of the children's department at one point when our crowd broke up at OWI. And then I went to work for Ken Beirns—and I know I've said this because he's in the index—but I learned a lot about radio there by writing the fact sheets. So, that may not have been newspaper but it was a communications technique.
And then after the war, I came back to Greenville and I went back—let me think, that was '45—and I guess I went back to the—no, I didn't, it was Hodding's decision—I think he really wanted to be real macho and wanted to do it as a husband, as a man. And he didn't really want me around the paper. I think the theory was, at that point—now I've only analyzed this in the last year or five—but I think at that point he thought that it was a man's job to do the thing and his wife should be the little woman at home. Well, that nearly destroyed me. But I had a function which was to get the world to see we were home. And I guess that's where I went mostly, into that. But I did do the special editions, which was good. I loved doing those.
Ritchie: The farm editions?
Ritchie: Land use.
Carter: Yes. Land use. And I also did one after that which sold the merchants on the idea that only ten percent of the people in Greenville who were adults—only ten percent of the adults—knew anything about Greenville. Everybody else had grown up other places and moved in since the war and had married and so that we needed a know-Greenville edition. So we put that together and that was fun and it was a big success from the point of view of the way it was put together. Unfortunately, we had torrential rain the evening it came out and I don't think more than two percent of the people ever picked their papers up as they floated in the water outside.
Ritchie: Was it your idea for this special edition—did you think it up?
Carter: Actually the—that one, yes. The land use one, interestingly, was John Gibson, our business partner. He was a close contact with all the planters; he wanted to be in with the old planter crowd so he heard all this agricultural stuff which we either heard or we didn't hear. But he realized—he said we ought to do this edition. So then, I looked into it and by golly, that was the truth. So I think that must have been before I did the farm page.
Ritchie: That led you into a farm page.
Carter: I think so. I think so.
Ritchie: And then the local history issue was your idea.
Carter: Yes. Really, it was. I have always liked doing special things like that. Now, trying to stick to the newspaper angle, but all of these techniques that you learn, when years later Jimmy Robertson, who now is a supreme court—one of the Mississippi supreme court justices, one of the most brilliant men I've ever known in my life—well, he and I were on the Chamber of Commerce education committee. So we decided that we should have—and I say "we" because I don't know whether Jimmy thought of it or I thought of it—that we should have a two-day seminar on quality and equality of education in Washington County. That was in 1971. Did I tell you this before?
Ritchie: I don't believe so.
Carter: Well, to me this is a high point because I made over six hundred personal telephone calls to get the people there. What's the use of something if nobody's there?
Ritchie: To attend the seminar.
Carter: Yes. And what we ended up with was about a hundred and fifty people. And we balanced it—male, female, black, white, parochial, private, public schools. I'll tell you, it was a job. And we got somebody or other from Harvard, who was the name, big educational sociologist or some such Ph.D. type. And we got a grant from the humanities so we were able to bring him. Well, I used my personal knowledge of the people, I wrote publicity till you could—the scrapbook is overwhelming. We put it on every radio, every TV. We made the personal contacts to every legislator and we got the crowd out.
Ritchie: You couldn't have done all this without your background in the community.
Carter: Oh, I know it. You see, it all works together. Then in January 1981 when Gov. [William] Winter was pushing so hard for education, educational reform—and he got his bill through, finally. And the legislators had said, "Well, he'll call his special session and we have to go but we can recess after two days, legally." But they couldn't because the groundswell was so great for educational reform, and Gov. Winter had built it through local mass meetings. And I put on—well, Martha Campbell and I put on—Martha's a wonderful girl but she was younger and I had techniques she didn't have yet, but she's got them now. But anyway, we had a thousand people and the temperature was five above zero which is pretty cold for Greenville and the ground was covered with ice. And we didn't know if—Gov. Winter wasn't coming but Mrs. [Elise] Winter came. Well, for that we had put out publicity in every newspaper in the county. There was one over in Leland, the weekly there, the black paper, the Democrat, the radio, TV.
Ritchie: This was all in Washington County?
Carter: Washington County. And we got them there. And it was fabulous—every legislator came despite the weather. They had to come because we had put so much pressure into the community and into the publicity—
Ritchie: To get them to come.
Carter: Absolutely. So you see, I really feel that a newspaper is failing its responsibility to the community if it doesn't use its power to get the story out. Now, I hate to think of that when I think about David Duke.* If the publisher is a David Duke man, there's the danger. And I guess that's the danger of a monopoly. I don't know.
Ritchie: And then you get one side of the story.
Carter: I know it. And of course, pushing the publicity as hard as we did for that, the people who didn't want to come didn't have a medium to say they didn't want to come because we'd co-opted the whole thing.
Ritchie: You had a corner on the market.
Carter: We did.
Ritchie: You mentioned a county paper. Was there ever a county daily paper?
Carter: No. You see, you have to have the county printer and we were usually the county printer. But sometimes, the little Leland Enterprise weekly would be the county printer. And for them, that would be—as it was with us in Hammond—that's your butter on your bread, unless it's also the bread.
Ritchie: Because that is guaranteed income.
Carter: Well, you know that the minutes of the board of supervisors, your county police jury, those things have to be published in the official journal. And the rate—the newspapers fixed that long ago—the rate's very nice and high.
Ritchie: So is that set statewide what the rate would be?
Carter: Oh, yes. I believe that's correct, for the official printing.
* Former Ku Klux Klan leader, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana in 1990. He also ran for governor in 1991.
Ritchie: Well, I think it would be fair to say that your role in the newspaper continued through the years. It shifted a little—
Carter: Very much.
Ritchie: —when you stayed at home with the three boys and had visitors all the time. And I wouldn't say you stayed at home—
Carter: No. I was out with the visitors frequently, usually. I don't think I was ever in the house long. Hodding said that I would walk out of the door in the morning and call out over my shoulder to Rose, who was our general factotum on Arnold Avenue, and say, "Rose, for dinner now, think of something and make it good."
Ritchie: You were lucky to have someone like that.
Ritchie: Well, looking back over your life and career, can you think that you were looking at the many years that you spent in the business, what were some of the happiest years and the most fulfilling years in terms of your work as a newspaperwoman?
Carter: Well, there would be these high points that I've just been telling you about. And those were things that you got so absorbed in that it just rose up and called you blessed. But I think that each time that there was a major thrust, I loved it. And otherwise, I must say that I felt that all of life was a dedication. I loved it. I do love it. Only it's a little less dedicated now and I feel slippy—you know, rudderless. So I've got to find out what the next cause will be. There are plenty of them.
Ritchie: Well, you're still very involved in activities in Mississippi.
Carter: Education, primarily. But when I consider that I've been back in Greenville very strongly for two years and to think how little we've done. And I may have said this to you before, that I get discouraged until I realize that Moses came down three thousand years ago or so with the tablets—we haven't changed much. So you just keep putting the pressure on. And I don't know if it's a linear thing or if it's a spiral or what the world is all about but it sure is slow to change.
You have terrific technical changes. Look at what's happened in the newspaper industry. Look at it all. And look at the television that's come. And look at how we're going to get it all faxed. My God, I've never used a fax in my life but once. I was even astounded that it was so easily available.
Ritchie: And if you were still at the newspaper, you know—
Carter: We'd be doing it all the time. And when we sold the Democrat, the day after the Freedom people took it over, they had a dish up receiving their material by whatever the dish does.
Ritchie: Who were the Freedom people?
Carter: They're the people who bought it.
Ritchie: Is that the same—
Carter: The Democrat—no. No. It's called the Freedom Publishing Company or something like that.
Ritchie: Was it an outside group?
Carter: Oh, yes. Oh, it's outside. It's a Libertarian group, they own about twenty-three small papers, mostly in the sun belt across the South, including going out to Anaheim, California.
Ritchie: Oh, so it's more like from the West Coast across the South—
Carter: To the East.
Ritchie: —and then across and back.
Carter: Very Libertarian, in fact. I'm surprised that they've become involved at all in the education issue, which they have to a certain extent, because their theory is that the least government is the best, which I'm sure is correct. But their theory was that there should be no government in anything. And at the first meeting that their new publisher talked to the Rotary Club, I wasn't there and I don't know how he answered it but somebody got up and said, "Well, if you're not going to have any government in anything, what about the levees, how would we be here in Greenville?" Now, I don't know what his answer was to that.
Ritchie: That was the first thing that came to someone's mind because it is critical to—
Carter: Absolutely. Oh, because we couldn't live in the Mississippi Valley without the levees. The river is—we probably made a mistake in New Orleans in 1720 or '21 when they put up the first levee, probably it should have been as in Egypt, let the Nile come up and refresh the ground, the soil, every year. But they didn't do that, they put up the levee. And once you put up the levee, you had to have a levee system that went all the way up. And once you tried to control the waters of thirty-three states and two Canadian provinces, the little levee board in Greenville, Mississippi, couldn't handle it. It had to be a national effort.
And I was always very interested in the whole river control thing. So that when I was going to China, there were two things I wanted to see. I wanted to see what they did about mules and I wanted to see what they did about levee control. And there are levees—not the Yellow River but the other one, the Yangtze—there is revetment work there that was put in three thousand years ago. And they diverted the river so that part of it was for navigation and part of it was for irrigation.
Ritchie: Was your trip to China connected with the newspaper?
Carter: No, that was post-Democrat-Times. I really went—I wanted to see the mule situation. And it was interesting. However, I must say I didn't see much about the mule because they're farther north than we went.
Ritchie: We mentioned the technical changes at newspapers. And that ranged from the early days at Hammond when you had a press that—
Carter: We had—what?
Ritchie: Open and closed?
Carter: Yes. What do you call it? It made a loud noise, too.
Ritchie: Like a big clap?
Carter: Oh, yes. It was wonderful.
Ritchie: And it was operated by hand?
Carter: Oh, no, no. Electricity. Oh, certainly electricity. But you see there's a change that had come. And of course, the old business of setting by hand, that was long past, we had linotypes, one linotype in Hammond.
Ritchie: And you hired a person to do that.
Carter: To do that. Yes. I never worked the linotype.
Ritchie: Would you have been able to?
Carter: No. I never tried. There was enough outside that needed to be done. And we had this man who was a Holy Roller. And one of our accounts, a job-printing account, was a Holy Roller church, they got out a little—some sort of a little sheet that we printed for them from time to time. And our linotype operator was a devout Catholic. And they would refer to the Church of Rome as "the harlot," "the harlot of Babylon," or God knows what. And the operator wouldn't set the type. And we absolutely had to have that job printing. So when it came to the objectionable words—Hodding didn't know how to run a linotype but the printer would move aside and tell Hodding what to punch and Hodding would write "the harlot of Rome," or whatever it was.
Ritchie: Because the man refused to do it.
Carter: Oh, he wouldn't. It would be a sin for him to do that. But he got out of the way and let Hodding do it because it wasn't a sin for him.
Ritchie: He'd give instructions.
Carter: Yes, right. No, I never did that. I never operated any of the mechanical stuff, just the typewriter. But I told you that, when it got to computers, to word processors, I never took the time to learn, I was just handing it to somebody in the back to go—"Here's the piece on such-and-such."
Ritchie: What other types of printing jobs did you have? This was a little side income?
Carter: Oh, that's very important because advertising—in the small towns and before you're established, and even after—job-printing, circulars, dodgers that are handed out, are cheaper for the person who is advertising than advertising in the paper. And also in a way they could more closely target who their particular constituency was. So we did a lot of printing of that type. And you also did business letterheads. And I did some of that, selling some of that while I was selling the advertising. But I didn't want to do too much of that because I took that as a last resort. If they were not going to take the ad, which was more expensive, would help to support the paper more directly, then I would show them how to do the dodger, the handbill, whatever we called it.
Ritchie: So that was another aspect of the business that someone had to take care of.
Carter: Well, I did it simply because you couldn't afford another person. Now, that was the Hammond period. By the time that we got to Greenville, I don't think I sold any of that. In fact, right at the beginning we did very little of the job printing. But later, we did more. And then it became difficult because there were plenty of job printers, not plenty but competitors.
Ritchie: Little businesses?
Carter: Yes, that did nothing but that. And some of them became great printing offices—great printing offices, they became viable and able. So the printing side during the years of the antagonism towards us from a
racial point of view—they could always take their printing to somebody else but they had to come to us for the newspaper advertising, which was good.
Ritchie: The one aspect of income due to printing might have declined a bit.
Carter: Yes, it did, considerably, because they could show their dislike of us by not buying the printing from us, and give it to their friends, their political friends, their people with the same attitude towards life.
Ritchie: How have you seen the role of women change in journalism?
Carter: Well, I think that women are in as far as every aspect of it, really. And I think an able woman can do anything an able man can do. And she has certain fields in which she is, I think, more sensitive. Now, maybe that's wrong of me, maybe that's a bias to say. But I think men and women are different, there's no use saying they're the same.
Ritchie: So there are some areas, some issues that a woman might cover with more sensitivity.
Carter: Oh, I do think so. And I think that as a whole, it's not always but they have taken the time through life, they've been involved with a family and the home and I think they do a better job of school reporting, as a whole. Men don't even see what the story is.
Ritchie: The women might be more likely to be involved with the schools if they have children.
Carter: Well, that's right. And they seem to remember better, maybe. And maybe the boys grew up in such a way that they didn't notice what was going on, they played football.
Ritchie: What about journalism ethics? Have you seen those change through the years?
Carter: I think so. And I'll tell you, some of it is—now, for instance, when we were in Hammond, Bert Hyde used to throw in in his column, he was our only columnist, only reporter, he was out at the school, high school—excuse me, college. And Bert would say that they were doing good things at this restaurant or doing good things there. And then they would give us free dinners to come down and get. Nowadays that's considered perfectly awful. But we thought that was perfectly all right. We enjoyed that. But I think that a lot of newspapermen in the old days, whatever they were, had the right ethics. But also a lot of them just thought it was a way to make money and to go on and get the cash out of it. And I think the journalism schools maybe have helped to put over the idea of the ethics. I think that's their principal strength.
Ritchie: And a little more professionalism.
Ritchie: So there were times when you might have been invited somewhere or given something in return for coverage in the newspaper?
Carter: Not in return. We would already have done whatever we were going to do. And in return you got a few—
Ritchie: So it was like a thank you?
Carter: Yes, that's right. That's right. And I must say that unless it's buying you, I don't see anything wrong with it, even now. But you'd have to be mighty careful if they started giving you a vicuna coat. Nobody ever did that.
Ritchie: So a dinner at the local—
Carter: Well, down at this wonderful Pass Manchac, Bill Williams's place.
Ritchie: And the name of it, Manchac—
Carter: Manchac—it's a pass between two lakes—
Ritchie: Oh, yes.
Carter: Yes. And now one of the two places survives. Middendorf's, we didn't trade with Middendorf's, we used to talk about how wonderful this other one was. So we could go down there, Bert would tell us when—free, but it would have cost fifty cents had we paid. And for fifty cents, they brought to your table—fifty cents a person—they brought to your table an enormous platter of hot boiled shrimp and you ate all you could. Then they brought a big platter of hot boiled crab and you ate all that you could. Then came the plate with catfish, frog legs—I'm not sure of the catfish, it might have been catfish, I doubt it—I doubt it, take off the catfish.
Carter: It would be frog legs and it would be soft-shell crabs and a little potato salad that wasn't very good and maybe more shrimp cooked up in a different way. And all of this for fifty cents. And then if you wanted it, store-bought pie for dessert. But we had to pay for the beer.
Ritchie: So it was a thank you.
Carter: That's right. I don't think that was very unethical. But it was very nice, I don't mind telling you.
Ritchie: Did you ever have advertisers complain about your coverage of something—
Carter: Yes, you would.
Ritchie: —or people in the community?
Carter: Oh, yes, they would, of course. And you just had to say, "Well, if you have a statement you want to make, we'll be happy to run it, we'll include it. But that's the way we saw it." Or if we made a mistake you'd come out and say you'd made a mistake.
Ritchie: And correction?
Carter: Yes. Why not?
Ritchie: How did you get corrections most often? Were they brought to your attention by readers?
Carter: Oh, yes. Or maybe by the person that you were saying it about. And they would say, "I didn't say that." Of course, sometimes we had taken it down, we didn't use the recorder but we had one or two reporters who used shorthand. So we'd have some mighty good statements of what they really had said.
Ritchie: But when the person saw it in print—
Carter: It didn't sound so good. [They'd] say, "I didn't say it." And we'd have to say, "Well, we're sorry. This is the way our reporter heard it and that's the way we have to report it but Mr. Jones says this is what he said."
Ritchie: Would you have given even treatment to political people and the community, private members of the community?
Carter: Well, you mean, how? Of course, if the political person came and made a speech, we'd cover that.
Ritchie: I guess I can see where a paper might not only endorse but give more attention to people in public office, public figures.
Carter: Oh, you have to. You have to, because they are theoretically addressing the issue. And theoretically they're bringing the issue either because they have sensed it in the electorate or they're bringing it to the electorate. And in either case, I think we have to report it, and do. We did.
Ritchie: Did you often cover the state legislature?
Carter: Only what came in. We absolutely stuck to Greenville, Mississippi. And we covered—we did not have a bureau in Jackson. And another thing that's interesting is, in those days the north-south road going to Memphis was much better than the road from Greenville to Jackson, Mississippi. And people who were going to shop would go and shop in Memphis. And people who subscribed to a paper subscribed to the [Memphis] Commercial Appeal, not to the [Jackson] Clarion-Ledger or the Jackson Daily News.
Ritchie: So the Delta's focus was—
Carter: More up towards Memphis. Right. Also Memphis represented cotton, the big planter interests the way that the Delta did.
Ritchie: They were more aligned with them commercially and economically.
Carter: And Jackson was more the hill country of Mississippi, which Delta people looked down on.
Ritchie: So the Delta's interest would have been more aligned with Memphis although Jackson was the state capital.
Carter: That's right.
Ritchie: But you could have gotten that news from your local representative.
Carter: You mean to get an interview with the local—
Ritchie: I mean if you wanted state news.
Carter: Possibly. No, but you got it through your AP coverage. That's where you got your state legislature and what was going on in Jackson. And they had a man there, we couldn't afford a bureau. Later—I don't remember how late but probably in young Hodding's period—we did have a partial—we paid for part of a man during periods of legislative sessions and that sort of thing.
Ritchie: Now, if there was—I'm thinking especially during the civil rights period in the sixties, events in other parts of Mississippi, you'd get that on the AP?
Carter: To the extent that the AP covered it. And we tried to get stories like that. Of course, by then I wasn't around the paper that much because I was at home with Hodding more of the time and he was writing and I was helping. And young Hodding was back, and young Hodding was extremely important in all of that, in getting out and working on Head Start. They set up the first Head Start in the state, he and some other Greenvillians.
As with all Head Starts, they had their political problems and their problems with—well, that was beside the point of what you were asking me. You asked me about civil rights coverage. And we covered—for instance, we would make a point of getting what was happening to Hazel Brannon Smith, this young newspaperwoman who had a weekly over in Holmes County and she had a hell of a time.
Ritchie: Was she a black woman?
Ritchie: Why was she having a difficult time?
Carter: Because she dared to tell the truth and to ask questions. She had no intention of being for civil rights. All she intended to do was to write the story. But that wasn't the way it was construed. Her advertising fell off completely. And she had to be subsidized by nice people who sent money in for Hazel, which was good for her.
Ritchie: Had she been established in the community?
Carter: Yes. She had come there to take over an old weekly and she was the youngest newspaperwoman in the state when she came. And she was the baby of the Mississippi Press Corps. Well, that was adorable. I think she was—I don't know how old, maybe ten years younger than I was at the time. Maybe younger than that.
Ritchie: Probably thought she was younger because she was a woman.
Carter: Well, that's true. That's right. That's right. She must have been quite young because I think she'd just come out of journalism school somewhere. But we made a point of trying to keep in touch with her by telephone and getting the stories of what was happening. And then Hodding went out and wrote articles about her to try to get money for her, telling about her in various—I think St. Louis had a big story about her and maybe one of the Eastern papers.
But covering the civil rights thing. Well, you did, you got what you could. And just remember that the white power structure would clam up and the blacks were afraid to talk. So you just got what you could.
Ritchie: So things were happening but they weren't all—
Carter: Reported. Of course, the biggest day for me was that day when Unita Blackwell took over the air base. And that was really an exciting civil rights. That had to do with economic dependency. That's the second stage and that's where we are now, really, I think, the economic story.
Ritchie: When young Hodding came to the paper, at that point did you and your husband pull back?
Carter: Oh, yes. You see, by '62, we had been to South Africa for those four or six months, whatever it was. And Hodding III came back from the Marines, he had graduated from Princeton, had two years in the Marines, came back in June, came to the paper theoretically until we got home. Well, he stayed. He was excellent, very good, and young and into it all.
And Hodding's eyes—he was having some trouble, oh, he was developing a cataract on his good eye but that was temporary. In '62, we came down here to New Orleans, in the fall of '62. So I would say except for the quality and equality of education seminar and the big other thing in 1981, I didn't do too much in the way of big civic work after that. But we came here—and if we came here in '62, then I guess it was the
winter that I told you—'65, that Christmas that they decided I should go back and really sit there because by then young Hodding had a Nieman. So I was running the paper at that point.
Ritchie: And they wanted a family member there to be in charge of things?
Carter: Oh, definitely. Definitely.
Ritchie: When Hodding came here he began teaching journalism at Tulane?
Carter: You see what happened was, Tulane was phasing out its journalism department and they had some seniors or juniors that had started as majors that had to have some more credits. So they asked Hodding to give them enough to count as a course. And he also gave seminars on Southern history, for graduates, which was interesting. Then Tommy died in the spring of '64 and Hodding lost reading vision—
Ritchie: And all of that—
Carter: All of that.
Ritchie: That was right at the same time.
Carter: Oh, that all happened in the same week, the same nothing, the same day, probably. And then in '66, we bought this house. And that was—oh, I've told you all that. So that's when he was sort of into that New Orleans magazine but didn't do much with that at all.
Ritchie: So you had shifted your residence to New Orleans but you still—
Carter: We were still citizens of Greenville.
Ritchie: Greenville. And maintained the interest—
Ritchie: —and the ownership of the paper.
Carter: Oh, definitely.
Ritchie: And then when young Hodding—
Carter: And young Hodding finally in '62, when we came down here, he and Peggy and the children moved into the big house. And we had the downstairs bedroom next to Hodding's study. And then came the integration, the Meredith integration thing, which was a big, hot issue, of course. And we were actually down here. And young Hodding was at the house and he telephoned and he said that the phone calls were absolutely unbelievable and that there was no telling what would happen that night. So we got in the car and drove through the night to Greenville to protect the house. Philip and Hodding and I—and Tommy was here because it was early in September or whatever date and Culver was not back in session. And I felt like Ma Barker, driving through the night with guns in the back of the trunk of the car, riding to defend the house. So we got there at dawn—and nothing had happened.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Ritchie: Would that have been dangerous for you to drive during the night like that, through rural Mississippi?
Carter: Well, that would be all right, [when] everybody's asleep. I think that would be all right. I'll tell you, coming back from Maine, at one point, during part of all this trouble, we had a young Maine man who had been our boat boy for the summer and he drove the car down. We got to Greenwood, Mississippi, and Hodding and I went in to get coffee and the boy was taking care of the car. He said he didn't want any coffee or anything. And so they asked him—he finally said that this was Hodding Carter from Greenville. So they had changed the tire. And when we got home, we turned in at the cattle gap and turned in and the whole wheel just fell off. They had simply not fastened the bolts or whatever. If we had been driving fast—now I think the reason it waited so long to fall off was that it was a fairly straight—it is a fairly straight road. If we had been going through the hills, it probably would have fallen off long before. But can you believe it? Now, that's the sort of thing that happened. That was a sort of dangerous harassment that civil rights workers had. That's the only time they ever did it to us. There's no question in anybody's minds but what that was deliberate.
Ritchie: And because of Hodding's reputation in the newspaper's stand on—
Carter: Right. Right. You see, Hodding had—my husband had a two-way stretch when he wrote for consumption abroad, magazines, and in speaking abroad in—wherever—he was trying to interpret the South to the North. Then we had a very small circulation—14,000—as far as the editorials were concerned. And there he was trying to lead the people locally to keep all their options open. Don't say there's only one option. There are many options. And he kept presenting the different options. And then editorially saying which option he thought was the one we should take. But when he would say something nationally, you had two dangers. If it was being reported, there's no telling what the reporter would pick up. If it was a magazine article, you never knew what their headline would be—what the title or the photography would be. And that was the sort of thing that got you into more trouble in Mississippi than what you were saying locally because they didn't see what you were saying locally.
Ritchie: It would be outside publications that would—
Carter: What they said about us and about what they said. And there was a book that came out that Hodding had written and—I think it was First Person Rural but I'm not positive. And the dust jacket—I think I told you that—the dust jacket, that he was the foremost integrationist in the South. That was the sort of—the North didn't understand that there were positions that were not integration. And the South didn't understand that because Northerners thought you were an integrationist, it didn't mean you were. At no time did Hodding come out for integration of the schools, immediate integration. In fact, he may never have even said "integration" at all. His idea was that it was something that had to come gradually, you had to prepare people for it. I don't know whether that was true or not because we ended up with a revolution, voters' rights act and the other things that were done for civil rights and that was the revolution. And it broke the hex.
Ritchie: When you mentioned the circulation of 14,000, would that have been typical numbers for a Mississippi newspaper?
Carter: That was very good, yes. And the town at that time was about 30,000. So you see, fifty percent of your town was subscribing. Well, a lot—not a lot, some of that circulation was outside of Greenville, was in Leland, Rosedale, we always had a hard time getting to Rolling Fork because it had to go on the bus and if you were going to make the bus, you had to get the news out earlier than you wanted to from the point of view of the other subscribers. That would be—I would say 14,000 was around our high point and it would vary if you'd had some issues that made people furious, it would cut down.
Ritchie: You'd get some cancellations?
Carter: Oh, yes.
Ritchie: And of course, it's not like a magazine today where you subscribe for a year.
Ritchie: They could call and cancel—
Carter: In one week, they'd just stop it now.
Ritchie: But then they were left to read—
Carter: The Commercial Appeal. But that was more expensive and it wasn't the local news. So what we tried to do was to concentrate on the local news so that if they didn't subscribe to the Commercial Appeal, they would have the radio for national news and get the local news in the paper. That's what we really thought.
Ritchie: Who were some of the reporters—
Carter: Along the way? Well, Tom Karsell was the first one that Hodding hired right after World War II. And he hired Tom and he was there and became an editor for us and then went on and got a Nieman fellowship. And Tom was very good, went on to Louisville and was a successful man.
The first man of all was back in the Delta Star days, Bob Brown. And he left and when he left, he went finally—he may have had a Nieman, too, I'm not sure. Bob went on—I think I've told you all of this. He became—his paper got a Pulitzer over in Georgia for the coverage of—Columbus, Georgia—Phoenix City and all that stuff. And I've told you about Foster Davis who did a lot of reporting for one of the big TV things during the Vietnam war.
Ritchie: And Louise, the woman that you named.
Carter: Oh, she was so great.
Ritchie: Do you remember any of the other women that worked there?
Carter: Oh, well, there's a girl there who started right after the war. I can't remember how early Sally [Gresham] went to work at the paper. And she's still at the paper, putting out the—she was city editor for years and I think just recently they've given her some other title which may not be quite as binding. But she's at the paper every day and she's a workaholic.
Ritchie: So she stayed with it through the transition.
Carter: Absolutely. She's still there. Very much so. You see and that's ten years. But Sally was there well before that. And a gal named Doris Maggio did—her husband was the head of the mechanical department, Wee Maggio—Salvadore, really. And Doris used to do proofreading for him because she would read the proofreading right there in the mechanical department, in the composing room. And then when we moved out to the new place she had another office, another desk, which was in the newsroom. So she was—and she was marvelous because Doris had been doing it so long that no matter who came and went, she knew the names. So she could catch that. And eventually she became the woman's page editor and was a good woman's page editor. And then after the sale of the paper to Freedom—or maybe just before that—she stopped and left the paper.
Ritchie: So as a proofreader she would actually sit there as the type was being—
Carter: When the galleys would come to her. And she'd proof the galleys.
Ritchie: And make any corrections—
Carter: Oh, yes.
Ritchie: Correct it immediately.
Carter: Yes. Yes.
Ritchie: It was a difficult job.
Carter: It was. And whatever they say about not needing proofreaders today, it's utterly ridiculous. A second person ought to see that copy.
Ritchie: From the beginning when you started in Hammond, how many pages did the paper grow from to?
Carter: Well, the thing in Hammond was that we had—it was a five-day-a-week paper. It was five columns. And it grew to be six columns, seven columns, eight columns and finally, nine columns. And every time that we were about to go under, Hodding would add a column. Sort of as proof that we were doing all right, I guess.
Ritchie: That it could sustain.
Carter: I don't know. So the paper got bigger and bigger. But it never got more than four pages, unless you had a special edition for something, like back to school, when you sold ads like mad to everybody that you could.
Ritchie: And then what was the size when you started at Greenville?
Carter: I think we had a full-size paper. Probably seven columns, I can't remember.
Ritchie: And the pages would have grown—
Carter: Oh, yes, the number of pages increased. And at one point, we had a little weekly, the Delta Weekly that we published that covered more of the Delta as a whole. And David Brown worked on that. The boy who later did the farm page and became editor and now is the head of journalism at Morehead College in Kentucky. Well, David became head of journalism at Morehead. And Harry Marsh became head of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State University at Manhattan, Kansas.
Ritchie: So your reporters went on and continued their work in the field—
Carter: But they did.
Ritchie: —and had distinguished careers, Niemans and academics.
Carter: They did. They did. And don't forget John Childs who is running a major part of the Anniston [Alabama] Star's daily and weekly interests.
And there's a hot-bed of them in Charlotte, North Carolina. And of course, that group was a group that Hodding, my son, knew. And that's a good crowd. There's Ed Williams up there who's editor of their editorial page. [He's] very good, he'll probably go on to a bigger paper.
Ritchie: That must have been rewarding for you to see the people who had worked at your paper go on.
Carter: Oh, we loved that. We felt that we were a nursery. And we loved our boys. And some of them stayed at the house to protect the house when we were away. Pic Firmin is now the editor of the Sun Herald on the Gulf Coast. And a young man who worked for us, Lloyd Gray, has become the editor of the Meridian, Mississippi, paper. Well, those are good papers in terms of what they're doing.
Ritchie: Their coverage of Mississippi.
Carter: Oh, yes. And I think the Sun Herald is an excellent paper.
Ritchie: And of course, I'm sure that you would always hope that they would carry your philosophy and ideas—
Carter: Well, they do. They do. And of course there was Philip who had worked on the Democrat as a reporter—but only in summers and holidays during college and high school. But he was certainly well indoctrinated in his father's ethics. So when Hodding III went to Washington in 1978 and became assistant secretary of state for public affairs, Philip became editor and assistant publisher. But it couldn't work. He was an excellent—is—an excellent journalist—had been with the Washington Post and Newsday. But he had returned to his New Orleans roots and acquired first the Vieux Carré Courier and then started Gambit. He was torn by the two interests—Greenville and New Orleans—and with poor transportation between the two there just weren't enough hours in a week for both.
Ritchie: You know, having met you and having you on tape and hearing you talk, I'm curious about what kind of presence Hodding had.
Carter: Hodding was a—they liked him. They liked him. Hodding, of course, was always astigmatic so he would walk around and not really see people, not because he didn't want to but because he really didn't see them that well. He was not the hail-fellow-well-met person that I was. So that he had fewer—he had real friends, close friends, but not just the general community-wide. And today people will say, "Well, I never agreed with Hodding but I always respected him." Well, I didn't hear them coming up and saying that at the time, you know. But with me they always acted as though they liked me. Whether they respected me or not, I don't know. But I have many a friend, I feel—I feel warm towards many, many, many people.
Ritchie: So you were more of a presence in the community in person while he was the presence at the newspaper.
Carter: More than he was, he was in the office. And people would come to him and he would solve it. A thing that Bern Keating pointed out when he came to take a picture of Hodding in his office—over Hodding's desk he had the framed Bill of Rights and that's what he lived by—with freedom of information, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, that was his standard. And he brought us up to that.
And I remember a meeting I had with the staff at one point and Hodding wasn't there. John Gibson was listening and he didn't like what I had to say at all. And I said, "The way I see it, is the way that in days of the explorers, the ship was under the control of a captain, perhaps appointed by the king or somebody, to be in charge of that ship. And the job of that captain was to get the ship to where it was going. But the reason the ship was going there was to do the job that the people who were on that ship were going to do. And we are the people who are going to do the job. And the mechanical, the business side, all of that, is simply the way that you get to where you're going so you can do the job that you're supposed to do."
John didn't like that because he felt that the business side was the most important. I agree that it is important. It is absolutely basic. You've got to get the ship there. But what you're carrying is what is the important part.
Ritchie: Why are you going?
Carter: Why are you going in the first place?
Ritchie: Now, why would you have had this meeting with your staff?
Carter: Well, it was at one point when I would be running the paper. And I would just say, "And now the time has come to do this and we've got to tighten up there and tighten up there and just pull everything together."
Ritchie: So even though you weren't there all the time, you would come back from time to time. You certainly were—
Carter: Oh, I might be there for six months at a time or I might be there for—well, when Hodding went off to war, you see, from Thanksgiving until June.
Ritchie: You were in charge.
Ritchie: And did his eyes, the fact that he had poor sight, make you more involved at times, also?
Carter: Not really. Not really. He always managed remarkably. And as far as—he was able to do everything until that darn retinal detachment in '64. And after that, it became very complicated for him. How do you see when you can't see?
Ritchie: And he was a man who was used to using his eyes.
Carter: Well, who isn't? I said that to somebody once and they said, "Well, what about a carpenter?" You know, you'd lose your trade. What about a lawyer? How are you going to read the briefs? You know your eyes are mighty important.
Ritchie: So then you played a bigger role—
Carter: Well, in a way, yes, because there was more that had to be done. The compensatory, you know, making a whole out of two.
An important person in our lives was Hodding's secretary, Ione Boudreaux Lundy. Especially during the summers in Maine, but all year, too. In Maine, while I did resesarch and drafts, Ione transcribed all Hodding's material he was putting on the Soundscriber. And after he became so blind there is no way he could have continued to operate without her. She and her boys—just like our own, but they were younger—would come with us to Maine for the summer.
Ritchie: What else would you like to talk about?
Carter: I don't know. You had me talk on and on. I don't know what else.
Ritchie: Anything else about your years in Hammond or Greenville?
Carter: Let's think. I don't know. You've just about got me talked out. I don't know what I would want to say.
I'll tell you one story that I thought was very interesting. I've written it. I don't know, I probably will do something minor with it. But it was the summer of '63 and Hodding and Peggy and the children were living at the big house. And that was the year that Hodding had his cataract operation. I don't remember why we were there on July the 4th, I guess we had not gone to Maine yet. So I heard this noise in the hall and I opened the door and looked out. And there was Catherine, who was about five, I guess. And she'd opened the door to the big closet at the top of the steps and she had a chair there and she was on the chair. And I said—very quietly because I didn't want to wake anybody—"What are you doing?" And she said, "I'm getting out the flag." And I said, "The flag." She said, "It's the 4th of July. We have to hang out the flag."
So she reached up and I went and helped her get the flag. Well, I don't mind telling you that I was scared to death because here we were. And I went out and helped her. I couldn't say to the child, you don't hang out the American flag on the 4th of July in Mississippi in 1963, but I knew perfectly well that if we hung it out, we were in danger because the American flag was a symbol of resistance to the—was a symbol of the United States and we were in revolt; the South, Mississippi was in revolt. So we went and we hung the flag out. And I can't tell you how happy I was when dark came and it was legitimate to take the flag in. And nobody noticed it. Now why they didn't, I don't know, but we were quite far back from the road. But I'll tell you, it was—and that was not '64, that was '63. Nothing happened but I was afraid. Maybe I was always more afraid than I should have been but they were all afraid, we were all conscious of danger.
Ritchie: Well, you had to be aware of it.
Carter: Well, we would be stupid not to be. There are tigers in the jungle.
Ritchie: You mentioned going to Maine in the summer and that was somewhere where you went for a long period of time.
Carter: Where we'd always go for about two months. And that's when Hodding would write. You see, the paper itself gave us what salary it could and would but the way that we paid for the house, the way we paid for the boys' education, was from Hodding's writings because that was above what we got to live on and pay the notes with. In fact, all the writing and speaking that Hodding did, he called it building the South Wing. It was the big house and so when we built the house, the architect designed the playroom wing but we had never thought of that. But we decided if we were ever going to do it, we might as well do it at the beginning and go into debt that much more. So Hodding would say, "Well, I have to go out and build the South Wing." So that would be the periods that he would be away and I would be at the paper—and shivering.
Ritchie: But keeping it running with all of the other things that you did also.
Carter: Yes. Right.
Ritchie: But when you were in Maine for the time during the summer—
Carter: Whoever was the editor had charge. John Gibson was in charge always, of all the business side. He was a very good balance to Hodding because Hodding had these wonderful ideas, then he would give us the list of what needed to be done and John Gibson knew how to do it. And John wouldn't let us buy paper clips. He said, "Enough of them come in here, you just use the ones that come in." And to this day, if I see a paper clip, I have to pick it up.
Ritchie: So he taught you how to use your money wisely.
Carter: He did. He did. He did.
Ritchie: So he was aware of the shoestring that you operated on.
Carter: Oh, he knew it well. He knew it well. And he hated our position. He hated it.
Ritchie: So you were fortunate to have a business manager like John—
Carter: Yes. And John came as a young circulation manager. He was the first outside person, outside of Greenville, that we hired—except Bob Brown but he came as circulation manager. And while we were away at the war, John stayed at the paper. He had a bad back and was not drafted. And he kept an eye on the paper the whole time and when we came back and we wanted to take over the paper, he managed to—we all managed somehow, and he put up a fourth of the cash that we had to get. So he has been, was, a quarter-interest owner, and went on to be general business manager. Very good for the purpose but politically a hundred percent against everything we stood for. One reason I had to sell was that in every decision that I wanted to make, John was on absolutely the opposite side.
Ritchie: Had he always been that way?
Carter: Always. But you had to be strong to be against him. And to have real control. And I found that with young Hodding away and then Philip in and out, I would make a decision and it was difficult, difficult to push John.
Ritchie: And he wasn't someone that you could fire.
Ritchie: Because—well, he had been there a long time, he had—
Carter: He was there. He had an interest in the paper. And also the time was coming when he said he wanted to retire. Now, at that point we'd have to make some sort of a financial arrangement and that was part of the cost of what would come into the changeover part. John is a—well, for instance, he's really not a real Presbyterian any more. He's out of the thing, really he's in support of whatever the breakaway move is although he goes to the standard Presbyterian church because that's where his planter friends go.
Ritchie: Now, would he have verbalized these differences of opinion to Hodding and to you?
Carter: But not to argue, not to argue. And until all of the civil rights thing, he was just a young man and he didn't—I don't like to say it this way, he didn't grow, but he remained—he grew from the point of view of the technical and learning all about the—very smart businessman.
Ritchie: Do you think a young couple today could start a newspaper as you and Hodding did?
Carter: Well, we always thought it could not be done but as I said to you a few minutes ago, I wonder whether you couldn't do it with all the new processes and desk—what do they call the thing?—desk-top publishing? I think maybe you could do it with desk-top publishing. But there's an awful lot of—if you've got to make a living, it's going to be hard because somebody has to—you've got the mechanical side, you've got first of all the news side and the editorial. Then you've got to do the advertising.
Ritchie: And the community aspect.
Carter: The community aspect, too. It's a hard—it's a job that you either love or you'd better not be there. And I think most journalists love it.
Ritchie: Obviously, you and Hodding loved it.
Carter: We did.
Ritchie: Did you ever think of giving it up and having him take a position somewhere where—
Carter: No. How awful. He could never work for anybody else because if they'd said anything that he didn't like, he was—I don't want to say quick on the trigger but I must say that he would—he was pretty definite in what he accepted and what he didn't accept coming from somebody else.
Ritchie: Perhaps a bit more temperamental.
Ritchie: Would he blow up in the newsroom if something didn't go his way?
Carter: There was never any question about it, it went his way. But, you know, because he had chosen the people. He chose them because of where they stood in relation to where he stood. No, I never heard him blow up at anybody at the paper. No.
Young Hodding after he was in the Marines would come into the newsroom and say lots of "goddamit" and big Marine words. And finally Doris Maggio went to him. And she said, "Hodding, if you use words like that around me, I have to quit." And so it tempered him down. So you see, a woman had a good effect on the newsroom.
Ritchie: Would your newsroom at the Delta Democrat-Times have looked like the newsrooms that I see on television?
Carter: Absolutely and exactly. Everybody threw the—you'd write your copy and throw the piece on the floor that you didn't like. It really looked awfully messy. And then people would come—you'd bring your coffee in the plastic and have that there. And cigarettes. Awful. Awful!
Ritchie: Everyone's desk—
Carter: Awful. Awful. Everything opened into—everything in one big room, which I like but I notice it's not like that now because with the computers you don't need all that paper that people had. So it's a lot neater. And I believe that they have rules about you can't bring food in or something like that. We never did that. You went on and if you needed a bite, you got it.
Ritchie: And brought it to your desk.
Ritchie: And was Hodding's office with glass so he could see out—
Carter: No. Actually, the old Delta Star was a separate room with the door opening. And at the Democrat-Times it was in the new building. It was up front. But there was a back door that went right on into the newsroom. And the front door that came so that you had ready access in each direction.
Ritchie: To the offices.
Carter: Oh, yes.
Ritchie: Did you have your own office when you went in?
Carter: No. I'd always sit where Hodding sat if he wasn't there. Or I had a desk in the newsroom, one or the other. Depending on which hat I was wearing.
Ritchie: Sometimes both, probably.
Ritchie: Well, Betty, I know that future historians and students of journalism, women's studies, will enjoy reading these transcripts. And I hope that you've enjoyed it as much as I have.
Carter: Well, I've enjoyed talking. My heavens. What opportunities does one get to just talk on for hours?
Ritchie: Well, I'm glad that we were able to interview you.
Carter: Thank you. Thank you.