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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with W. Horace Carter, January 17, 1976. Interview B-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Reaction to receiving the Pulitzer Prize

Carter describes what it was like to honored with the award of a Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for his journalistic campaign against the Ku Klux Klan. Along with Carter and the <cite>Tabor City Tribune</cite>, Willard Cole of the <cite>Whiteville News Reporter</cite> was also honored. Carter explains why he believes these two small, local papers received such recognition. As elsewhere in the interview, he also stresses the importance of their collaborative work with local, state, and federal law enforcement. After the passage concludes, Carter continues to enumerate the other awards and recognition he received for his campaign against the Klan.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with W. Horace Carter, January 17, 1976. Interview B-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Well, Mr. Carter, you won the Pulitzer Prize, and your paper is still the only weekly in the United States to ever win the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service. When were you notified of the award, and what was your reaction when you received the award?
W. HORACE CARTER:
Well, I was sitting in that little old thirty by seventy building down on Live Oak Street, the first building we ever occupied, and I still just had a girl and me and a printer or two in the back. And the call came from the Raleigh News and Observer; I don't know whether it was Jonathan Daniels or somebody else—it might have been the state editor. Anyhow he called me, and I happened to be in at the moment. And he said, "I want you to know that it just came over the wire that you won the Pulitzer Prize." And I said, "For what?" And he said, "For Meritorious Public Service. This is the biggest of the Pulitzer Prizes." And you know, they've got them in various phases—literature and all. And I said, "Well now, I never expected anything like this down here in the country." And so it was a startling kind of thing; I mean, if you come from a little old country community like I did, and go to a school like Chapel Hill (that you felt like you were the smallest frog in the pond up there), and then you come down here in another rural area, and to win the Pulitzer Prize (which is, to me, the biggest of all the journalism awards), is almost unheard of. I was shocked and really didn't know how to handle it. But we did run a headline the next week in the biggest type we could find (some big old wood type about two inches high) saying "The Tribune Wins the Pulitzer Prize." It was almost unimaginable then and now.
JERRY LANIER:
Well, Mr. Carter, perhaps this is a difficult question, but I was curious as to why you think they gave you the Pulitzer Prize? What did you do? What was the most important thing in your reporting or your writing that won for you the Pulitzer Prize?
W. HORACE CARTER:
I think we've got to give Jonathan Daniels some credit for that, as the editor of the News and Observer in that time. I think he spotted a trend in the country toward anti-segregation and anti-Klan activities, and I think he saw the possibility that the time was ripe, so to speak, for some weekly newspaper to win something for something that it did in the country. In pointing out the merits of this little crusade down here to Columbia University and the people who make the decision as to who wins the Pulitzer Prize, I think that they saw in what Mr. Daniels said some merit: that maybe it was time to recognize some of the smaller media in the country, and here was something that did have national attention. It had made the New York Times and Time magazine and the various big publications in the country (the Klan activity had), and I think the time was right for a weekly newspaper to win an award. And we have to again go back and give Jonathan Daniels and the Raleigh News and Observer some credit for having won it. Don't you think that perhaps they were impressed, probably, up in New York with what they perceived as really nothing less than courageous action, primarily because you were threatened? And they had a real fear of the Klan themselves, I suppose. I think that they did see this as country journalism that's taking much more of a chance than we would in New York City or Washington or Baltimore or Chicago. We kept referring to it as "fighting an evil that was on our own doorstep;" and it was on our own doorstep. And I think that some of the big papers kept harping on this, that you can sit up here in a big airconditioned office with a hundred people in a newsroom and say some things, and not be pressured nearly as much as if you're sitting down there by yourself in a little building on a remote street, where the people you're talking about are right outside the door.
JERRY LANIER:
I see. Well, editor Cole in Whiteville was also acknowledged for the Pulitzer Prize. And I was curious: did you and he work together? Did you cooperate, get together to plan your crusade, or was it just each of you individually doing the same thing?
W. HORACE CARTER:
It was individually done. Willard was in Tabor City before he went to the News Reporter in Whiteville. He came here as my replacement after I resigned as secretary to the Chamber of Commerce (of the Merchants' Association). He came here from Panama, and he lived here a number of years. And he served as executive secretary of the Merchants' Association. He had been in the newspaper business before in North Wilkesboro and some other places, but he had been out of the newspaper business for a number of years. Then he had a chance to go to Whiteville to be the editor of the News Reporter (Mr. Leslie Thompson is the one who hired him at the time), and he went over and filled that job. And we never got together, like prior to a publication date, and said, "Let's have another editorial about the Ku Klux Klan." But in his own routine of running a newspaper and in my routine of running a newspaper, enough things came to our attention in meetings and threats that we just naturally grabbed onto the possibility of pursuing this subject. And we ran it over a period of three or four years. Willard, I believe, got into it about '50 or '51, somewhere along in there; you investigated this somewhat, so you know about this. But when he got into it, he got into it with both feet, and I felt like that … he did a better job than we did during the latter portion, the latter phases of this investigation into these conditions and all. Him being there where the sheriff's department and all was gave him some advantage in that, too.
JERRY LANIER:
Well, did you have access to the law enforcement people? Did you talk to the sheriff people, or was this a real problem for you? Did you have to get up out of bed late at night and run over to the sheriff's office?
W. HORACE CARTER:
Oh, I talked with them on numerous occasions, because they were in our office occasionally. And I suppose I was in their office occasionally, although I was so busy trying to make a living I didn't have too much time to run around hunting deputy sheriffs and go over to the sheriff's department. But I say again, in spite of the fact that they perhaps were very sincere in their efforts, I don't really think the sheriff's department had anything to tell you. I don't think really they knew much that they could tell you that was a good news lead, or anything that you didn't already know. And, of course the FBI, they would tell you a considerable amount about what was going on (not everything, but some of the things that were going on), but you obviously had sense enough not to divulge it, either, because we were trying every way we could to cooperate with the FBI and the SBI.