Because this session was videotaped,
material from other sessions may be repeated here.
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Ritchie: Well, Betty, it's nice to be here again with you. It's been several months since our last meeting and interview session. At that time we talked about your family and your early days. And I'm impressed by your mother's influence on your life. Could you talk a little bit about your mother?
Carter: Well, there's no way not to talk about Mother. Because she was an influence, she was a frightfully important person in my life. I think mothers always are. But Mother was such a dynamic woman and very much ahead of her times in so many ways so that a lot of problems that women of my generation had to solve for themselves, Mother had solved and passed on the solutions to us. It was good. And there were some things that I feel now that she needed to grow still about but she achieved so much and she had rules for life that were—if it needed to be done, do it. If you could deputize it, deputize it. But the things that you have to do for yourself, do for yourself. And those are the things that are simple things, like getting enough rest, getting up, eating properly, sleeping, going to the bathroom. And those are things that nobody else can do for you. But beyond that, the organization of time is very important and she taught us that.
Ritchie: Did she have any influence on your later career in writing and journalism?
Carter: She just adored anything that her children did. She felt—she was so proud of us and whatever we did. She had really thought that I should be going into the diplomatic service because she was one of the first, if not the first—she was one of the first women to take the foreign service examination. And she had decided that would be a good career for me and I was perfectly willing to go along with that. And because of that, at Newcomb I took a lot—I majored in French, minored in Spanish and history. You can say, "Well, what good is that going to do to you when you went into journalism with your husband?" Who can ever say what will be worthwhile, what will be useful? But Mother saw to it that we had full childhoods with many, many windows opened at all times.
Ritchie: You grew up here in New Orleans as Betty Werlein.
Ritchie: And when did you meet Hodding Carter?
Carter: Well, I met him the end of the summer—let me think. I graduated from McGehee's in 1927 and went on to Newcomb. That summer I could have met Hodding Carter because we were in Europe, some girls and I with a chaperone, and I had a letter to Hodding's aunt in England. And she couldn't receive me at that time because one of her daughters was getting married and she was very busy. Well, her nephew, Hodding, was there. Thank God he didn't meet me then. I was a roly-poly little high school graduate with braces on her teeth and he a sophisticated Bowdoin graduate. It would have been hopeless.
By a year later, I had met Corinne, his sister, at the rush parties for Newcomb. And she'd gone Kappa [Kappa Gamma], I'd gone Pi [Beta] Phi. Then that summer, I phoned Corinne and I said, "Could you come up to a party we're having?" at Amite, Louisiana, where we were for the summer. And she said, well, she couldn't come. And I said, well, could she send some men. And she said she would send her brother.
Well, she'd talked about him so much during the winter that I was ready to meet her brother. And he was very cute. He liked me. But he sat the whole evening on the front porch with my mother instead of coming in—danced with me twice, I think. And it was not until the Deke [Delta Kappa Epsilon] boat ride in the fall that we began dating. And that was in the fall of '28, I think.
Ritchie: And you dated for several years and then married in the early thirties.
Carter: Oh, yes. You see, in those days you couldn't get married until you were—at least we didn't consider getting married until you were out of college, if you were a girl—in my group, I didn't. And besides that, he had to have enough of a job to support me. After his teaching at Tulane as a fellow working towards an M.A. which he didn't stop to get, he went to work for the New Orleans Item-Tribune at twelve and a half a week. We weren't going to get married on that, even if I had been out of college, which I wasn't. And don't ask me how we did it in those days but we managed and finally got married in the fall of '31, which as it turned out was the beginning of the bottom of the Depression.
Ritchie: Yet Hodding had a job.
Carter: He got a job with the Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi. So our first married life was as a young couple in Jackson where we were for five months. Then came all of the—the state of Mississippi was completely broke and the big fight was over the sales tax and whether they would have a sales tax or not. And as I remember, Mississippi was the first state in the Union to adopt a sales tax. But whether it was the first, it was one of the very first. And in the controversy, all of it developed and Hodding was fired and we went back to Hammond to be at his family's. He said if we were going to be out of a job, we were not going to stay with my mother in New Orleans, we would stay with his family in Hammond, which we did. He was looking for a job in New Orleans but they were letting everybody go because it was the Depression.
Carter: '32. That was '32 by then. But we had a little money left over from our wedding so Hodding decided that what we'd do would be to start a daily paper because the strongest weekly in the state was in Hammond. So we started the daily paper, the Daily Courier, in Hammond, Louisiana.
Ritchie: And you thought you could make it, even though it was this time.
Carter: We had to make it. We had to make it. There wasn't anything else to do. And we stayed out at the Carters for a while. And then when things got a little bit better—I don't know why they were better but we did think they were better—we went and rented a little house in town, that was a darling little house. And then we had the five-day-a-week paper and we would—well, it was a tough time, if you want to know the truth. And you had to figure about how you were going to do anything. We'd come down and visit Mother on the weekends. If you had five dollars, you could fill your tank with gasoline, you could stop at Laplace, Louisiana, and have a martini for twenty-five cents apiece. And that sort of broke the horror of the week. Then you went on to Mother's, go back up on Sunday night because on Monday I had to go out and collect the money from everyone who promised it to us because we'd written checks to our people after the banks closed on Saturday at noon. And we had to get enough money in to cover those checks before the banks opened at 9 a.m. on Monday. It was tight but we managed, as I've said before.
Ritchie: So you and Hodding went into this venture together and you worked at the newspaper.
Carter: Oh, I was there from morning until far into the night. I was advertising, feature writer—not much features—special columns. We couldn't afford columns so I had the Yum-Yum column—I didn't know how to cook but I got a recipe a week from different people who were very good cooks. And one recipe came out calling for a cup of sugar—I meant a cup of sugar and I had in a cup of salt which was obviously wrong.
Ritchie: I don't think the readers would like that.
Carter: No, it was ridiculous but everybody recognized that that was a mistake.
And then we had the beauty column. And Mother was a believer in—I think it was salt that was so good. You could rub that on your body and that would make you soft. So that was one of my columns about the use of salt. And I had soda for something else. I don't know, we made up everything.
Ritchie: Did you also cover community events?
Carter: Oh, of course. And of course, selling the advertising, which was usually my job with that paper and then at the beginning of the paper later in Greenville. I went one day to see about beer ads. They had just begun to have near-beer, I think it was, which was just before the legalization. And my nice Pabst man said—no, Schlitz, don't get those mixed—and so he said, "Well, you always come to get my ad but you've never had a beer with me." I said, "Well, you've never asked me." So we had a beer then and there. Then I had to go to the Catholic ladies' spaghetti luncheon. And I went. Believe me, that was a problem, with beer on my breath, and all the ladies coming up and saying to the sweet little thing, "How did you like the spaghetti, Betty?" Here was a lady—and I'd say, "Oh, it's delicious." I couldn't look at her because I didn't want her to breathe what I was fuming forth.
Ritchie: Who were some of the other advertisers that you had in Hammond?
Carter: Oh, well, we had Mr. Graziano who was big—he had a big butcher shop and grocery, very nice man. And Mr. Kelly Labue. Now, Kelly wasn't as good a prospect. He went on to be much more prosperous but he was very canny, too. So you had to be—everyone was a little bit worried as the years went by and we were more and more anti-Long. They became nervous about giving too much support to this anti-Long newspaper because while our congressional district was anti-Long, that didn't mean it was safe to be openly anti-Long.
I can't remember who the other—oh, the two drugstores and Mr. Donaldson's department store. And Mr. Penney came to town, with the opening of the J. C. Penney store, and he was a darling old gentleman. So those were our principal advertisers.
Ritchie: How much would an ad have cost them?
Carter: Very little. Probably twenty-five cents an inch, a column inch.
Ritchie: Did you actually do the ad composition and write the text?
Carter: I wrote the text. And I really enjoyed doing it because I felt that the man had something, the merchant had something that he wanted to sell. Now, he didn't know how to say that. He didn't know what pitch to give it to make it sell. So I enjoyed going out and trying to talk to him and find out. Lots later than that, in Greenville, when we were trying to encourage house-building, I would go out and interview each new house, interview the lady of the house, and she would point out to you, "Well, we have hardwood floors." Well, when I wrote up the story, I would make it important that they had hardwood floors because that to her—or maybe she had moth-proof closets.
Now, when you sell advertising, you try to find a thing that the merchant is trying to communicate. It's the same thing. So they would tell me what they wanted to achieve and then we tried to help them. Of course, I was the only girl ever to graduate from Miss McGehee's without a unit in art. And one of the problems was that I didn't recognize in printing that the letter "N," for instance, mine always looked sort of like a "Z." But you're supposed to do a straight line and a straight line and connect it from the top to the bottom. Well, when I had to do my ads for my advertisers, it was a good thing they were set up in type, not photographs, because they were awful.
Ritchie: So you did the actual writing and the layouts.
Ritchie: And how did you produce the newspaper?
Carter: Oh, we did it at our own plant. At first we didn't have anything. Let me think. The first thing we got was a little press. We had that. But we would take the copy to Ponchatoula, Louisiana, where it would be set on their linotypes on the weekly there. And then we'd bring the page of type to Greenville where it would be put on the press.
Ritchie: To Hammond?
Carter: To Hammond. Did I say Greenville?
Carter: Oh, dear. And coming across the Illinois Central track one day, the whole page pied—that means that we hit the track too fast and it shook the thing up and the type went out and there was nothing left together except a little classified ad for Hodding's uncle's Texaco station. So I said, "Look, the only thing we can do, we can't re-set the page, we've got to get the paper out, so we'll just run that Texaco ad right in the very middle of the page, all white all around." And I had to rush to Uncle Connie and tell him if anybody asks him about that ad, say, "Of course, I took the whole page." Ridiculous. But after that, we realized we had to get a linotype. So we bought a linotype.
And every time, it was "how were we going to get the money to do these things?" because the four hundred that we started with didn't last long. And we had—Mr. Stibolt lent us some money and I guess Herman Deutsch lent us some money at one point. And these were just good friends that had faith in Hodding—and me, too, I guess, but mostly Hodding because he was the newspaperman.
Ritchie: How many copies of the newspaper did you print?
Carter: I have no idea. I have no idea. Now, shall we say a thousand? I'm sure that's too much. It was tiny.
Ritchie: And would you have home delivery and then sell them in stores, also?
Carter: Mostly home delivery. Home delivery.
Ritchie: How did you get new subscribers?
Carter: God, I don't know. I guess we had at least one contest. When we went to Greenville, we had a wonderful contest. And that, of course, was in '36. And we would give a prize. We were going to give a set of living room furniture to whoever sold the most subscriptions. And I suppose we did something like this in Hammond.
And Mrs. Ely was simply wonderful. She sold the most. In fact, everybody else gave up when they heard how wonderful she was. And she sold all the subscriptions. But when the time came to give the living room set, we couldn't find anybody that would trade out a really expensive, good living room set. So the living room set turned out to be sort of a wicker sofa with nice cushions. It would be very nice on a porch, with two chairs. Well, she liked it, it was all right. So what did we give in Hammond? I don't remember.
Ritchie: And who did the home delivery?
Carter: We had a boy on a bike.
Ritchie: So Hodding did the writing of the feature articles—
Carter: And the business side. And his father—at first I kept the books. Well, I knew nothing about keeping books. So Mr. Carter would take over and help me with keeping the books. But Hodding was writing the news and the editorials. And we didn't have AP or UP, so—
Ritchie: So how did he get the news?
Carter: We'd get it off the radio and rewrite it. And that's how we heard about Huey Long being shot because we were— eventually this nice young man, Bert Hyde, a student at Southeastern, came and he was our first reporter. And he wrote a lot of stuff about Southeastern. And he married a girl who was a dancing teacher. They had an apartment upstairs so we'd go up there, on Sunday night especially, to get what Walter Winchell was saying. And out of that you could make your Monday morning news. And there it came, that Huey Long had been shot. [Tape interruption.]
Carter: —Depression. What we were doing was just surviving. And everyone in the state of Louisiana was trying to survive. There was no money anywhere except the state had this money and Huey used that money to accomplish what he wanted to accomplish. Nobody dared go against him. And I remember the day that the janitor from the Hammond school wanted to be confirmed as janitor of the local school. He had to go to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to get the okay to get the local janitorial job. That's how completely Huey had achieved power in the state. I think that's why we hated him so.
Now, looking back, you can't help but having been for him when earlier he'd gone to eliminate the poll tax. Also he wanted free school books. He had done a wonderful job with highways and bridges. All of that is good. But achieved at the cost of what rights and what freedoms. How much of this would we have received, would we have achieved, in the course of the next five or ten years, anyway. It was a situation whose time had come.
Ritchie: Were other newspapers coming out against him?
Carter: Oh, they had all started against him. But they went over. We were about the only one left. And the Literary Digest said that the Daily Courier was the—I don't know if it said the Courier or if it said Hodding—was the most vocal of the Louisiana editors. Well, the others had all shut up. We hadn't been bought. We were still fighting.
Ritchie: Did Long try to suppress you?
Carter: Well, the way that they tried to get us was—they had passed this thing, the legislature, setting up the state printing board. And to be—the only money that you could get, cash, was if you were the county—the parish in Louisiana—official printer. Now, the official printer had to publish the entire record of everyone
who was tax delinquent. Well, that was good cash money. Every lawyer had to publish his official notices in the official journal. And that was cash money. So now by setting up the state printing board—you couldn't get that unless you were okayed, you couldn't get this good contract with the local people.
So we had been elected the parish printer, official printer, and the printing board wouldn't okay it. So there wasn't any point in taking it to the state supreme court because we had fought the state supreme court when Huey packed the court. So now we took it to the federal court and they said it was not a federal matter, that it had to be turned back to the state. Well, when that happened, we knew that we were dead ducks. But that was before Huey was shot. And because of that, we stayed on, because Hodding said, "I will not let it be said that Huey drove me from this state." So we stayed on until Huey was dead. Now, actually, the state printing board action came after Huey was dead. But what he had set up was the thing that got us. And prior to that, before the state printing board, we could feel it in our advertisers who sort of knew that it was not the thing to do, to advertise with us.
Ritchie: Did your advertisers ever try to influence what was written in the paper?
Carter: No, they did not. And I'll tell you, Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt asked that question once when Hodding was a Nieman. And the advertisers—I guess they knew that Hodding was too independent for that and they didn't. No, they did not.
Ritchie: When Hodding was writing his pieces against Long, would you read them and comment with him?
Carter: Oh, yes.
Ritchie: Collaborate on them?
Carter: Not collaborate, read. And of course, then and later, but mostly later, because at that point the only issue was Huey Long. Later, in Greenville, for instance, there would be collateral issues of one type or another. And when he would write an editorial that was very hot, I would like to read it first, not to keep [him] from saying what he had to say, but what is the point in irritating a collateral group of people that you may have to go after later but in the meantime they may be supporting the same ideas that you have with regards to putting more black policemen on the force, with regards to having a better school system? Why irritate those people when you're going after this target, whatever it is? So he would usually let me get away with that. And occasionally, occasionally, you could correct it after he had sort of thought not to do it but he wouldn't re-read it later. So you could quietly take it out when it was absolutely outrageous, when you knew that it would make the sky come falling down. I don't think I did that but once or twice but I've confessed.
Ritchie: He did allow you to read—
Carter: Oh, yes.
Ritchie: —and to ask you to read.
Carter: Oh, yes. Well, it wasn't even ask, it was an accepted thing that if I came in and was ready to read, I read. And if it was a hot issue, I was there.
Ritchie: Even more so.
Carter: Oh, definitely.
Ritchie: What were some of the hot issues in Hammond after you finished with Huey Long?
Carter: That was it. That consumed the whole time and energy that we had. And getting out the paper and that was it. And then Hodding ran for the state legislature in Louisiana and he did it because no other anti-Long person was going to run.
Ritchie: Was Huey still alive at the time?
Carter: Yes. So he went to Kentwood, Louisiana, and he went back to Kentwood, Louisiana. I didn't go with him but the first time. And in those days you talked to your electorate constituency from the back of a pickup truck with a loudspeaker. And so he went back and I said, "Why do you keep going back?" Well, that was an anti-Long area. And he said, "They like me there." Well, that wasn't going to get him any more votes.
And we went to Pumpkin Center, a little crossroads town somewhere between Hammond and Baton Rouge. And we got out there and Hodding made his talk. There were only about five people in the "assembled multitudes." And this man and his wife—and we had been told that it wasn't a good place to go to because they were so pro-Long. So Hodding went on out there and I went just to listen. And this man and his wife were there and after it was over, the farmer came up to Hodding and he said, "Now, listen, son," he said, "I don't agree with you." But he said, "When the votes come in from Pumpkin Center, you're going to get two votes, me and my wife, because you had the courage to come out here."
Ritchie: So he recognized—
Carter: He did, you know. And I think a lot of people recognized that in Hodding. And believe me, that's what—you know, people can't help but respect courage.
Ritchie: At what point did you decide to leave Hammond?
Carter: Hah! When we were dead-broke and saw that there was no future and that we weren't going to get any more printing board money. And Huey was dead, so now we could go. And before that, in the spring before Huey died, there had been a seventy-fifth anniversary of LSU and they put on a big hoopla for writers. Hodding was invited to go over there and I was in the hospital here having—in New Orleans where I am today—having, about to have—waiting for, I wasn't in the hospital yet, I was waiting to have our first son, Hodding.
And my husband Hodding got to talking—it was a hot April day—and he was talking to David L. Cohn out on the fire escape of the Eola Hotel in Baton Rouge. And Dave said, "There's no use in you all just batting your heads against a stone wall. Come on to Greenville, Mississippi, my home town, where they need a good paper. And I think we can get someone to put up some money to help you." And so, that's how we heard of Greenville, Mississippi. Hodding said, "I can't leave until Huey's dead." Well, little Hodding was born. That following September Huey was shot—I will not say assassinated, he was shot, because I don't think it was an assassination, I think he was killed probably by one of his—the bullets from one of his guards ricocheting. So anyway, after that, then we were free to sell the paper if we could and move.
Ritchie: So you moved to—
Carter: To Greenville, Mississippi, in the fall of '36. And coming up to Greenville, it was—I'll tell you to try to get a newspaper functioning is unbelievably difficult, just the mechanics of the thing. And so three times we had said that we were going to come out on—and I'm making up the dates, I'm not sure—October the 1st or October the 12th or—[but we] could not get that paper to rolling. Three weeks later with the same staff, the same equipment, we were able to get the paper out.
Well, I had sold all the advertising for the Grand High First Issue. And that had been interesting because one of our stockholders was supposed to be going to be a strong supporter. And I went to see the Goyer Company about a nice, big ad. In the meantime, I talked to—actually, I say "I," this is incorrect, Hodding had talked to the editor of the old paper and he'd given him his price chart and that was what we thought we would stick to. When I got to the Goyer Company, I realized that the price that their ads were going for was nothing like what we had been told. So I came down and was talking to Mr. McGehee and I talked on and I'd go a little lower and I'd go a little lower and finally he said, "All right. I'm going to take the ad, at the price you told me first and I'm going to tell your father about you." He had heard—so he thought Hodding was my father. Well, I got the ad. The interesting thing is that even though these men were our stockholders, when it came to actually buying ads, you couldn't count on them.
Ritchie: When you say stockholders, these were people who invested—
Carter: Yes, right. And we put up half the money and they put up half the money.
Ritchie: How much would it have taken then to start—
Carter: Well, we put up for around $15,000.
Ritchie: And you bought equipment and hired people?
Carter: That's right. And went ahead. And I guess it was really more than $15,000 because what we had was $15,000.
Ritchie: Where did you get $15,000?
Carter: From selling the paper. And that was sweat-equity, if you ask me. You know, from $400 in '32 we had built the thing up to where we sold it for that. And that was sweat because there was nothing else there.
Ritchie: What was the competition like in Greenville?
Carter: It was a newspaper that was the old established newspaper, very wishy-washy editorially, which is why this group of local leaders felt they needed something stronger. And for instance, they had an editorial that we considered symptomatic. They talked about the boys coming to the matinee at the movie and throwing peanut shells down on the people from the balcony. And they said, "This is pretty reprehensible. But then boys will be boys." You know, just sweet. Well, that wasn't what we went to Greenville to do. It doesn't mean we didn't do that, too, but we wrote the stories and tried to get the facts.
Ritchie: Were Greenville and Hammond about the same size?
Carter: No, Hammond was about 8,000—if that, counting Southeastern which was just beginning. And Greenville was about 22,000, I guess by then.
Ritchie: Quite a bit larger.
Carter: Oh, yes.
Ritchie: Would you have considered doing a weekly paper?
Carter: No. No, with that size town, it had to be a daily. And we were used to a daily and they wanted a daily, so we put out the Delta Star. And we had it two years. In '38, in the fall of '38, it was either we were
going to go under or the old Greenville Democrat-Times was going to go under, it was impossible, for us both to go on. I was in the hospital having a miscarriage with twins and Hodding was negotiating for buying—taking over the other paper.
Ritchie: So you had established your paper.
Carter: In two years we had. And I was the advertising manager for the first year of the Delta Star. And then we realized that we needed assistance. We brought a man in to be the advertising manager and I would be the assistant advertising manager.
Ritchie: Why did he get to be the manager?
Carter: Because he was a man and because it would make more of a splash. Now, the thing that—and also he was a professional which I had just come up through the ranks to be.
Ritchie: It's a good way to learn, though.
Carter: I think so, too, looking back on it. But the only thing that really hurt me, I think the only thing that Hodding did—well, there were others but this was professionally. And here I was, I had done all the advertising, gotten it to the point that we needed a man to be in charge. And they wrote a wonderful story about the manager coming in. He didn't say, "Mrs. Carter, who has done so much for the paper, will continue as assistant." Didn't mention me. Now, that was not intentional but it's the way things happen. I said, "Hodding, how did you do it?" He said, "Of course, that's ridiculous." Well, it was ridiculous.
Ritchie: Well, he knew that your time and your efforts were important.
Carter: Well, he did. Oh, and the thing was, we didn't think about it that way. This—we were in this together.
Ritchie: Do you think it would have been easier for a man to sell advertising, to get the advertising?
Carter: No, not at the beginning. Not at the beginning. I remember I went in to see a man who had a big men's wear store. And I went in to see him. He turned out to be a very nice man but I didn't know that. So he kind of—I was talking to him—and I was a cute little thing. And he sort of pinched my cheek and said, "You're going to do very well," and sort of winked. And I took my hand and I said, "You're doing well, too." And I pinched just as hard as I could. I never had any trouble with him.
Ritchie: Did you get the ad?
Carter: Yes. And I'm not sure that I would have had trouble with him, anyway. Maybe he was just being the way that an older, Southern gentleman was going to treat a cute girl. Maybe that's all there was to it. But I just couldn't have it.
Ritchie: So you sold advertising and did you have other responsibilities at the paper?
Carter: At the paper. Let me think. Not with the Delta Star. It wasn't until later that I did other things. When we came back from the war, that's when I did things like the farm—oh, yes, I did society at one point, women's page and cultural things. And that would be before—after we'd taken over the Democrat-Times which we changed from Greenville Democrat-Times to Delta Democrat-Times.
Carter: That's it.
Ritchie: And you covered social events and community activities.
Carter: Right. Right.
Ritchie: So you would actually go to them or—
Carter: Oh, yes.
Ritchie: —they would call you about them.
Carter: Well, mostly with social events you just did it by telephone. And that was also the period of stimulating housing by writing up a house every week. Many's a house I look at today and think about how happy the housewife was to have an inserted cabinet where she had lighting for her dishes and things. You know, the thing that made the difference. And in writing up—it's ridiculous but I've always felt that human beings have to be supported in the things that they're doing. And even if it's a flower arrangement—and that's a major thing—on your table for the party, describe it. I don't know, maybe that's minor but I think that the main thing we've got to—oh, I'm awful. I'm so terrible.
Ritchie: No, no, no. No.
Carter: No, I really do. I think that's important. I don't say it's the most important thing.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Ritchie: I wanted to ask you a little more about the women's page that you worked on. What types of activities—
Carter: It was lousy because all that we really did was we covered the clubs, we covered the church meetings, the women's church meetings, we covered parties, brides to a fare-thee-well, and as Louise Crump said, who was our woman's page editor before and after, she said that when she took over from me, I left her with all those Baptists meeting-in-circles. Well, they had at least five circles—six circles—and I thought every name that you get in is important. So we would give the reports on what the ladies had done at the circle meeting and the principal thing was to get the names in, which we did. So people were clipping it and putting it in their scrapbooks and taking it to the state convention to "Look at all the publicity that we got." And the PTAs, we did cover that very thoroughly. Principally the PTAs that I went to, of course.
Ritchie: Because you were there.
Carter: Because I was there so I could cover that.
Ritchie: Was Louise the first woman that the newspaper hired?
Carter: Oh, she was, and she was a great woman, just really great. And Louise—when we first came to Greenville, one of the major problems was malaria. And she was going at that time with the county health doctor. He was in the malaria campaign and so she made a big to-do of every tin can that you had. You had to put a hole in the bottom and you had to step on it so that there could be no water accumulating for the malarial mosquitos. That was her major campaign.
And the Democrat's major campaign, the editorial—well, it wasn't editorial—the news column campaign, the news campaign was the syphilis control. And Hodding had these stories running like mad about syphilis,
what it was, and the incidence in Washington County was very high. And Bob Brown, our first hired general reporter at the Democrat who later went on to get—his paper got a Pulitzer eventually. But anyway, Bob answered the phone and some lady phoned and said, "This is perfectly disgusting. I have to cancel my subscription. I've never had anything come into my home with all this stuff about syphilis." And Bob said, "Lady, Madam, we're going to keep on until syphilis is on the tongue of every woman in Washington County." It was a horrible thing to say but he meant that he wanted the women to talk about it. And he was right.
Ritchie: Would this have been a subject that wasn't discussed in—
Carter: Oh, it was not discussed. Oh, that was really breaking into a new world. Another was when we got back from the war and this very nice wife of a doctor came in to see Hodding and said that she thought that when we wrote up the activities of black ladies, we should use a courtesy title of "Mrs." And Hodding said, "I can't see any reason why we shouldn't do that but I will consider it." And he went and talked to the news staff and he said, "Look, this is ridiculous." They all said, "Yes, this is ridiculous." So after that, we began doing it. We were way behind what the Northern press was doing but we were way ahead of what the Southern press was doing.
Ritchie: So in covering activities of the black community, you would just use their name, not any prefix.
Carter: In fact we didn't cover any of their social activities. We covered church meetings, if it was sort of a major church meeting, not what they did weekly, which of course the papers do now, only to at least announce them. But the big break in the whole way that things were handled as far as black and white was concerned came after World War II, because that was the period after World War II when the soldiers were coming back, they had learned an awful lot about things. It was also the period of the development of full mechanization, the industrialization of the farms. And the people were being thrown off the land—the planters deny this—if you were not going to work for them at the price they were willing to pay, they would say, "Well, I give you this house to live in, but you're not going to live in it any more because you're not working for me."
So in '66, I guess it was that we had the big—well, when the people came back [from the war] and mechanization began and the mules all went out in '48, '49, then came the big throwing of people off of the land. And you had the two revolutions, the industrialization of the farms and the civil rights coming at the same time. That was the winter of '65-'66, I guess it was. And young Hodding was off at the Nieman; Hodding my husband was down here [New Orleans] and I was with him, supposed to be going back and forth and seeing about the paper.
And then that Christmas the consensus of opinion was that I had to get back and stay there with the paper. And I did. And I had to get another editor because they didn't like the way that the young man was handling it. The young man was right. He was against the Vietnam war and every front page was the Vietnam war [story] in the right-hand front. And my husband and my son didn't want the Vietnam war, they thought it was over-emphasizing, and we had the local scene to emphasize. So we got another editor and they put me in charge. Nobody had ever been demoted or fired in the history of the paper. So I had to go in and say, "Now, we like your work but we don't like your editorial slant. Now, you can be a reporter but you can't be editor." So he quit and I don't blame him.
Ritchie: So you wanted him to have the tone of the paper that Hodding would have had.
Carter: Yes. Exactly. That's exactly correct. So then I had to name an editor. And this was like on a Saturday. So I looked around the room and I wasn't going to be the editor on Monday morning. I wanted an editor and there was Foster Davis, a young man who was in the newsroom. I said, "Foster, you will be the editor." So come Monday morning, I go in early to see how my editor is doing and my editor is not there. My editor is out at the air base. "Why is he at the air base?" "Well, a group of people have just gone in and broken the lock and taken over one of the air base housing units and they're in there and they said they're going
to stay there because they want land." Well, the whole press of the world was in Greenville within twenty-four hours. And so here is my baptism by fire. And Bishop Moore came down from Washington. And the girl in charge who ran that whole thing was a woman from Meyersville, Mississippi, named Unita Blackwell. Well, we had no contact with them inside the building so we just did what we could. And I must say that Foster's story was very sketchy, the first story. But you had nothing to go by at first. But that was the strongest protest that we had during that particular period in the community.
Ritchie: You mentioned having to fire someone and then appoint a new editor. What were some of the other things that you did during the time that you were in charge?
Carter: Mostly that was the thing, to get that thing straightened out.
Ritchie: Would you go there on a daily basis?
Carter: Oh, every morning and stay until three or four, just to see what everything—and what stories were coming in and how we were handling them. Earlier than that—this is a good one. Two things, earlier than that, David Brown was the editor at that point and I was in charge. So I had decided that we ought to have milk put into the public schools, that students could put a nickel in the slot and get milk. I finally got the school board to say that was a good idea and we came out with an editorial which I hadn't seen in which David said that was the worst thing he'd ever heard of, brainwashing the children not to let them have Coca-Colas! I could have died.
And the other thing that happened about that same time, I took the man from Mississippi State to lunch at the marina—this has to have been after the war because there was a marina by then—and I said that I didn't think I was for a veterinary school for Mississippi, that we needed more hospital beds. And I really gave him the feeling that I was not going to support him. I came back, David had come out with an editorial supporting the veterinary school. So that shows how light my control was.
Ritchie: Well, but for the most part, you had control.
Carter: I had control. I did.
Ritchie: And you certainly worked with Hodding on the community aspect.
Carter: Oh, always.
Ritchie: And he was well-known for being a leader in the field of civil rights.
Carter: Oh, yes.
Ritchie: A native Southerner—
Carter: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. And don't forget that—you see, Hodding had a two-fold role. He was interpreting the South to the North and trying to speak to our constituency which was only 14,000 circulation and say, "Look, keep your shirt on. Let's work this thing out." And he never came out for immediate integration of the schools, ever. But his position was that we can work it out if we work together because we have worked together. We worked together in the Delta, we went through the floods, we went through yellow fever, we went through major catastrophe after catastrophe, and we can work this thing out. He was a fighting moderate, if you ask me.
Ritchie: Now, you say he was a spokesperson interpreting the South to the North. And this was through—
Carter: Through magazine articles and through speeches and trying to explain. And one of the hot minor issues was when he spoke, I told you this, at Pembroke College. And at that point, Oliver Emmerich in McComb had come out for something. And Oliver was close to Hodding in many positions. So he had come out for—Oliver had had this editorial and he was walking along outside of his building when someone hit him and knocked him into his plate-glass window and broke it. So Hodding came out with an editorial—no, Hodding at Pembroke said, in answer to the fifth question, "If you can't keep law and order locally, then you ought to bring in the National Guard. If you can't do it with the National Guard, bring in the marshals. If you can't do it with the marshals, bring in the Marines." At that point, the Jackson Daily News, which couldn't stand one thing about what we were saying, said, "Carter says bring in the Marines to desegregate the schools." Well, all hell broke loose when that happened.
Ritchie: That was selective reporting.
Carter: Absolutely. It was not good at all.
Ritchie: In Hammond, you were a newspaper very much—or in the state of Louisiana—on your own. Did you have colleagues in Mississippi?
Ritchie: That agreed with your point of view?
Carter: Well, now, you see, Oliver Emmerich was down at McComb and he was on the moderate side. A girl who did a great deal was Hazel Brannon Smith. Hazel never intended to get into the thing. None of us intended to get into anything, we just wanted justice and we wanted equal opportunity and Hazel wanted equal—there was a bad case and a man had been shot and the sheriff wasn't taking the proper steps and she said things about it. From then on they were cutting off her advertising and her printing and everything else. She had a hard time. But she didn't intend it. We didn't intend it, either.
Ritchie: Were your advertisers ever reluctant to continue with you when major issues such as the civil rights came in?
Carter: Yes, certainly. And when the citizens' councils formed in sixty—let's see, the school desegregation decision was in '54, so I guess it was '55 that the citizens' councils were organized. I hope that's the right date. Well, that was a period of anti-Carter agitation. Now at that point in '55, I wasn't doing too much at the paper. I may have been doing the farm page. I can't remember when I was doing the farm page. I loved the farm page.
Ritchie: What did you write about on the farm page?
Carter: That was once a week. And you went to see the farmers and you went to see the county agent, you got the hand-outs from Mississippi State University and you tried to—our biggest industry was farming. So you tried to talk about the latest things. Then we brought out one issue, the land-use edition which had come out earlier than the farm page and I really loved that.
Ritchie: So you worked on a special issue also.
Carter: Oh, yes, frequently.
Ritchie: So you felt that this was an item of concern to the community.
Carter: It was basic. Basic. If you didn't have a healthy agricultural economy, that was basic to the entire life of the community. So, yes. And the other thing that we were fighting for in the early fifties was industrialization, bring industry in.
Ritchie: Wasn't there a large out migration from Mississippi—
Carter: There had been. Men came back and then they started flowing north again.
Ritchie: Looking for work.
Carter: Jobs, you see. And Hodding's position was that with industry and farming, too—no jobs, no people, no subscribers. You know, if you want to look at it from the point of view of self-interest—which is kind of where we are today with regard to education in the state of Mississippi because if you can't get people educated, you're not going to be able to—they're not going to be able to have jobs. No jobs, everybody loses. I don't know. I don't know how fast we can do that. That's beside the point of your talk.
Ritchie: You mentioned a moment ago that in the mid-fifties you weren't too active in the paper. You said, "I wasn't doing much at the paper." Were you doing anything at the paper during that time?
Carter: During the fifties, beginning with—see, in '51 we moved to the big house. In '52 Hodding went to Southeast Asia for the State Department so I went to the paper every day during that period, supervising, keeping in touch with the whole thing. And also planting the place. He left a list, four pages single-space, and I'd done every single thing while he was away.
Ritchie: Would you write editorials?
Carter: No. Never. I never wrote an editorial but one. And that was early when they were talking about a new hospital and they were going to put it up next to the ball park—at that time we had the baseball park—no air conditioning. And they were going to put the county hospital next to the ball park, with no air conditioning, the windows would be open, the cheering would come through and people would just have to listen to all that. And I couldn't take it. I told you that story. Ridiculous. That's the only editorial I ever wrote.
Ritchie: You felt strongly enough to write an editorial.
Carter: Absolutely. That hit me in the gut.
Ritchie: And Hodding allowed you—
Carter: Oh, I could have done anything. You know, I wasn't—he was the editorial writer. I'll tell you, I think that—I really feel we had a real partnership so that anything he achieved, I feel I helped. And I know that he thought anything I achieved, he helped me.
Ritchie: Well, in addition to his newspaper writing, he wrote several books which I know you did a lot of research—
Carter: Oh, I did a lot of the research, you see. During the early fifties, I was working on that history of the Episcopal church. And then came a book about a road that went through from Saltillo to Natchitoches, Louisiana, called Doomed Road of Empire: [the Spanish Trail of Conquest. New York: McGraw Hill, 1963]. Then I wrote—he wanted to write the book about why the Heffners left McComb, but he couldn't write, that was the summer of '64. [So the Heffners Left McComb. Garden City: Doubleday, 1965].
Ritchie: Betty, did you ever disagree with a stand that Hodding took?
Carter: Never. The only time that I did was when we were in South Africa. And the very last night, we were staying with people who had become friends, and Hodding made an extremely intemperate speech to them, to their assembled guests, about what he thought they ought to do. And I was really embarrassed because while all of it was true, they were in no condition to receive that information, to receive it. I think he just felt it was his last shot to do it and he did it. But I just—I really didn't like it at all because it was embarrassing to the host and his wife. It was also imperiling their position in South Africa, to have harbored us. And I thought, is this achieving what he really wants to achieve?
Ritchie: Would you and Hodding have talked about this?
Carter: No. Oh, ahead of time, that evening he started telling me what he was going to say. And I said, "I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't do it. It's too hard." I'm afraid I'm a soft person. I don't want to hit too hard on a thing. I feel that you chip around it and eventually you get what you're working for. I don't know.
Ritchie: In our earlier interview you spoke of the time spent at Harvard in the Nieman fellowship. And I believe you said, "when we were awarded," so really that award went to both of you.
Carter: Oh, always. And I'll tell you the truth, I could never have said to you, "Yes, I will do this, I will do that." It was "we." And I think he did that, too. I think we just each got from the other that particular element of strength which the other needed.
Ritchie: And in winning the Pulitzer prize for his—
Carter: Right. Well, he had done that. He actually wrote that editorial probably up in Maine, in the summer of '45. And then it appeared here in Mississippi. And then he was awarded the prize in May, I guess it is, the first Monday in May in '46. And his editorials that he wrote that fall in Greenville, after we had actually gotten back to the paper, he had written that having gone back to the paper—I hadn't gone back to the paper yet. I had the new baby, Tommy. He was born at the end of April. And so I was in Maine for that summer.
But by the time we got back to Greenville, I think Hodding's editorials were so strong and so good. But they're not the ones that were submitted to the—he was calling on the people of the South and of Greenville to go ahead and do what he knew they ought to do and what, he said, was in them to do. And what I was supposed—I wasn't going to the paper during that first year at all. I was at home with the baby, I was in New Orleans with my mother who was dying of cancer, I was going to PTA meetings and getting elected to all sorts of things, sort of to prove that we were home and that we were part of the community, because we didn't want to appear to be Northern agitators. It was very important to be part of a community, boring from within.
Ritchie: In looking back over your career and your time you spent at the newspaper, were there other decisions that were made that you had an active role in, a vocal role?
Carter: Certainly whatever was decided. I don't remember specifically.
Ritchie: If a new person was hired—
Carter: I would have an input on that. But I must say that it took me longer to make up my mind on people. Hodding always seemed to—I can't say intuitively but close to intuitively would be able. And I remember the first man he hired like that was right after the war. And Tom Karsell had written in and asked for a job and Hodding asked him to come for an interview. Years later I saw that letter. I said, "Hodding, how in the world
did you know to tell Tom Karsell to come down for an interview?" I would never have known it. But that was his strength, that he understood people.
Ritchie: What about changes in format or—
Carter: No, I didn't do that. No.
Ritchie: Hodding would have done that exclusively.
Carter: Well, he and the editor. He would say, "Now, look, this won't do any more. We've got to do this." And then they would get together and have the discussions.
Ritchie: I know that over the years the women's pages changed a great deal.
Carter: Oh, ours was just stupid.
Ritchie: But did it change with the times?
Carter: Oh, yes, finally, finally. And of course now it's a very different thing—I hope.
Ritchie: As Hodding's health declined, did you assume more responsibility at the paper?
Carter: Yes, to some extent. But remember, by then young Hodding was there so he was taking on more responsibility. And taking care of a sick man is a very full responsibility. Plus constantly people from all over the world at the house, every day, every day. Beginning in about '56, I guess it was, we had to have Phalangea Word, a wonderful woman who came to us after school was over [where] she was in charge of the cafeteria. And she would cook and serve dinner and we couldn't have pulled through without that. She was a remarkable gal.
Ritchie: The international visitors were a result of Hodding's writing and trips abroad?
Carter: That's right. They were State Department people that were clearing through, people who wrote and said they wanted to come to see him—educators, civil rights workers from all over the world. And they'd just come on and there they were.
Ritchie: We were talking a little earlier about Hodding's other writings, his books that you did so much research for. Did you ever actually sit down and write the words that went into the books? I mean, you gathered the research material, but—
Carter: Well, it would end up that I did, without intending to. For instance, that church book Hodding and I wrote, [So Great a Good; a History of the Episcopal Church in Louisiana and of Christ Church Cathedral, 1805-1955. Sewanee, TN: University Press, 1955], the three paragraphs that are quoted—excellent, the best. It's the difference between research and writing. And the Doomed Road of Empire, the chapter on the Alamo, it's perfectly beautiful, the only thing he wrote. So the Heffners left McComb, he couldn't write it at all because that was the summer of '64 and he was in no condition. Maybe it was by the winter of '65 that I was writing that. And so yes, I did do some writing.
And then along about '67, I guess it was, we went off to Canada to do some articles, just nothing articles that Dan Guravich, a photographer in Greenville, needed someone to write the article so he could sell the pictures. So we went off and did that and Hodding sold a few light articles and I wrote those. And later after Hodding got worse, Dan said, "Well, look, come on and you write them," which I did, mostly on salmon conservation and I don't know, things in the Pacific Northwest.
Ritchie: I believe there was one published in the Smithsonian magazine.
Carter: Yes, with Dan's photograph of spawning salmon on the cover. After Hodding died in '72, I got involved with the history of the mule throughout the world. The Smithsonian editor encouraged me but didn't run the piece when I finished it. The only piece on the mule that got published was in '76 in The American Heritage, "The Mule in the Delta." I wouldn't have had to have gone one inch from home to write it.
Ritchie: To do your research.
In talking about the Hammond paper, you mentioned how you got the news. How did the news come to you in later years or how did you get the news?
Carter: AP. AP or UP.
Ritchie: When did the wire services come in?
Carter: I think there was a short period in Hammond when we were able to afford an AP service, maybe not the full wire but something else, because I remember I came down to New Orleans and represented the paper with all those men editors. It was fun. I have a picture somewhere. So I think there was a brief period that we had the AP, some kind of a service. Then when we got to Greenville, we used UP because [it was] cheaper than the AP and the old paper [Democrat-Times] had the AP.
Ritchie: So you wanted the difference—
Carter: We had to. I don't think we could have done an AP paper there in that size town.
Ritchie: What other newspapers did you read?
Carter: The Memphis Commercial Appeal, primarily. And at one point, we were getting the Christian Science Monitor because in '38, I guess it was, I was their correspondent and doing little nothing stories, the summer of '38, I guess.
Ritchie: Stories on the South?
Carter: Stories on Mississippi, just news that was coming in that they might be interested in. And [for] the Times-Picayune, too. I was a stringer.
Ritchie: For the Times-Picayune?
Carter: Yes. But nothing much because the Picayune circulation that far north in Mississippi was not very great. The miracle is I think I made about fifteen or twenty dollars a month.
Ritchie: So did you do that for some time?
Carter: Oh, I did it for the summer, I think of '38, just before Philip was born. I was very pregnant, I remember that.
Ritchie: And that was the same time you were doing it for the Christian Science Monitor.
Carter: Yes, that's right.
Ritchie: Did you ever do anything like that again?
Carter: No. No. I guess I got so involved with what I was doing. And then in the fifties, I was being a hostess from '54 on, being, you know, with those people coming and taking them around. And the thing that was fascinating about that was that with the people coming from all over the world, we had people of all different colors coming and staying at the house. And that was very valuable to the community, to see that people could be other colors and could be walking around the streets of Greenville with a white woman.
And I remember one editor from Bombay. He was the blackest man I ever saw in my entire life. He was a purple black, he was so black. And they didn't know where he was from. And I said, "Well, you know, he's Aryan." They said, "Aryan?" I said, "He is Aryan according to all the books." The black people from that area of India are Aryans, in the true sense of the word. So I had fun with that.
Ritchie: So you educated the community—
Carter: We did.
Ritchie: —not only through the newspaper but through—
Carter: Through what we were doing.
Ritchie: Through your activities.
Carter: Through our activities.
Ritchie: Looking back, is there anything that you regret not doing?
Carter: No. I think at some point I really was intending to sit down and write but I never got around to it.
Ritchie: Do you think you will now?
Carter: I might. I might. I don't know, I'm trying to learn how to run my word processor. As soon as I get that, then I'll be able to read my own notes. At this point, my handwriting is so terrible that nobody can read what I write.
Ritchie: Were there other people in Mississippi that you knew and came to know through the years that had a partnership like you and Hodding did, in the newspaper business?
Carter: No. No.
Ritchie: It's a unique one.
Carter: Oh, I don't know. And we were so involved in our own little world. Hodding didn't belong to the national organizations. The only thing he belonged to was the Southern Regional Council which was a fact-finding organization out of Atlanta. But we felt that—and I never served on state boards, I served on the local boards. And we stayed right home, at home, where we could control what we were saying and what we were doing.
Ritchie: Did the coming of television change the newspapers at all?
Carter: I don't know because—I'm sure it must have. And I remember when we started running the television schedule, John Gibson, our business manager and partner, he owned a fourth of the paper—John Gibson thought that was the worst thing you could possibly do. He said, "Why do you give sustenance to the enemy?" But we did.
Ritchie: And the paper survived?
Carter: Yes, we did. But that was a good point.
Ritchie: Earlier during our break you were talking about two aspects of the newspaper that were always there.
Carter: Oh, survival and doing the creative thing for the community. And they didn't always go together because you could do something that had to be done but you knew when you did it that you were taking a risk. I can't remember specifically but Hodding would write these good editorials and then go off to New York and I'd be left at the house and Tommy was the only person at home. And I remember one night when the telephone calls got to be so intense. It was like the critical mass with the nuclear bomb—when things will get enough of the critical mass that's there, it can explode. Well, it never exploded but you always thought it might. And this particular night, Tommy and I sat at the top of the stairs in the house with a shotgun over my lap. And if anybody came in that house, we were going to blast them good.
Ritchie: Do you remember what that editorial was about?
Carter: No, there's no telling. And I'll tell you one I do remember—in one of the towns north of Greenville, a white commissary owner told this black man that he owed him some money.
Ritchie: The black man owed the commissary?
Carter: Owed the commissary. And the white man said that the black man used some bad language or something and the commissary owner shot the man dead. However, he said it was because the black man had threatened him and was going to kill him. Well, he was shot in the back. And Hodding said, "How do you say you shot in self-defense when the person you shot has already turned their backs to you?" So he wrote an editorial. They weren't even going to have a coroner's jury.
They weren't going to do even that. So Hodding wrote an editorial and said, "You can't have a dead body and not have somebody come in and check it legally." Well, that night you have—you see, Hodding was off to New York or the University of Virginia or wherever, so here I am with Tommy at the top of the stairs and that was an occasion. But the other thing was, I had a lot of Chinese gongs in the night table by the bed, and after we went to bed, I figured, well, if they come, if I take those gongs and just hit 'em real hard, it will scare them so. Well, that was ridiculous.
Ritchie: You knew how to deal with the people that weren't pleased with Hodding's writings.
Carter: No, that's what—yes, I did.
Ritchie: Did you ever feel threatened?
Carter: We did, frequently. We did. And I remember one time when he was away and a boy, the Keating boy, was staying with me. And he came home from school—maybe I went and picked him up. And he said, "Mrs. Carter, may I go home and get Ami?"—that was his German shepherd dog. And I said, "Sure." So we went home and he got the dog. I said, "Was it bad at school?" He said, "Yes." He said, "It's very bad." He said, "I just think it's better to have the dog here." Well, he'd heard all the kids talking, the way their families talk. So we had Ami there that night and nothing happened.
Then there was De La Beckwith. Did you ever hear of him? He's the man who shot Medger Evers. And so of course we had come out against that whole situation. Now, [Byron] De La Beckwith starts working for a seed company in Greenville, Mississippi. And he begins asking young John Keating about the lay of our house—"Now, the kitchen is there and the living room is there and the dining—" Young John just wouldn't
tell him any of that. Well, we knew he was there and we knew he was trying to find out, we knew—you never know when an absolutely off-base person may go further.
Ritchie: Did you ever feel like giving up? Was there ever a point—
Carter: No. No. Now, I'll tell you, we were not all-out activists at all. All that we were trying to do is to keep sanity and decency and equal opportunity. And equal opportunity for everyone to say their say.
Ritchie: But in Mississippi you would have been regarded as a radical.
Carter: It was impossible. We were extremely radical. We were dangerous because—
Ritchie: But you had the support to put the newspaper out.
Carter: We had the support.
Ritchie: I mean, you had the financial resources.
Carter: Well, we were selling ads like mad and we were not getting any of the job printing which is what we had counted on early. But where there was a choice and they could go to somebody else, they'd go to somebody else. But when there was only one newspaper, they went to us.
Ritchie: Would political candidates come to you and ask for endorsements?
Carter: Yes, but we never endorsed until they got up to the higher level. Now I'll tell you who we endorsed. We endorsed Frank Smith running for Congress, who had worked for us as a newspaperman. Excellent man. And it was at the period of the Eisenhower election. And we endorsed him right from the beginning. And that was the Eisenhower election.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Ritchie: So the paper would not endorse political candidates.
Carter: Not on the local level, until it was at the general election stage, usually.
Ritchie: And what was the idea behind that? That they would give people a fair chance—
Carter: To everybody, say, put out all the different points of view.
Ritchie: And on a statewide level, would the paper become involved with political campaigns?
Carter: Yes, it would, it would. Well, of course, as long as the Democratic primary was the only election, we had to endorse at that stage, and did. But preferred not to but you had to.
Ritchie: And it would have been a news item when the candidates would come to the area?
Carter: Oh, yes. And cover what they said, if you could—not always, but try to.
Ritchie: On a paper of this size, how much of the news would be local and how much national?
Carter: We'd tried to keep it very local because we felt they were getting the Commercial Appeal or some other paper but you had to give them enough so that if that was all they were getting, it would be all right.
Ritchie: Once you began to cover the news of the black community and incorporate that in your newspaper, did you see a change in your subscribers?
Carter: More blacks after that. That was good. But as far as the whites were concerned, they didn't fall off because of it. It was simply putting more information in about the full community. The thing that's interesting, I notice in the transcript that you did, that I refer to the community, meaning the white community. You know that today if the word "community" is used in Greenville, I know it's the black community because the word "community" has come to mean black.
Ritchie: In Greenville.
Ritchie: So if you talk about the community you area saying—
Carter: If I'm talking to my black friends and I say "the community," I mean the black community and they mean the black community. Which is interesting but simply a different transfer of where you're sitting.
Ritchie: Would there have been a black newspaper in Mississippi at that time?
Carter: Yes, there was. And there was one in the—the Delta Leader I think was the name of it. It was put out by a black editor. And he had—the family had had the paper over the years, financially always very strapped and not doing too much in terms of anything but sort of lodge notes—about what we were doing when we put out the Baptist circles.
Ritchie: Did you see that change over the years, the black newspapers?
Carter: Well, they finally went out of business and now there's a black radio station. And I don't think that they're doing any more than any other radio station politically. They're announcing that candidates are coming, that's about it.
Ritchie: You mentioned that you gathered the news from the radio in Hammond. But did radio have any other impact on newspapers, that you were aware of?
Carter: Well, everybody listened, certainly during the war, but that was afterwards. I think that the time the radio came into its own as a news media was during the war, and everybody listened to the radio—5:00 p.m., I think it was and you had to hear what was happening, and it wasn't until after the war that television came in—I mean World War II. But back in Greenville and Hammond—well, I don't think it had too much news impact except to get what you had to off of it. And out at the Carters, they had to listen to somebody sing about the moon comes up over the mountain—what was that? "When the moon comes over the mountain"—well, anyway that was the famous thing that you listened to or maybe if the moon went down, I don't remember what it did. But that was the sort of thing you listened to. I don't think it had much impact on—there weren't that many radios yet. By the time of the war, there were plenty of radios.
Ritchie: But the people wanted to read the local news?
Carter: Absolutely, because that's where they got the local news, they didn't get it from the radio.
Ritchie: As the staff grew and increased, were there more women hired at your newspaper?
Carter: Yes. Right. And no blacks until quite late, I think probably young Hodding put in the first black staff members. Now, it's a good rounded staff as far as women and blacks. I don't want to say other minorities but okay. But we didn't have anything to do with that after '80, you see.
Ritchie: At what point did you decide to sell the newspaper?
Carter: Well, young Hodding had gone to Washington. Philip was having a terrible time trying to commute between New Orleans where he had an alternative paper and coming to Greenville and his wife didn't want to live in Greenville. I could see that I had worked fifty years and that I would be there the rest of my life. And financially we were confronted with needing to buy a lot of computers and a new addition to the press. John Gibson was talking about wanting to retire [and] we would have to take care of a contract for him and buy him out. I just saw terrific financial decisions that would have to be made. And from the point of view of editorial content, I didn't have either of our sons there. And I just didn't think that we could ever go anywhere but down.
Ritchie: And you had no interest in continuing.
Carter: Well, I miss it. I miss the fact that it's a power that's gone. But I think that I would have been spending so much time on the technical side and struggling financially, as we had fought at the beginning, and I didn't have the strength to do it. I copped out.
Ritchie: You mentioned the technical aspect, and I'm certain that you saw from the thirties to the end of the seventies many, many changes.
Carter: Well, the main thing was that we put in a really good press. And when I went into the newsroom and didn't know how to write a story because everything was computerized, that made me mad, to have to hand it to somebody. There was a lot to learn and I wasn't interested in learning it.
Ritchie: But you certainly had had a long and very successful career.
Carter: Well, from '32 to 1980, the first thing I thought of every moment was the paper. How long is that? That's not fifty years—if you do forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty—forty-eight years, something like that. And I just didn't see where—I could have waited for Catherine, she might have come along, our granddaughter, but how did I know if she wanted to, and this had been very much a family paper.
Ritchie: As opposed to one that's owned by an outside company that hires—
Carter: Right. Right.
Ritchie: And sent them into a town to do reporting.
There are two things I regret. I regret that we don't have the paper because I loved the feeling that I could go in and take a story and it ran the way I wanted it to run—which would be a PR story, probably, in terms of what it really was. And I did that all through the years, whatever the issue was, if it was a meeting that I felt was important, I tried to write the story so it would get the crowd out. So I regret that. And then in selling the house, I regret that because it would be nice to have a big house for holidays. But the rest of the time, who's going to take care of the ten acres with the green grass growing all around?
Ritchie: It was a good time in your life to make some changes.
Carter: It was. I had to, I guess.
Ritchie: Well, thank you, Betty. Your recollections and your career certainly are worth recording and I'm glad that you agreed to do it with us.
Carter: Thank you very much, Anne.
© 1992, Washington Press Club Foundation.
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