With her husband, Hodding Carter, Betty Werlein Carter published the Delta Democrat-Times in Greenville, Mississippi. It was a courageous paper that outspokenly promoted civil rights and other "New South" liberal issues in an "Old South" conservative state. Earlier, in Hodding's hometown of Hammond, Louisiana, they published the Hammond Daily Courier, which stood up against the political machine of Huey Long. Through all of this, Betty Carter raised her family of three sons and played an active role in the family's newspapers. Although rarely a writer, she was involved in many aspects of the papers' development, management, and survival, and she was always a link with the community.
Born in New Orleans in 1910, Betty Werlein was raised in a socially prominent family. Werlein's music store—the original publisher of "Dixie"—occupied a prominent place on Canal Street and was a leader of the business community. Her father, Philip Werlein, died when she was young and her mother, Elizabeth, raised the four children, and was "a frightfully important person" in Betty's life. Her mother was also active in the community and a leading preservationist in the French Quarter. Betty Werlein attended private school in New Orleans and graduated from Sophie Newcomb College, the woman's college of Tulane.
On October 14, 1931 she married [William] Hodding Carter Jr. from Tangipahoa Parish, fifty miles north of New Orleans. They first went to Jackson, Mississippi, where he was an Associated Press reporter covering the Mississippi legislature. Then in 1932, at "the bottom of the Depression," they founded the Hammond Daily Courier, with Betty as business manager and Hodding as editor/publisher. The paper took strong editorial stands against corruption and abuse of power in Huey Long's Louisiana state government, causing them at times to fear for their safety. When Long was assassinated, Betty's first thought was that Hodding might have done the deed.
In 1936 they moved to Greenville, Mississippi, where they started the Delta Star. Greenville's other paper was the conservative Democrat-Times. In 1938 they purchased the rival paper and merged the two into the Delta Democrat-Times. Betty recalled writing only one editorial, but instead devoted her attentions to the paper's management and community outreach. During the Second World War they moved to Washington, where Hodding joined the army and Betty worked for the Office of War Information. They returned to Greenville, where in 1946 Hodding won the Pulitzer and gained national attention for editorial writing. In 1953 he published Where Main Street Meets the River [New York: Reinhart & Company], a personal account of their lives and newspaper careers together. During these years, Betty conducted much of the research for Hodding's many writings. She also devoted her attentions to better education and equal rights for all people in Mississippi.
As Hodding Carter's eyesight failed and health declined, Betty took over more of the paper's management. Hodding Carter died in 1972. Their son Hodding III served as editor and publisher of the Delta Democrat-Times until he went to Washington as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs in Jimmy Carter's administration. His younger brother Philip then became the paper's editor and publisher, but he was torn between his interests in Greenville and in New Orleans, where he published the Vieux Carré Courier. Even after the Carter family sold the Delta Democrat-Times, Betty Carter continued to spend much of each year in Greenville, devoting her time and energies to the community.
© 1992, Washington Press Club Foundation.
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