April 2014

Walter Horace Carter

Journalist, Publisher

Walter Horace Carter knew journalism could be a tool for social justice — especially in a small town. Carter’s tenacious opposition to the Ku Klux Klan earned him the 1953 Pulitzer Prize and helped to impede further Klan expansion in North Carolina.

A native of Albemarle, Carter attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he worked as the editor of the campus newspaper. After graduation in 1943, he served in the Navy during World War II In 1946, Carter moved to coastal Columbus County, where he founded the weekly Tabor City Tribune. His news stories and hard-hitting editorials on Klan activity would soon earn him national attention and professional acclaim. On July 22, 1950, the Klan staged a parade through the small rural town, to highlight recruiting efforts in the area. Carter immediately responded with an editorial expressing his utter disdain.

In the editorial, headlined “No Excuse for KKK,” Carter called the Ku Klux Klan “the personification of Fascism and Nazism” and a disturbance to newly found tranquility in most post-war communities.

It was the first of more than 100 articles and editorials he would write over the next three years as he and Willard Cole, editor of the neighboring Whiteville News Reporter, stood up to the Klan. Despite personal threats from Klan leaders and a general lack of community support, Carter and Cole stayed firm in their beliefs and continued to publish.

The publications sparked the first intervention by the FBI, eventually leading to convictions of more than 100 Klan members.

“Willard and Horace were not merely civil rights advocates; they were advocates for civil society in their own towns,” said Ferrel Guillory, professor and director of the Program on Public Life at UNC-CH.

In 1953, the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service was awarded to both newspapers for “their successful campaign against the Ku Klux Klan, waged on their own doorsteps at the risk of economic loss and personal danger, ending the terrorism in their communities.” Carter left newspapering in the 1970s, but found retirement unsatisfying. He returned to the newsroom 20 years later and continued to edit and write until just before his death in 2009 at age 88. “He was a God-and-country kind of guy,” Carter’s son, Russell, told The New York Times. “But he was committed to social justice, and he was not prepared for the fact that other people didn’t see it that way.”