Dr. Walter E. Campbell and Martin Clark recently won an Emmy Award for their documentary The Editor and The Dragon. I knew that this Morgan Freeman narrated documentary had something to do with the newspaper EDITORS of Columbus County who courageously fought against the KKK. The title left me completely perplexed, because their were two newspaper editors that fought the KKK and two newspaper editors that won Pulitzer prizes for their efforts. Despite this fact, the documentary does a great disservice to history by burying the contributions of one great man in favor of a counterpart who outlived him.
This documentary was produced by UNC-Chapel Hill’s Center for the Study of the American South in conjunction with Memory Lane Productions. The subject of this documentary, was Tabor-Loris Tribune editor, Horace Carter. His son Rusty donated $1 Million to the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication to establish a professorship in his father’s honor.
As a Whiteville, NC resident and Whiteville Rotary Club member, I was very interested in this story. Horace Carter was a Rotarian and member of the Tabor City Rotary Club. Whiteville Rotarian, Willard G. Cole deserves equal credit to Horace Carter for putting his life on the line as editor of the Whiteville News Reporter. Instead he is a mere 13 second footnote buried 40 minutes into the documentary.
Watch this clip from the 1953 episode of the CBS Program See It Now as both Williard G. Cole and Horace Carter receive equal credit for their good work:
The editors of the documentary The Editor and The Dragon included this segment of See It Now in the intro of their documentary, but they cleverly edit out every reference to Willard G. Cole, Whiteville and the News Reporter that they possibly could.
This 1953 article from The Rotarian Magazine that also gives equal credit to both Carter and Cole.
Willard was from my neck of the woods in Wilkes County, NC. Jule Hubbard of the Journal Patriot wrote this about him with the claim that it was actually Cole who led the KKK fight in Columbus County:
He was the son of Maria Bumgarner and the Rev. Thomas H. Cole, a Methodist minister. He graduated from North Wilkesboro High School and was 20 when he joined the staff of The Journal-Patriot in North Wilkesboro in 1926. Cole was a printer but started writing news.
He was named editor of the Ashe County Journal in West Jefferson, owned by Journal-Patriot publisher Julius C. Hubbard, when it was established in 1929.
Cole preceded the late Dwight Nichols as editor of The Journal-Patriot and later became a reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal. He next spent five years in Panama working for a road construction company.
He later was hired as secretary of the Tabor City Merchants Association in Columbus County and became editor of the Whiteville News-Reporter, also in Columbus County, in 1948. In 1950, Cole and editor Horace Carter of the Tabor City Tribune began a crusade against the Ku Klux Klan, which had recently become active in Columbus County.
The two newspapers published pieces attacking the Klan in response to its acts of terrorism and intimidation. Regularly threatened by the Klan, Cole carried a gun when he answered his door at night. His anti-Klan editorials assailed the organization for its secrecy and its vigilante violence. In the aftermath of Klan violence, over 80 Klansmen were arrested on kidnapping and assault charges; nearly all were convicted with sentences ranging up to six years.
Cole and Carter, shared the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service in 1953 and received other service awards. Cole, older of the two and editor of the larger newspaper, led the fight.
Cole left Whiteville shortly after the Klan crusade and became editor of the Lumberton Post in Robeson County. He founded and became editor of the Robeson County Enterprise, a semiweekly in 1963.
He was working in this capacity when he became fatally ill in 1965. Cole was survived by his widow, Mary Frances Donnelly, whom he had divorced but remarried several years later; by a son, Willard John Cole; and by a daughter, Mary Jo Cole Burnette. He was buried in the Donnelly family cemetery in Ashe County.
Horace Carter deserves every bit of recognition for standing up to the Klan, but so does Willard G. Cole. It should not matter that he was outlived and it should not matter that he did not donate millions to UNC. How unfortunate it is that this documentary showcased such a narrow perspective of what was done in Columbus County over 60 years ago.