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Cole, Willard Glover

by Jerry Lanier, 1979

24 Aug. 1906–28 May 1965

Willard Glover Cole, newspaper editor, was born in Wilkes County, the son of Maria Dumgarner and Thomas H. Cole. He graduated from high school in North Wilkesboro and began his journalistic career at the age of twenty, when he joined the staff of the Journal-Patriot in North Wilkesboro. Soon he was editor of the Ashe County Journal. He returned home briefly to serve as editor of the Journal. before becoming a reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal. He then spent five years in Panama working for a road construction company; in the 1930s he returned to North Carolina to become secretary of the Tabor City Merchants Association. In 1948 he became editor of the Whiteville News-Reporter, a Columbus County weekly.

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. In response to many acts of terrorism and intimidation, the two newspapers published incessant attacks on the nightriders. 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. One Klansman said of him: "I guessed we despised the editor of the Whiteville News-Reporter most. . . . His criticism never ceased for one moment against the KKK." In the aftermath of Klan violence, over eighty Klansmen were arrested on kidnapping and assault charges; nearly all were convicted with sentences ranging up to six years. The two editors, Cole and Carter, shared the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service in 1953 and also received various other service awards. In their successful efforts against the KKK, editors Cole and Carter ably demonstrated the potential of small-town journalism as a positive, amelioristic force in the community. Cole, the older of the two and controller 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. In 1963 he founded and became editor of the Robeson County Enterprise, a semiweekly with offices in Lumberton. 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; and by a daughter, Mrs. Jean Burnette. He was buried in the Donnelly family cemetery in Ashe County.

References:

Hamlet News-Messenger, 8 Oct. 1958.

Raleigh News and Observer, 5 May 1952, 10 May 1953, 11 June 1953, 29 May 1965.

Time, 11 May 1953.

Additional Resources:

Burnette, Mary Jo Cole. "A country editor’s battle against the KKK: First of a series." The News Reporter (Whiteville, N.C.). May 8, 2009. http://www.whiteville.com/news/a-country-editor-s-battle-against-the-kkk/article_50897ddf-5b90-5a5c-836d-1e9d0de1d6f1.html (accessed January 13, 2014).

Burnette, Mary Jo Cole. "A country editor’s battle against the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan gets a foothold in Columbus County. Second in a series." The News Reporter (Whiteville, N.C.). May 16, 2009. http://www.whiteville.com/news/a-country-editor-s-fight-against-the-kkk/article_5d033a38-9c37-5537-af6c-3a6be5694816.html (accessed January 13, 2014).

Burnette, Mary Jo Cole. "A country editor’s battle against the KKK: The uneasy feeling before the arrests, then the 'Extra' edition - Third in a series." The News Reporter (Whiteville, N.C.). May 21, 2009. http://www.whiteville.com/news/a-country-editor-s-fight-against-the-kkk/article_2f9526a4-29a5-53d7-9e60-a132231274c8.html (accessed January 13, 2014).

Burnette, Mary Jo Cole. "A country editor’s battle against the KKK: Fourth in a series." The News Reporter (Whiteville, N.C.). June 4, 2009. http://www.whiteville.com/news/a-country-editor-s-fight-with-the-kkk/article_e03583c3-57e3-5938-b3e3-7a336e7c6adf.html (accessed January 13, 2014).

Braxton, Lee. "They Spoke Out For Decency." The Rotarian 83, no 3 (September 1953). 29, 55. http://books.google.com/books?id=QUYEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA29#v=onepage&q&f=false (accessed January 13, 2014).

tleonard. "Courageous editor continued to fight." Past Times (blog). News and Observer. March 7, 2012. http://blogs.newsobserver.com/pasttimes/courageous-editor-continued-to-fight (accessed January 13, 2014).

Terry, Thomas Clark. "That Old-time Religion: Three Journalists in the Triangle of Race, Religion, and Liberalism in the South at the Cusp of the Modern Civil Rights Era, 1950-1953." Dissertation. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  2007. http://books.google.com/books?id=z5lmeGfZCmYC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false (accessed January 13, 2014).

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Copyright notice

This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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