OPINION: ‘Little Hod’ Carter returns to Mississippi for Common Cause

JACKSON – Mention the Hodding Carters of Greenville and the name brings to mind one of the legendary families of Southern journalism. Fortunately, Hodding III, who left news-papering to become a nationally known TV commentator, columnist and educator, Friday will find his way back to Mississippi to speak at Common Cause/Mississippi’s annual dinner.
Many will recall Hodding, after veering off on a political track in the 1970s, and joining the Jimmy Carter Administration, became Assistant Secretary of State and spokesman for the state department. He was a daily fixture on TV in 1979-80 after Iranian students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 63 Americans hostage.
Carter will team up with former Oxford Mayor Richard Howorth, the owner of that city’s Square Books, to discuss the related role of good government and the press. The dinner meeting set for 6:30 p.m. will be held at the University Club here.
Howorth was virtually drafted by a good government group to run for mayor of Oxford in 2001 and won by a narrow vote. After one term, he won reelection in 2005 without opposition on a record of bringing a new openness to city government and putting an end to council members circumventing the state open meetings law.
He did not seek reelection in 2009 in order to devote full time to his Square Books, one of the noted independent bookstores in the nation, that thrives on Oxford’s reputation as the home of many noted authors.
“I strongly believe government belongs to the citizens and my ambition as mayor was to communicate and be open to the public,” Howorth says. He had praise for his hometown newspaper, the Oxford Eagle, for covering meetings of city government agencies.
(Common Cause/Mississippi, significantly, had taken a leading role in lobbying the Mississippi Legislature to enact the state’s open meetings law in 1975 and the public records law in 1979.)
Carter was known in the family as “little Hod” in contrast to “Big Hod,” the combative editorial patron of the talented Greenville newspaper family. After graduating from Princeton University in 1957, he did a two-year stint in the Marine Corps before joining the family’s Delta-Democrat Times as a reporter, then later moved up to become managing editor.
In 1961, Carter won Sigma Delta Chi National Journalism Society’s top award for editorial writing and his Delta Democrat-Times was recognized as one of the rare Southern newspapers to speak out for racial moderation.
His father, “Big Hod,” in 1946 became the first Mississippi newspaper editor to win a Pulitzer Prize for his editorials, gaining national attention for advocating basic civil rights for black citizens, beginning with the right to vote. Even though the older Carter had not called for desegregating schools or other public facilities, his newspaper became a favorite political target for Mississippi’s racial demagogues and the white Citizens’ Councils which were born in the Delta after the 1964 Supreme Court decision declared segregated schools unconstitutional.
The DDT under young Hod became one of the first Mississippi newspapers to publish wedding announcements and obituaries of African-Americans.
In the mid-1960s, Hodding III became active in civil rights and Democratic politics, joining with the biracial state Loyalist Democrats to unseat the state’s all-white Democratic delegation in the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. When the Regulars and Loyalists united in 1976, Carter actively campaigned for Jimmy Carter to win the presidency and was chosen by the president to become Assistant Secretary of State.
After President Carter’s defeat in 1980, Hodding moved into television as a commentator and panelist for several networks as well as writing a regular op-ed column for the Wall Street Journal. He took a professorship at the University of Maryland and in 1998 became CEO for the Knight Foundation. In his seven years at the foundation, $15 million in grants were awarded for freedom-of-information projects and initiatives. Since 2006 he has been member of the faculty at the University of North Carolina.

Bill Minor, a nationally honored journalist, has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him at PO Box 1243, Jackson, MS 39215-1243, or e-mail at edinman@earthlink.net.

Bill Minor