Honoring Hodding Carter III

Nov. 16, 2013 @ 11:27 AM

Nearly eight years ago, Hodding Carter III joined the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In writing about his recruitment, the General Alumni Association newsletter aptly said “the university has reeled in a big catch.” In the nearly a decade since, Carter has taught public policy seminars, counseled students, helped attract scholars and speakers and lent his affable deep-South charm to the university and Chapel Hill scenes.

This past Monday night, the Harvard Club of the Triangle honored Carter with its Giduz award for public service.

The Giduz award, according to the club, is “presented annually to an outstanding citizen who is committed to public service in our community, country and the world.”

Hodding Carter III certainly personifies that commitment.

Perhaps best known as the public voice of the U. S. State Department during the Iran hostage crisis, Carter occupied a number of other distinguished posts before joining UNC in 2006.

He is a former correspondent for the PBS “Frontline” documentary series and has won the Edward R. Murrow Award for broadcast journalism. Just before coming to UNC, he headed the Knight Foundation at a time when former UNC President William Friday was using his post as chair of a foundation commission to sound repeated warnings about the troubling overemphasis on major-college athletics.

But we confess to paying particular homage to Carter’s days as a crusading reporter and editor at his family’s Delta Democrat Times in Greenville, Miss.

He advocated civil rights at a time when such a stand was rare in the south, particularly in profoundly racist Mississippi. He did that at profound risk, but with a deft blend of southern charm and editorial bluntness.

A column from the Harvard Crimson in October 1965 captured the delicacy – and courage – of Carter’s position.

“Hodding Carter is a good newspaperman,” Philip Ardery wrote. “He keeps on speaking terms with both warring factions, and it's his style that lets him straddle the fence. Carter's heart is with the civil-rights worker, but, at the same time, the man is Old South, through and through. Each half of Mississippi resents his other self.

“His sheer elegance protects him from his segregationist neighbors, even endears him to them. To be on the wrong side of ‘the Negro question’ is contemptible (at the very least) in his state, but Carter measures up so well by all the other yardsticks of Southern quality -- family, manners, appearance, and so on -- that he is almost above reproach.

“His life is in constant danger. The phone threats often go on all night. Each year, sure as Halloween, comes the attempt of some irate group of Greenvillians to start up another paper and put the DD-T, a plague for thirty years, out of business once and for all.”

For all his contributions, dating to the tensest days of the civil rights struggle and culminating in his contributions today to UNC, the Harvard Club honor was richly deserved.