A Pulitzer-winning fight with the KKK
“The Editor and the Dragon: Horace Carter Fights the Klan,” a documentary film about a Tabor City, N.C., newspaper editor who took on the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1950s, was the first film to sell out at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. The world premiere of the invited film was screened on the festival’s last day, Sunday, at the Durham Arts Council.
“The Editor and the Dragon” is the story of Horace Carter, a UNC graduate who was publisher and editor of the Tabor City Tribune on the North Carolina-South Carolina border when the KKK resurgence in the Carolinas was launched by Grand Dragon Thomas Hamilton. The Klan motorcaded through the small town in the summer of 1950. Carter wrote his first of many front page editorials the following week. In “The Editor and the Dragon,” Carter says he never enjoyed writing anti-Klan editorials, but “in my mind, it was a duty.”
In the next two years, local KKK activities – rallies, beatings, intimidations – increased, and Carter wrote about them all. His life was threatened. At one point Hamilton came to the newspaper’s office for an interview, and they traded public letters in the newspaper.
Both men grew up in small Southern towns and were Southern Baptists. Hamilton was passed over for KKK grand dragon in Georgia. Carter went to UNC Chapel Hill, and as editor of the student newspaper, got to know UNC President Frank Porter Graham. As Tabor City Tribune editor, Carter covered the first Klan rally held in North Carolina in decades, in 1951, which included Hamilton’s rant against UNC for integration. The FBI eventually made several arrests in 1952 for the Klan assaults and kidnappings.
The Whiteville newspaper also began covering Klan activities, and both newspapers won the Pulitzer Prize for taking on the KKK. After the attention died down, Carter returned to his work at the Tribune, where he stayed as editor and publisher the rest of his life.
Filmmakers Martin M. Clark and Walter E. Campbell interviewed Horace Carter in 2003 and 2006. Carter died in 2009. Clark and Campbell answered questions after the screening on Sunday. Both are UNC grads. Campbell lives in Durham and is a historian whose doctorate in history concentrated on the American South. Clark has been a filmmaker for more than 20 years. They said “The Editor and the Dragon” was once three hours long and edited down to an hour. The first interview footage with Carter was 15 hours, they said. Along with archival footage from the early 1950s, other interviews included Hamilton’s sisters and Carter’s daughter. Actor Morgan Freeman is narrator.
The film was organized by the Center for the Study of the American South at UNC. Recorded interviews for the documentary will eventually be part of the Southern Oral History program at UNC, Campbell said.