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Ronda Rich: Learning about unknown heroes
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History’s full of people who made a difference, took a stand or voiced an opinion against injustice when it cost them plenty. Either it wasn’t known at the time or time covers their boldness in cobwebs and chokes away the memory.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately when it comes to two of the greatest newspapermen ever known to the state of Mississippi: Hodding Carter II and Oliver Emmerich.

Mr. Carter was owner/publisher of the Greenville Delta Democrat Times. His son, Hodding Carter III, was a member of President Jimmy Carter’s administration.

Mr. Emmerich also served in both capacities for the McComb Enterprise-Journal. His son, John, continued the newspaper and his grandson, Wyatt, has built it into an impressive chain of newspapers.

I feel certain these two outstanding, ethical journalists would want me to tell you from the onset this column runs in both newspapers. But that has nothing to do with my respect for both gentlemen after what I learned recently. It only makes me proud.

After a visit to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tink and I returned home and were looking for something good to watch on television. We found a PBS special called “Freedom Summer.”

It’s an absorbing documentary about the summer of 1964 when activists came to Mississippi to register black voters. In the documentary was a story of a white family in McComb, the Heffners, who encountered a great deal of unpleasantness after having a couple of white volunteers over to the house for a supper of hot tamales from the famed Doe’s in Greenwood. Within six weeks, the Heffners, whose daughter was the reigning Miss Mississippi, put their house on the market and headed north to live out their lives.

One year later, while facts and memories were still fresh, Carter published a book titled “So The Heffners Left McComb.” The foreword was written by Emmerich.

No sooner had the documentary ended than I was in a search of the book and discovered the University of Mississippi Press is re-releasing key books like this in a series called The Civil Rights In Mississippi Series edited by Trent Brown. Carter’s book is the first one to be republished in this series.

If you’re a student of history, if you love a good narrative, if you are curious to the backstories in big, all-encompassing stories like the three Civil Rights workers murdered that summer in Philadelphia, this book is a must-read. The story is intriguing but, most important, Carter’s account is compelling as he tells the story in simple language but fills in details.

In the book, we learn several things. Doe’s tamales were known for a lot of garlic. Heffner spent around $5,000 on wardrobe in 1964 for his wife and two daughters for the beauty pageants and the surrounding festivities. The family glassed in its ranch-style home’s garage for additional entertaining space. Heffner was a veteran of World War II. Mrs. Heffner’s first husband was killed in the Battle of the Bulge while she was pregnant with daughter Jan, who became Miss Mississippi.

We learn, too, Emmerich was assaulted twice (once in view of witnesses) for his gently prodding editorials that strove to bring his community together during such a scary spring and summer.

I put down the book and rocked on the back porch, thinking for a long time. These were two small business owners who put their lives, their families and their businesses in jeopardy to stand up civically and morally. Advertising was lost and subscriptions cancelled, but they stood strong and honorably.

Fifty years later, both newspapers continue to thrive and are still the community centers. Both are now owned by the Emmerich newspaper chain.

Mama was correct: Right always wins out. Just stand strong.

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know.” Sign up for her newsletter at Her column appears Tuesdays and on