Betty Werlein Carter, the matriarch of the Carter family of journalists, was the wife of Pulitzer Prize–winning newspaperman Hodding Carter Jr. and the mother of Hodding Carter III and Philip Carter. She was also a journalist, publicist, and editor in her own right. For more than fifty years she helped publish the Delta Democrat-Times, known for its attacks on Mississippi politicians and its moderate stance during the volatile years of the civil rights movement.
Born in New Orleans, Betty Werlein was the oldest of four children. Her father, Philip, managed his family’s music company, the original publisher of the Confederate song “Dixie.” After her father died in 1917, her life was largely dominated by her mother, Elizabeth, and her paternal grandmother, Bettie. In 1927 she graduated from high school at McGehee’s School and enrolled in Sophie Newcomb College, the women’s school associated with Tulane University. She met Hodding Carter through his sister, Corinne, a classmate, and dated him for much of her college years. They married on 14 October 1931. The Carters honeymooned in Pass Christian but cut the vacation short when Gov. Theodore Bilbo called a legislative special session in Jackson, an event Hodding covered for the Associated Press. Shortly after the couple settled in the Mississippi capital, Hodding was fired over a dispute with his editor, and the Carters returned to Louisiana, where they scraped together the money to found their own newspaper. They quickly turned the Hammond Daily Courier into a vocal critic of Huey Long’s politics. In 1936 they sold the paper and began publishing the Delta Star in Greenville. Two years later they purchased their competition, the Daily Democrat-Times, and merged the two into the Delta Democrat-Times.
From 1942 to 1945 Betty Carter served as a publicist, researcher, and writer for the Office of War Information in Washington, D.C. After Hodding returned from service in World War II, the couple relocated to Greenville, where they resumed control of their newspaper. Betty was extremely active in the community, serving on a variety of committees and organizations, among them the National Association of Educational Broadcasters. She also helped to create a haven for both state and national journalists at the Carter home, Feliciana, during the civil rights movement.
In addition to publishing the Delta Democrat-Times, the Carters coauthored several books, including So Great a Good: A History of the Episcopal Church in Louisiana, 1805–1955 (1955) and Doomed Road of Empire (1963). Betty also aided Hodding in researching and editing his books and articles. The Carters suffered personal tragedy when their youngest son, Thomas, killed himself playing Russian roulette in 1964. After Hodding’s death in 1972, Betty helped Hodding III and then Philip publish the Delta Democrat-Times, but in 1980 the family sold the newspaper to Freedom Newspapers of Santa Ana, California. Betty Werlein Carter died on 4 March 2000 and was buried in Greenville Cemetery.
- Ginger Rudeseal Carter, in The Press and Race: Mississippi Journalists Confront the Movement, ed. David Davies (2001)
- Rebekah Ray, American Journalism (Spring 2007)
- Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff, The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation (2006)
- Ann Waldron, Hodding Carter: The Reconstruction of a Racist (1993)