Tupelo Man

Tupelo Man: The Life and Times of George McLean, a Most Peculiar Newspaper Publisher

ROBERT BLADE
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt24hxw0
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  • Book Info
    Tupelo Man
    Book Description:

    In 1924, George McLean, an Ole Miss sophomore and the spoiled son of a judge, attended a YMCA student mission conference whose free-thinking organizers aimed to change the world. They changed George McLean's.

    But not instantly. As vividly recounted in the first biography of this significant figure in Southern history,Tupelo Man: The Life and Times of a Most Peculiar Newspaper Publisher, McLean drifted through schools and jobs, always questioning authority, always searching for a way to put his restless vision into practical use. In the Depression's depths, he was fired from a teaching job at what is now Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, over his socialist ideas and labor organizing work.

    By 1934 he decided he had enough of working for others and that he would go into business for himself. In dirt-poor Northeast Mississippi, theTupelo Journalwas for sale, and McLean used his wife's money to buy what he called "a bankrupt newspaper from a bankrupt bank." As he struggled to keep the paper going, his Christian socialism evolved into a Christian capitalism that transformed the region. He didn't want a bigger slice of the pie for himself, he said; he wanted a bigger pie for all.

    But McLean (1904-1983) was far from a saint. He prayed about his temper, with little result. He was distant and aloof toward his two children--adopted through a notorious Memphis baby selling operation. His wife, whom he deeply loved in his prickly way, left him once and threatened to leave again. "I don't know why I was born with this chip on my shoulder," he told her.Tupelo Manlooks at this far-from-ordinary publisher in an intimate way that offers a fascinating story and insight into our own lives and times.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-060-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE: THE McLEANS AND ME
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1 THE TRAIN TO WINONA
    (pp. 3-24)

    Not long after Anna Keirsey Rosamond celebrated her fourth birthday, in the summer of 1910, her father took her to the bustling Calhoun Street Station in Memphis, Tennessee, and put her on a train to visit her aunt. He fastened a tag around his daughter’s neck that said, “Winona, Mississippi,” as if she were a parcel. He made sure the conductor knew his daughter’s destination, got her settled in a coach seat, and kissed her. He waved goodbye from the platform as the train began to move. Anna Keirsey traveled alone.

    Winona is about 125 miles south of Memphis, and...

  5. 2 LOOKING FOR WORK
    (pp. 25-50)

    Through the late winter, spring, and summer of 1926, George and Anna Keirsey McLean lived on the Ole Miss campus in one of the apartments for married students. Judge McLean took care of their expenses. Although he had always been critical of George’s poor academic record and although they rarely agreed about anything—especially political, racial, and religious issues—he had regularly sent George a monthly allowance. Now, with the marriage, he increased the allowance to help Keirsey too. But he told them directly the money would end when Keirsey graduated. To George, Judge McLean’s largesse was undoubtedly a mixed...

  6. 3 I FIND I CANNOT WORK FOR THE OTHER FELLOW
    (pp. 51-70)

    For the next ten months, George and Keirsey McLean, like fully one-quarter of the other people in the nation, were unemployed.¹ They were more fortunate than most because they had the McLean family home to live in, some family money to live on, and some family work to do: George helped his brother oversee the Delta land their father had left them. He and Keirsey, along with Mother Mac, attended services at the First Presbyterian Church of Winona on Summit Street—George’s childhood church. On July 30, 1933, he celebrated his twenty-ninth birthday in the place where he had grown...

  7. 4 A STRIKE AT THE MILL
    (pp. 71-94)

    While theJournal, along with the rest of Tupelo’s central business area, was not touched by the tornado, the paper still struggled for advertising and for general printing contracts that might allow it to survive. Circulation had grown modestly as readers discovered the energetic let’s-work-together tone that McLean gave the paper. But advertisers stayed away, preferring the far more dominantTupelo Daily Newsto the new owner in town—and no doubt hearing occasional rumors from Memphis that he was a socialist. McLean was just barely paying his bills. Things couldn’t go on the way they were.

    In late 1935...

  8. 5 THE MEMPHIS BABY MARKET
    (pp. 95-103)

    McLean’sDaily Journalproved itself a tenacious competitor as the circulation war with theTupelo Daily Newsentered its fourth year. From the time he bought theJournal—and especially since the switch in June 1936 to daily publication— McLean promoted theJournalas being much more than just another business in town: theJournalwas an involved, responsible community citizen.

    By 1940, the afternoonDaily Newswas promoting itself with the slogans “Today’s News Today” and “Dominating North Mississippi’s Greater Trade Area,” a campaign that seemed to be geared more to advertisers than to readers. TheJournal, by contrast,...

  9. 6 THE WAR IN FLORIDA
    (pp. 104-115)

    Throughout late 1940 and into 1941, the war news from Asia and Europe was harsh and unremitting and drawing ever closer to the United States. Japan was attacking China; Germany had occupied France, was attacking Great Britain from the air, and was murdering hundreds of thousands of European Jews. The United States undertook a crash program to build up the army and navy, as well as to provide aid to the Allies—Britain, France, China, and the Soviet Union. At the end of October, a German submarine torpedoed and sank a U.S. Navy destroyer, theReuben James, near Iceland, killing...

  10. 7 TWO SUCCESSES AND A FLOP
    (pp. 116-135)

    George McLean’s return to Tupelo and theJournalwas noted in the paper in a modest way. On Tuesday, August 14, 1945, the masthead read, “George McLean, on leave in U.S. Navy.” On Wednesday, August 15, it read, “George McLean, editor and publisher.” (Harry Rutherford’s still carried the label “on leave in U.S. Navy.” He did not get out of the service until November.)

    Interim publisher Bill Stroud had focused on keeping circulation and advertising stable. Stroud’s forte was business, not community involvement. On Monday, August 13, 1945, for example, the left “ear”—a house advertisement at the top of...

  11. 8 SATISFACTION GUARANTEED
    (pp. 136-149)

    Georgia Tann, the Memphis baby seller, had a reject on her hands—a four-month-old girl with a pronounced purple birthmark on her back who had probably been returned by her original adoptive parents (at least that was the conjecture years later). Tann, through her Tennessee Children’s Home Society, placed children of all ages, from newborns to early teens, but most of her wealthier clients wanted white infants in excellent condition.

    This little girl was born on November 1, 1945, in John Gaston Hospital, Memphis’s charity hospital, to a woman who fit the classic Tann profile: white, young, unwed, uneducated, and...

  12. 9 EIGHT OR NINE, PLEASE
    (pp. 150-172)

    Both George and Keirsey grew up in homes tended by black cooks, nursemaids, and housekeepers. They conducted their adult lives no differently. During their time in Tupelo, Keirsey routinely had two or three women working for her to cook, keep the house clean, do the washing and ironing, and help take care of her children. The arrangement was not unusual in Tupelo or the South: in the postwar years, most white households had black maids. Even white households that were just barely middle-class had someone come in once or twice a week to do the cleaning. The pay was abysmally...

  13. 10 SUBVERSIVENESS IN MOST ALL OF ITS FORMS
    (pp. 173-194)

    Sunday services at the collegiate-Gothic-style First Presbyterian Church in Tupelo began at 11 a.m. and lasted for about an hour. George and Keirsey McLean, along with their son and daughter, regularly sat a few rows from the front, near the lectern where the minister preached his sermon. There were hymns and prayers, Bible readings, announcements, donation collecting (the McLeans were generous givers), and a twenty-minute sermon. If the sermon ran long, McLean, never a very good listener, got visibly restless and, on occasion, pointedly raised his left wrist and looked at his watch in a gesture the minister could not...

  14. 11 THINGS TO BE DONE
    (pp. 195-214)

    As the Community Development Foundation worked to recruit more small and medium-sized industries to Northeast Mississippi, a huge liability became apparent: the area’s roads. The two well-traveled highways that intersected in Tupelo, the north–south U.S. 45 and the east–west U.S. 78, were both narrow two-lane roads that meandered through the small towns speckling the land.

    Cars, waiting for a chance to pass, backed up behind slow-moving trucks laboring over hills. Although bypasses skirted a few of the larger towns, much of the travel was stop-and-go along store-lined main streets with angle-in parking for the locals. The two highways...

  15. 12 A RIPE AREA AT THE TIME
    (pp. 215-235)

    Eugene pasto, a small-time Memphis crook who specialized in forgery, had a definite talent for his trade. “Pasto was not well educated—didn’t finish high school, but he was smart,” Kenneth Mayfield, the Tupelo lawyer who ended up representing him, recalled.¹ “Real high IQ guy. I heard that he was so talented, that you could sign your name, and he would sign right under it, and you couldn’t tell which was your real signature. He was just that good. A super forger.”

    On Thursday, March 18, 1976, Pasto and his girlfriend drove to Tupelo from Memphis to cash a few...

  16. 13 LISTENING TO MR. McLEAN
    (pp. 236-254)

    In the early spring of 1978, Billy Crews was walking across the newly greening campus at the University of Mississippi in Oxford when one of his professors, the sociologist Vaughn Grisham, saw him and called out, “Billy, what are you going to do next year?”

    Crews was a senior who would graduate that May with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He waited as Grisham caught up, then walked with him for a few minutes. He said he wasn’t sure; he might work for a year, then go to law school.

    “Come see me,” Grisham said.

    Grisham knew an unusual...

  17. 14 GOOD MEASURE, PRESSED DOWN
    (pp. 255-268)

    As he grew older and more wealthy, George McLean practiced a kind of personal checkbook benevolence. People came to his office at theJournal, almost as supplicants, and asked him for money to send their children to school or to get them through a particularly rough stretch. More often than not, he made the loan, asking only that he be repaid as soon as the borrower was able. “He was an easy mark for anyone wanting to borrow money for educational purposes,” Keirsey McLean recalled, “especially someone wanting to send a son or daughter to college.” After her husband’s death,...

  18. 15 ONCE MORE AROUND HIGHLAND CIRCLE
    (pp. 269-274)

    McLean’s will left theJournaland all its assets to the nonprofit foundation CREATE that he and Keirsey had formed in 1972. He left each of their two children, John in Texas and Anna in Florida, a small inheritance—McLean believed that large amounts of money tended to hurt people rather than help them. Unlike the wills involved in many other large estates, McLean’s was never contested. The change in ownership was unobtrusive.

    The will also contained the provision that, as long as she was alive, Keirsey would be the head of the Journal Publishing Company, its chairman and chief...

  19. AFTERWORD: AN IDEA EVOLVES
    (pp. 275-276)

    By the mid-1990s, a little more than a decade after McLean’s death, Tupelo had become close to a mecca for community development groups seeking examples and inspiration. Journalists produced glowing accounts, among them ones from theChristian Science Monitor, Timemagazine, National Public Radio, and theChicago Tribune,¹ praising what many called the “Tupelo miracle.” They touted the city’s diverse base of small and medium-sized industries, its low unemployment rate, its excellent public schools, its sophisticated chamber of commerce replacement (the Community Development Foundation), its unusual daily newspaper, and its high sense of civic involvement, all growing from the McLean...

  20. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 277-278)
  21. NOTES
    (pp. 279-292)
  22. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 293-300)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 301-308)
  24. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 309-316)