Editor Who Penned ‘Vile’ Columns Removed From Press Association’s Hall of Fame
Edward J. Clarke, the late editor and owner of a shuttered Eastern Shore newspaper, the Worcester Democrat, has been removed from a regional press association’s Hall of Fame following the discovery of “vile commentary, extreme racism and the promotion of lynching,” the group said on Wednesday.
Clarke was posthumously elected to the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association’s Hall of Fame in 1954. His newspaper operated from 1921 until his death in 1953.
“His personal writing and his newspaper’s coverage of a 1940 murder and assault case in Pocomoke City, Md., contained horrible, angry rants and racial attacks targeting three Black men — George B. Selby, Arthur Collick and Charles Manuel — in connection with the death of farmer Harvey Pilchard, who was white, and assault of his wife, Annie Pilchard, who also was white,” according to a statement issued by the press association.
Clarke’s writings surfaced as part of an investigation into the role of racist newspaper owners and journalists in lynchings and other injustices.
Seventy-three people have been selected to the Hall of Fame, said executive director Rebecca Snyder. The vast majority are white men. Photos of inductees line the wall of a classroom building at the University of Maryland College Park.
During discussions between the press association and the school’s faculty earlier this year regarding the hall’s lack of diversity, the group was contacted by reporter Gabriel Pietrorazio, who was working on a series called “Printing Hate” for the university’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism.
Pietrorazio’s research found that Clarke’s writing routinely used terms such as “savages,” “brutes,” and “a disease-spreading germ” to refer to Black crime suspects.
“We dug up the archives,” said Snyder. “Once we saw the primary material, it was really clear that this man could not stay in our Hall of Fame.”
“It’s really through [Gabe’s] reporting that we were made aware of Dr. Clarke’s writings,” she added. “Because I don’t think we would have known about it otherwise.” An article about the Pocomoke City incident will be published in December.
The association said a review of coverage from other newspapers made it clear how “Clarke’s white supremacist tone… aligned with racial vigilante attitudes of the time.”
One letter to the editor that he published appeared to urge residents to “show their sympathy” for the slain farmer’s widow “in a real and convincing manner” by seeing that “Mrs. Pilchard is not forced to undergo the terrible ordeal of a court trial.”
A large mob broke into the jail and dragged off two women believed to be accomplices in the killing. Law enforcement officers from out-of-town were able to rescue the pair.
“Once we actually read [Clarke’s] columns, the decision was easy,” said Maryland Reporter Editor Len Lazarick, who serves on the press association’s board.
“You don’t want to judge old newspapers — which were full of systemic racism — by today’s standards, but even by 1940s standards, Clarke was more like the Ku Klux Klan than a responsible newspaper editor.”
The association’s decision to remove Clarke from its wall of honorees comes during a national period of reckoning.
Efforts are underway to remove the bust of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, a Marylander and author of the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision, from National Statuary Hall. In 2015, the University of Maryland removed the name of Curley Byrd, a proponent of “separate but equal” education, from the school’s football stadium.
Lucy Dalglish, the dean of the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism, removed Clarke’s photo after his writings were rediscovered. The association’s board voted soon after to remove him from the Hall of Fame.
Snyder said the board hasn’t decided how to explain the decision to remove Clarke from the hall.
She said the association is looking for a freelance reporter to delve into the backgrounds of other members of the hall of fame. “We want to be sensitive, but I don’t want a witch-hunt throughout our entire hall.”
“There might be other Dr. Clarkes,” Snyder acknowledged. “I hope not.”