Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

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

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

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

Article excerpt

Tupelo Man: The Life and Times of George McLean, a Most Peculiar Newspaper Publisher. By Robert Blade. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012. Pp. xiv, 308. $40.00, ISBN 978-1-61703-628-6.)

George Alonzo McLean Jr. (1904-1983), the conventional and privileged son of a Winona, Mississippi, judge and planter, enrolled at the University of Mississippi in the fall of 1923. Over Christmas break, he joined the university's delegation to the quadrennial meeting in Indianapolis of the mission branch of the student YMCAs and YWCAs. There he heard Sherwood Eddy, a leader of Social Gospel Christians, challenge students to think in terms of economic and racial injustice as well as to address the consequences of World War I. According to journalist Robert Blade, who is McLean's son-in-law, McLean's experiences at this conference, along with his academic readings and discussions with professors and other students, led to his embrace of "an active, collaborative, socially aware Christianity [that] ... perfectly matched his restive personality. This new Christianity.... spurred ideas, both religious and secular, that evolved and stayed with him for the rest of his life" (p. 19).

After a string of jobs and several graduate degrees, McLean realized that he could not work for someone else. Blade's beautifully written and richly researched book makes clear that McLean was impulsive, impatient, and even fractious. "He wanted to give the orders," Blade emphasizes, "not take them" (p. 53). McLean found his calling when he bought a bankrupt newspaper in 1934 in dirt-poor northeast Mississippi and turned it into a vehicle for the kind of social and economic reform that would offer all the area's residents a better life. After a CIO initiative in 1937 resulted in the closing of a cotton mill and spread labor unrest to women working in garment factories, however, McLean focused on attracting industries to provide jobs for men and used the newspaper to lobby for higher wages and benefits for male workers. …

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