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1:05 - Background

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Partial Transcript: I want to first ask you a little something about yourself.

Segment Synopsis: Lawson discusses his childhood, family, and education.


Subjects: Indiana Roads--Construction

20:49 - Career

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Partial Transcript: He told me he would hire me.

Segment Synopsis: Lawson discusses how his career developed and various newspapers that he worked at.

Keywords: Hoover, Charles; Indianapolis Star

Subjects: American newspapers--Ownership Newspaper editors--United States

41:57 - Newspaper ownership

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Partial Transcript: I bought the Cape News.

Segment Synopsis: Lawson discusses newspapers that he purchased, changed, and sold.

Keywords: Cape News; Hancock Clarion

Subjects: American newspapers--Ownership Newspaper layout and typography

66:44 - Cumberland County News

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Partial Transcript: What was the circulation when you came here?

Segment Synopsis: Lawson gives an overview of the Cumberland County News.

Keywords: Cumberland County News

Subjects: Newspaper employees Newspaper reporting Newspaper--Circulation

82:11 - Events Lawson created

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Partial Transcript: For some reason, Hancock county, which is a very small county, produces more sorghum.

Segment Synopsis: Lawson discusses community events that he has created.

Keywords: Barn dance; Cumberland County; Hancock County; National Sorgum Show

Subjects: Sorghum

97:49 - Duties

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Partial Transcript: Let me ask you some general questions.

Segment Synopsis: Lawson discusses his duties and the duty of a newspaper to its community.

Keywords: Chain newspapers; Cumberland County News

Subjects: American newspapers--Ownership Editorials

103:11 - Local politics

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Partial Transcript: Who are the people who can and sometimes do make the decisions that help bring about change in the community?

Segment Synopsis: Lawson discusses influential people in the county, particularly the school board.

Keywords: Cumberland County News; Cumberland County News Platform for Progress

Subjects: Political campaigns School boards School superintendents

122:48 - Kentucky newspapers

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Partial Transcript: Let me ask you one other question specifically.

Segment Synopsis: Lawson discusses the Kentucky Press Association and Kentucky newspapers that he admires.

Keywords: Chain newspapers; Kentucky Press Association; KPA

Subjects: Journalism--Societies, etc


Title: Interview with Ernest Lawson Identifier: 1978oh516 Date: 1978-11-15 Interviewer: William Berge Project: Kentucky Newspaper Editors Project

The following is an unrehearsed taped interview with Mr. Ernest Lawson, former publisher/editor of the Cumberland County News, by William Berge, director of the Oral History Center at Eastern Kentucky University. The interview was conducted at Mr. Lawson's home in Burkesville, Kentucky, on November 15, 1978, at 9 a.m.

Berge: Mr. Lawson, I want to thank you beforehand for allowing me to come to your house today and take some of your time.

Lawson: Well...uh...that's most welcome...uh...even appreciated. The opportunity.

Berge: It seems to me though, that in some ways about the most important thing you can ever ask anybody to give you is time. It's just about the one thing we all have that we can't replenish, I guess.

Lawson: [Laughing]


Berge: we get started talking with you. I want to first ask you a little bit about yourself, something about your family background, where you were born, let's start with that, and when you were born. Most men don't mind telling me when they were born.

Lawson: Yeah, I was, I was born at Peru, Indiana, that's P-E-R-U, September 23, 1910. And...uh...I spent my first forty years in Indiana. And, uh, now, uh, I went into the newspaper business...uh...the first of November, 1944. And the next thirty years I spent in the newspaper businesss...uh...owning...owning 2:00something like sixteen newspapers in five states.

Berge: Since 1944.

Lawson: That's right. And then I retired in 1974. And, of course, now... how that come about was simply that I got into this sort of thing of buying run down newspapers...uh...building them up and selling them. And so therefore, I found myself moving from one community to another. I've lived in a lot of communities. know we endured the kind of laws, and uh...oh, the kind of 3:00methods, peculiarities of a lot of different kind of communities.

Berge: That was interesting I bet though, in a way. Wasn't it?

Lawson: Uh...I've been...I've lived in towns of populations from nine hundred, of course all the way up to living in St. Louis, which was around, I guess a million and a half. And...uh...

Berge: What's the population of Burkesville?

Lawson: Burkesville is somewhere close to two thousand?

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: But, now, I've been here twenty years ago. And, uh...when I came here I had...uh...decided that I had enough of this kind of 4:00know...uh...speculation and so on like that... I just found out that a...that a...of course a rolling stone actually gathers no moss. And I found out actually all this buying and selling of these things you would spend all your profits to build up the next newspaper and then you really were no better off than what you were before. But, it took me a long time.

Berge: Let me go back and come back to that again...but I want to go back and ask you some things. You were born in Peru. What did your father do?

Lawson: My father was a farmer. At the time that I was born I had two older brothers, and at the time I was born he was working for fifty cents a day. 5:00And...and u...truly, of course...those days, back there before, well before World War I, uh...really...uh...were very hard times.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: And uh, so along about right after I was born, my father became a tenant farmer for the first time. And then from that time on, in the next eighteen years, why ...uh...he...he was able to, uh, know build up and...and finally so was the most appropriate time in 1928, when I was just 6:00about to graduate from high school. And he discovered or he knew that I was going to be no help really to him on the farm. Because my interests just absolutely centered on... on...well actually it was centered on journalism. And...uh...and...and I just didn't like the farm. And so he sold out at a very appropriate time. Got a good price. And then...uh...then he moved to town and, of course, I did, too. And, uh, of course I had then my own problems of ever getting into my profession.

Berge: Let me ask you about your earlier...what was your mother's maiden name?


Lawson: My mother's maiden name was Snyder.

Berge: Did they always live around there? Their family?

Lawson: The Snyders...I ...I just published a book this year on...on Snyder family genealogy, which traces my great-great-grandfather back to a Hessian...he was a Hessian soldier who came over in the American Revolution to fight for the...the British, uh...but ...uh...he and twelve thousand other Hessians...uh...stayed in Pennsylvania and became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch.


Berge: Where uh...what was your mother's...uh...what's her name?

Lawson: Florence.

Berge: And what's your father's first name?

Lawson: Enoch. E-N-O-C-H. And, uh...he was born...he was born at Rogersville, Tennessee, so...uh... he's the eastern Tennessee mountain...mountaineer blood. And my mother was, of course, my mother was the Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. Incidentally, in doing this genealogy book here, uh...I had...I made a startling discovery, which I did not know until I was in the midst of making this... of 9:00writing this book. That my mother was born in a covered wagon. That she was one of twins. That the twin sister died and was given no name and buried by the side of the road one knows were the grave was. And that she was delivered by her fourteen-year-old sister. Who...uh... later...uh spent a lifetime...a lifetime of being a practical nurse.

Berge: A mid-wife sort of?

Lawson: fact, the matter is, she worked for the Cole Porter family for years and years. Until, in fact, until Cole Porter's mother died, she 10:00was their family...uh.

Berge: Nurse, I guess.

Lawson: Practical nurse, that's right.

Berge: Now look at...uh...when your mother and father, they came into...

Lawson: Lima County, Indiana.

Berge: Around Peru?

Lawson: Yes.

Berge: Uh, when your father...what kind of schools did you go there?

Lawson: you mean...

Berge: Elementary...

Lawson: Myself?

Berge: Uh-huh.

Lawson: Uh...I went to a little red brick, one room's still standing.

Berge: How many years did you go there?

Lawson: I went there for about two and a half years during which time a consolidated school was built on the corner of our farm. And just this past 11:00summer I took pictures, and I have pictures of the red brick schoolhouse, which still stands after sixty years and better and also the elementary school, which..uh...which my father and brothers hauled the brick and steel and helped build and were myself, uh...I carried buttermilk to the workmen when they built it in 19...uh...1918 it was built and named victory school....

Berge: Because of the war?

Lawson: Because of the war. And, it opened in January 1919. I went there...I got 12:00to go there only three months because then my family moved to a farm New Waverly, Indiana, which was...well, not all that far.

Berge: I want to check your recollections. Do you remember any of your teachers back in those days?

Lawson: I remember a few of my teachers. Now, my first grade and second grade teacher us...was James Pouge, and...

Berge: P-O-U-G-E?

Lawson: Yes. And his son, uh...his son Reeves Pouge, the famous Indiana poet. And, of course, back in to those days he would 13:00come in on the interurban and...uh...on Monday morning. He lived down at Greenfield...around Greenfield, Indiana. And, of course, now Barton Reeves Pouge and James Whitcomb Riley know I mean they... later on...of course, Riley is a famous Hoosier poet. But at the same time, ...uh...Barton Reeves Pouge is probably second to him. I mean...I mean in...

Berge: Being around [unclear].

Lawson: That's right. And...uh...of course he use to come in like that on Monday and then he'd go around to students' homes and stay overnight with them until Friday and then he'd go back to his home over the weekend.

Berge: Now...Now...Mr. Lawson, let me ask you ...uh...this. When you were 18, 14:00I guess, is when you moved into town?

Lawson: I moved to town in the spring of 1928,

Berge: That's right...

Lawson: ...just before I was 17. Uh...just...of father sold out in March 1928, and I went into Peru and my folks bought a house in Wabash, Indiana, which is eleven miles away. But...uh...

Berge: What did you do when you went to Peru?

Lawson: I went into because I was...uh...really...really I was the first student at Peru High School to be given a journalism scholarship award, which actually was not a matter of any 15:00dollars and cents at all, it was nothing but a letter, but I was still the first that they gave this award to.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: It was a new thing. And because of that ...uh...I was hired by the Logansport...Logansport Press....uh...Logansport Press be a...stringer I guess, at Peru. just didn't make good on that first job.

Berge: How come?

Lawson: Because it was more of a circulation job than a reporting job, and I 16:00just ...just couldn't adjust myself.

Berge: You weren't interested?

Lawson: I didn't like it.

Berge: OK.

Lawson: So, I ended up then after one year spending a year down there around Peru. Actually...uh...those were times when everything was beginning to break down. You just had to hunt and hunt for a job and maybe you'd work three days a week...uh...just a short time. And, of course, it kept getting worse from a standpoint of ...of going downhill from...oh...twenty-five cents an hour was 17:00almost a standard and, of course, a thirty-five cent an hour job was considered a good job.

Berge: What did you do during the '30s...during that period?

Lawson: In '29, after one year at Peru, I went back to stay with my folks...back at Wabash...I went to Wabash to live. And got a chance to work on the Indiana state highway with my father. And for one year I got to work on the Indiana state highway...uh... all during the one summer as a...I actually carried water. Because a gang on the road, I turned out to be the youngest one on the gang and so they gave me a job of carrying water to all 18:00those other fellows. And so, but for one year I got to work for the Indiana state highway and that took me up into 1930 when the administration changed and they fired everybody....and uh...uh... so then I tried to catch on wherever I could catch on. Now, of from the sixth grade on I knew that I wanted to write.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: That's what I wanted to do. I wanted to write. was a peculiar thing that from that time on I was trying to get into the newspaper to 19:00write. I mean after I got out of ...out of...out of high school in 1928 in the spring until in 1930 through that summer of unemployment a great deal...uh...I was trying to get some way or another into the newspaper with a writing job, but there never was any. by happening I got acquainted with a kid...uh, that...uh...I met in of all places in the poolroom who told me that he was employed at the Wabash Plain Dealer...Wabash Daily Plain Dealer. And...uh...


Berge: Of course, that's a good place to meet newspaper men. In pool rooms.

Lawson: Yeah. And, I found out that he was an apprentice in the composing room. And, one day in August he told me, "I'm going to quit my job and going back to take my last year in high school at Greentown, Indiana." And, so I asked, said, "You suppose I could take your place?" And he said, "Why don't you come up and see the foreman." And, so I did. And, so he told me that he would hire me. And, he asked if I'd had experience and I said, uh...uh yes, I worked for this Logansport paper. And...uh... he said well because you had newspaper 21:00experience we'll start you in at eight dollars a week with a fifty cent raise every three months. Which is the way I started, and I...

Berge: That got you up to ten dollars by the end of the year, didn't it?

Lawson: Well now, it was a forty-eight hour a week job. And, now, that was working know...working with lead type.

Berge: Sure.

Lawson: Working with the actual lead, correcting the galley proofs. And, it was a strange thing. I went to work there on the eighteenth of August, 1930. And, I retired on the thirty-first day of August, 1974. Now in all those years I never 22:00was able to accomplish the...the aim that I had. That I wanted to do nothing except write. Because until I retired I always, from that point on, was tied to the composing room where I was ...I...uh...really in all those years I run the complete gamut of...of uh...of uh...being a linotype operator, being a typesetter, melting lead...


Berge: You've had ink on your hands ever since.

Lawson: Yeah, that's right, I had ink on my hands. And even when we went into offset in 1966 and until the day I retired I still was makeup man...uh, and of course...

Berge: Of course, since your retiring, you are writing.

Lawson: that's the only way I finally achieved...

Berge: Your goal was to retire.

Lawson: Yeah.

Berge: Let me ask you some questions. You started buying papers yourself about '44? Is that right?

Lawson: Yeah, in '44. I was thirty-four years old.

Berge: Where did you work from the time you started with that newspaper?

Lawson: The Wabash Plain Dealer was where I stayed from 1930 until 1944.


Berge: So you stayed at the same place?

Lawson: Yeah...almost...well going on fifteen years. And in that the Wabash Plain I was an apprentice. As an apprentice...back in the Depression days, I loved to write, I'd finish my work in the...

Berge: Composition?

Lawson: ...composing room...and uh...and then I would slip into the editorial department to the sports editor's typewriter and I'd sit there and I'd knock out a sports column which was used by the news. And, of course, I got to to speak, more and more. And, then one day I was shocked when the...when the city editor come out and told me, and said,...uh... "We 25:00fired the sports editor today." And,...uh...and I asked him, "Well whose going to take his place?" And said, "We...we've got the one we want if we can work it out." And I said well "Who is it?" And, he says, "It's you." Said, "If I can get it OK'd by your superintendent, see in the composing department." And they did. And so they gave me four dollars and a half a week to write sports outside of my composing room hours. And from that point on until the day I left the Wabash Plain Dealer I was a sports writer and incidentally...I attracted...I 26:00mean all this time it was... I wrote all this on the outside of the hours. And, it finally came down to wage and hour and overtime laws and so on caught up with me. And, they had to enter into a private contract with me to furnish these things in which they...they paid me...when I left there they were paying me almost per column, what...per column per day what they started out paying me for the whole week.

Berge: Contract above your regular hourly wage.

Lawson: And, of course, the strange thing was, I went all the way from the composing room apprentice to president of the local typographical union being...uh...well, the highest paid man outside of the executives of the Wabash Plain Dealer.

Berge: Because of your contract and your salary?

Lawson: Yeah.

Berge: Let me ask you something, uh...those years when you were there I guess you began to have a nagging feeling about getting into business for yourself.

Lawson: It didn't think much about....I didn't think much about it until the spring really of 1944 and, of course, they had brought in a new foreman in the department that I was in. And, this was due to when they 28:00reshuffled the local union and there had been a lot of infractions of union rules and all that sort of thing. For one thing, I worked as an apprentice for ten years. Now, well that was all because I didn't holler because they were paying me on the side to write sports enough that I was making as much as the union people were, in fact, I was making, I guess, about as much money as the superintendent was being paid and I didn't mind these extra hours to write sports and so on because I liked it.

Berge: Did you particularly like sports?

Lawson: I always...I always have had a strong deal in sports.


Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: Now when I...when I, when I... the foreman that they sent in there asked me, "Did you ever think about buying your own newspaper?" And, I said I never thought I could afford it. And, he told me, "Why can't you. You own your home out there? If you sold that, you would have enough money to go out and buy your own paper." And, in fact the matter is he accompanied me on an excursion. We went up...we were even going in a partnership.

Berge: Is that the new foreman or the old one?

Lawson: This was the new one after they had fired the old one who had really held back the union.

Berge: OK...OK.

Lawson: And

Berge: So where did you go?


Lawson: We went up and looked at a paper at Nappanee, Indiana, which was in the midst of that Amish community, and lo and behold, it was all set by hand. And, it was really even in those days, way...way...way back.

Berge: Uh-huh.

Lawson: Well, of course, we knew that wasn't really for us. And, so then, I started to look for things...I mean on my own.

Berge: I'm going to need to turn this now..... [Tape changed]

Berge: So, after you came back from there you realized you needed to buy a more modern paper anyway?

Lawson:'ll tell you, I was somewhat torn uh...wanting to buy a paper of my own and 31:00...uh...this sports writing thing.

Berge: You were apprehensive about getting in the business?

Lawson: Not that much, really. I was just looking for what would be the best deal possible. Now...There was a fellow that had long been a fan of mine who was high up in the Pulliam organization.

Berge: What is that now?

Lawson: ...that owns the Indianapolis Star News. And...uh...this fellow's name was Charlie Hoover from Wabash, Indiana. And some way or another the word got out that I was going to leave the Plain Dealer. And so the Indianapolis Star, 32:00the Fort Wayne News Sentinel, these are large city papers, uh...they each contacted me and especially the Indianapolis Star, they made three calls in one day and said, "For heaven's sake don't make a decision until you come down and talk to us."

Berge: Did they want you for the sports desk?

Lawson: Yes. And, so I agreed. And, I took a leave of absence and I went to Michigan and around and looked at weekly papers that were for sale. Now...uh...the vehicle to see...I mean to buy these weekly papers and equipment 33:00for weekly newspapers, of course, was the Publisher's Auxiliary, which is a newspaperman's newspaper and it still is today. I sold and bought all the papers ...

Berge: Through that?

Lawson: ...that I have worked, you know, and sold...all of them, almost exclusively though the Publisher's Auxiliary. But, anyhow...the Indianapolis Star through this man Charlie Hoover, I agreed to go down and talk to them. And, they offered me a job as the understudy to the sports editor, Blondie Patton, who had been there for years and years and year. And, I thought well he would be 34:00there for years and years. And...uh, now... it is a fact that these large papers seldom elevate a man from their ranks to the sports editor job. They always went...always go on the outside to bring in the sports editor. And, I didn't know if this was what they were considering, and so on. But, anyhow, the amount of money they offered me was about comparable with what I was already making. And, I still...I had this bug about buying my own paper. And, so I went down and talked to them. I went up and talked to the Fort Wayne News Sentinel people. 35:00And, I went around and looked and several papers and when I got home from Indianapolis that night in my mailbox was a letter from a man at Fortville, Indiana, who offered to sell me his paper, the Fortville Tribune, and...uh...that...that night I had this letter from him, and the next day I sent him back an answer and the next Sunday went down and bought the Fortville Tribune.

Berge: That was your first paper?

Lawson: That was my first paper. Now, on November the first, 1944, I took over that Fortville Tribune.

Berge: And, how long did you stay there?

Lawson: I stayed there six years.

Berge: Until when, do you remember?

Lawson: In 1950. In the fall, I sold that paper and three others that I had 36:00started. Three other papers.

Berge: What were they?

Lawson: And they were the...the Lapel Review, which also...

Berge: These were all Indiana papers?

Lawson: These are all Indiana papers. I printed them all in the same shop.

Berge: Yes, sir.

Lawson: And, so...I established the Fort...I mean the DePaul Review two years later...three years later I established the Shirley Community Record. Five years later I established the Arcadia Graphic. And, six years later I sold the whole bunch for a price four times what I had bought the Tribune for.

Berge: OK. Let me just ask you this. obviously you were successful on 37:00that way. Did you...what were some other things you remember about that period...that six year period.

Lawson: let me...let me say this about... I was telling you about the sports writing deal.

Berge: OK.

Lawson: I took over the Fortville Tribune on November the first. On January the first the Indianapolis Star announced that Blondie Patton was retire...uh Blondie...

Berge: And, that was going to be your job, wasn't it?

Lawson: ...retired. And, so, they went up to New Castle and hired a friend of mine as sports editor of the Indianapolis Star. So, who knows...uh...if I'd made the decision...

Berge: Whether there would have been a new...

Lawson: have gone that way...whether you know....but actually...

Berge: Have you regretted it at all?

Lawson: Uh...Actually, I have not really regretted it. But, I've always had it 38:00in the back of my head...that the feeling that I...that I, you know, that I would have liked to have done in all these years was simply to have been a sports writer...and particularly a baseball writer.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: I always had the desire to be, a really a major league baseball writer.

Berge: To get to go to the training camps and...

Lawson: That's right.

Berge: ...all that stuff.

Lawson: And...uh...and, of course, I have gone to a training camp on my own. can see up here.

Berge: Yeah, I was looking at those pictures.

Lawson: Like that's a landmark picture up there because it was taken before 39:00Frank Robinson, the first black manager in major league history. Before...down in the dugout with him before his first game.

Berge: Uh-huh.

Lawson: Before his first major league game. And, of course, Joe Garagiollo and the NBC crew and so on like that, I've got a bunch of pictures like that. One time after I'd sold one of my's the year 1952 I made application to the Sporting know...for a writer's job and so on. And, they said if I'd been in...if I'd made the application, you 40:00know, actually I didn't sell out the paper until teams had already gone to training camp...and I made the application. And, they said if I'd a been in sooner they'd undoubtedly could have hired me.

Berge: Wow.

Lawson: And so...I never tried after that because I was always in this business.

Berge: Let me ask you this, after you sold those papers in 1950 then what'd you do?

Lawson: I went to...then I went to Cape Girardieu, Missouri, and bought a paper in a big town. See, it was twenty-five thousand people. Now, let me say this, the reason I sold all those papers was the fact...

Berge: Did you sell all the papers to the same person?

Lawson: Yes.

Berge: OK.

Lawson: And in two of those papers were discontinued. One of of those two discontinued just only a couple...only a year or two ago. So it's been in existence all these years. The Lapel Review has been...was just recently sold, just been a few weeks ago. And, incidentally, the Fortville Tribune itself was sold and a new owner just took over on November the first, 19...uh...1978. Thirty-four years after I took over another new owner took over the Fortville Tribune. So, uh, it's been passed around several times.

Berge: How long did you stay in Cape Girardieu?

Lawson: In Cape Girardieu I discovered...I bought the Cape News. I made a lot 42:00of changes in its format. I changed it from a big sheet to a tabloid. I changed, you know, its uh...well, various...various typographical ways. Tried to make it a better paper. And, ended up really...not...not really...ended up really losing money on that thing.

Berge: How long did you stay there?

Lawson: Oh, we stayed there about a year...oh a year and...a little over a year.

Berge: Then where'd you go?

Lawson: Then is when I started a paper this will take me up to the fall of Cape Giradieu, Missouri, I went to...I started a new paper at Bethalto, Illinois.

Berge: How do you spell that?

Lawson: B-E-T-H-A-L-T-O.

Berge: And that was a brand new paper?

Lawson: And it was a brand new paper on the out...well about ten... fifteen miles from Alton, Illinois, across the river from St. Louis

Berge: OK.

Lawson: Now the first publication of that paper was just right around Christmas. Fact of the matter is I think the year end of December...after Christmas...or something like that was my first issue and, of course, ...uh...bought out...I bought an old, well, an old shop that was a 44:00Hungarian...Hungarian /Czeckoslovakian newspaper shop. It was a strange thing. The linotype was full of mats of Czeckoslovakian type.

Berge: Uh-huh.

Lawson: [Unclear] You know, they're uh...they're very different from the American alphabet.

Berge: Sure.

Lawson: And uh...I tell you...I tried to really get rid of that stuff and put in American type, but I was always running onto these 45:00things...typographical...and, of course, the equipment hadn't been used for several years, and course full of dirt and dust and all that. And, I had a horrible experience during that winter of 1951-52, mostly into 1952 because I didn't start until the last week of 1951. But, anyhow, uh...long about the first of April, or last of March, I...uh...had a little idea. Let's fix us out a prospectus on this little paper, which had only gone for...only been in 46:00existence three months and sending it in to a newspaper broker. And, this had to be one of...the of the greatest strokes of luck that I had, I guess in my life, after I had had such a hard time of ever getting this equipment, all of it to work. It uh...I went into this thing, well I mean I decided send that prospectus to a broker, and lo and behold, in one week after that, a fellow, who was a journalism teacher from Crawfordsville, Indiana, come 47:00over and bought that paper.

Berge: Did you make money on it?

Lawson: Uh, yes, I made enough money off of the thing to make a down payment on the next newspaper that I bought, which was the Hancock Clarion...

Berge: Where's that?

Lawson: ... at Hawesville, Kentucky. So, now I've had two...I've had stints in Kentucky. The first, of course, was 1952 to 1956. And then, of course, I went back over...moved back over into Illinois.

Berge: Where'd you go in '56?

Lawson: In '56 I moved from Hawesville to Mounds, Illinois.

Berge: What was the name of the paper there?

Lawson: I bought out two papers there. I bought out two newspapers there, the...


Berge: Is that M-O-U-N-D-S?

Lawson: Yes, uh huh, in Mounds City, about eight miles out of Cairo, Illinois.

Berge: I know where that is.

Lawson: Now, I bought those papers in 1956.

Berge: What were the name of those papers?

Lawson: The Mounds Independent and the Mounds City-Pulaski County Enterprise.

Berge: What was that newspaper in Hawesville?

Lawson: The Hancock Clarion.

Berge: That's right, you told me that.

Lawson: Now, now uh...again...Maybe the worst experiences I ever had, of course, had to be at Mataldo...uh but...uh...then I came out of there sort of 49:00smelling like a rose because I sold that paper, and really made, well I came out with about $5,000, enough to make a down payment on the Hancock Clarion. Which I, which I did. Now, in between though, in the spring, I sold out in the spring of '52. During the summer, I decided to try my hand at going back into St. Louis and reactivating my union card and becoming just a linotype operator in a union shop, which uh...which uh... I did. And I was a typesetter at the...the uh St. 50:00Louis Daily Livestock Reporter and the East St. Louis Press. During that summer of 1952, I discovered one thing, I mean a few things. was one of the hottest summers that I ever knew. And, one of the most miserable summers living in St. Louis in an apartment, which I just couldn't stand. And, the third thing was...uh...punching a time clock. Which...once you owned your own newspaper that becomes a most miserable experience ever is to go back to punching a time clock...

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: ...or not being your own boss.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: And, I tell you I put in a miserable summer.


Berge: And, that's why you went to Mounds City?

Lawson: Now, that's when I....uh...I corresponded with this man at the county seat of Hancock County, Kentucky....

Berge: Hawesville....

Lawson: At Hawesville, Kentucky. And, he agreed to accept my...this note...on that Mathaldo paper as a down payment, and so we moved to Hawesville, and then at

Berge: What kind of experiences did you have there?

Lawson: At Hawesville...uh...I had a lot of...of great experiences there. Uh...great honors and so forth like that I guess. 52:00[Unclear] the community work. I was...uh... no sooner arrived there until I went to work on organizing a Lion's Club. And, last year, just a year ago, they had me come back to their Lion's Club to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of that club. Now, I was the charter president of the club. And, so I established at Hawesville their Sorghum Festival, their Sorghum Festival. I originated that. It was at Hawesville I built the Coliseum Community 53:00Center...which uh...and established a barn dance presentation. Which was on radio, which was a Saturday night thing...and which me into the country music field. And, from that point on....I mean a...I've had a lot of experiences...uh....oh, uh...I got to be friends with a lot of Nashville people.

Berge: Grand Ole Opry people?

Lawson: Yes. And...uh...that become a...sort of a second phase of my life. 54:00Uh...and, of course, now that period on to here at Burkesville. Because, was only no more than a few years ago...that we...we had originated one of the first... we originated the Cumberland Valley Jamboree.

Berge: Let me back up just a minute. Let me...tell me about...quickly how long you were in Moundsville...Mounds City.

Lawson: OK. Let me see. Let's go back to Fortville. I was there six years.

Berge: Uh-huh.

Lawson: Uh...I went to Cape Girardieu, luckily I was there only a year. Uh...went to Bathaldo.

Berge: A couple months? You had two years together in Cape Giradieu and Bathaldo?

Lawson: Yeah...actually at Bathaldo I was only there...uh...


Berge: Four months?

Lawson: About four or five months was about all. Uh...I was only in, of course, St, Louis...

Berge: That one summer.

Lawson: Just that one summer and a period of about four months. And September...actually in October 1952...I moved to Hawesville...we moved to Hawesville.

Berge: And, how long did you stay there?

Lawson: And, we were in Hawesville until June 1956, when we moved to Mounds. Now we were...we lived in Mounds about a year and a half. Now, Mounds, I said was a very bad experience. Uh, in the first place, I went over there, bought this...

Berge: Two newspapers.

Lawson: Two newspapers. I...finally consolidated them into one. And 56:00uh...but...that area was the most depressed area that I ever saw in my life and it is still is...

Berge: Yeah, I know it is.

Lawson: Now...we went over there, we left my wife's father and mother had been staying a lot of the time with us at Hawesville. They went back over to Missouri...both of them became wife spent a lot of time over there, and that was the reason that I really up and sold the Hawesville paper. Because I had no business ever selling that paper at Hawesville. The former owner came back and said, "I'd like to buy it back for my grandson." Who had 57:00worked for me a couple years, then decided to go out on his own to work for people, and he was in California and he wanted to come home. And the only way he could come home was for his grandfather to buy that paper back. Well...he caught me at a weak time...

Berge: Because of your in-laws and all...

Lawson: That's right. And so...we just...said all right, in the spring, we'll sell it back to you in the spring of 1956. Now, now it might be noted...uh...that we went over to Mounds and bought those papers sight unseen, which was a very costly lesson to me. Uh...went over there and bought 'em. Un...then after I bought 'em I discovered that it had thirty-five percent black 58:00population. Now, black people seldom will buy subscriptions to weekly newspapers. They're not good...they're not good supporters of weekly newspapers.

Berge: Uh-huh.

Lawson: And economic view over there...was, oh...

Berge: Dismal?

Lawson: I just didn't realize what I was getting in to.

Berge: Well, did you lose your shirt over there?

Lawson: That's a good word. That's exactly what happed to me.

Berge: Uh-huh.

Lawson: I dropped uh...actually...uh... Finally, there was a fellow who had a throwaway advertising paper which was just eating up all the advertising and I couldn't sell against that kind...


Berge: Sure.

Lawson: ... of competition. And finally I sold the papers out to him but kept the equipment. In 1957, now...I had...

Berge: Was the equipment pretty good?

Lawson: The equipment was fair. I'd say it was in was in pretty good...

Berge: You could put a paper out with it?

Lawson: That's right. We were...we were getting out a good publication...letterpress. And, of course, so uh...

Berge: Did you do job printing when you were doing this kind of stuff?

Lawson: Oh yeah. Yeah. I never did get that off my back. Now...

Berge: Of course, that was always a source of revenue that was important to small newspapers. Wasn't it?

Lawson: Well, yes, on the other hand...I ...I always had an opposite viewpoint on that than most weekly newspapers had. Uh... publishers had. I always 60:00believe...uh... Job printing was only a necessary evil. That it had to do it as a service to your advertisers.

Berge: Do you think it also hurt your newspaper some? Didn't it?

Lawson: Well, now...I'll tell you frankly...I always concentrated on the newspaper end of this thing. Now, uh...I...and of course I really...of course always have been promotional minded. I promoted...I promoted everything. I told you about this country music thing. Of course, I was into promoting even back 61:00when I was sports editor. I once promoted the national champion...collegiate champions in an exhibition at Wabash, Indiana, under the sponsorship of the sports department of the Wabash Plain Dealer. And, of course, I was never reprimanded for that. For years I played basketball...and uh...I never was a high school basketball player yet here in those years I played...I played several years...

Berge: I'll have to change the tape just a minute...

Lawson: OK. [Tape changed]

Berge: You were telling me that you've always been involved in promotion, but let me just, before we get into tell me how you got to Burkesville from Mounds.

Lawson: Mounds...when I went to Mounds...let me uh, let's 1957...late 1957, I realized I had to do something. I sold off the newspaper name only.

Berge: You kept the press.

Lawson: Just the business. I kept all and so on. And I began selling it off piecemeal. Selling the linotype, selling various pieces of equipment and so on. I still had to pay rent on that building. And a chance to buy a...the a... a job shop, which, of course, I hated job printing. But, I bought a job shop called the Union County Press at Enna, Illinois, which 63:00is about thirty miles north of Mounds. I bought the Union County Press. So during that winter of 1957, 1958, I was at Enna, Illinois.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: Now, of course...I had in mind that I was going to buy a weekly paper. Wherever I could find one that I could afford to buy. Because, when my finances just continually dwindled down to nothing to a point where...uh...on...I guess the first of January 1958, I suppose...was one of the...where my morale was at 64:00the lowest ebb I ever remember in my life, you know, that it ever was. But, it was also a happening that I in looking at the Auxiliary, Publisher Auxiliary in February 1958 that I discovered this ad where in Kentucky there was a weekly newspaper that could be bought in a county seat...a county seat weekly...with nothing equipment and so on. And...uh...I was so excited about that. 65:00And, so...that turned out to be the Cumberland County News at Burkesville, Kentucky. my brother-in-law, Harold Abernathy, and his wife, my wife's sister,...uh...they had agreed that they wanted to get out...he was an appliance repair man, he had never been in printing, but he wanted to learn it. And...uh...we had decided whatever we could find that they were going to go in partners with us. So...uh... We got the opportunity to buy this paper here with nothing down. And, so we came over and met Mr. Clarence Martin of Tompkinsville, 66:00who owned this paper. And he had been printing it in Tompkinsville. There was no equipment here in Burkesville at all.

Berge: Did you still had some equipment though?

Lawson: But, I had this equipment over at Mounds in a building that was still costing me $75 a month rent. And, uh...that again was one of the best breaks that I ever had in my life. We came over on twenty-second day, George Washington's birthday, 1958, met Mr. Martin and bought this Cumberland County News for a price of $2,500.

Berge: What was the circulation when you came here?

Lawson: Seven hundred. uh...


Berge: When did you sell the paper?

Lawson: I sold it in '74.

Berge: What was the circulation then?

Lawson: And uh...the circulation then had reached...uh...around...uh....around twenty- eight hundred. About four times. It's now around thirty-four hundred, I believe. It's continued to go up...

Berge: Ever since you had it.

Lawson: Yes. don't know if this is relevant or not. Mr. Martin...we did not have, we didn't have much money. We had that equipment over there at Mounds. And, so he advanced us twenty-five hundred dollars so we could buy a linotype.


Berge: So you really...were into to him for $5,000.

Berge: $5,000 we got back in the newspaper business, with bringing that equipment over here. we moved that equipment over here and took over in was nearly June before we could get a shop, though, set up here. Now, we had all kinds of insurance. I always believed in insurance. And uh, so, when we found out we were going to have to have some money. We went over all our insurance policies. And...uh...decided what we could cash in, what 69:00we could borrow on, and lo and behold discovered that we could...that we obtained about $2,000 through our insurance policies. Now that was a life saver because now that money...that money we used to go out and buy certain pieces of equipment we needed to make this a complete shop.

Berge: You had a job printing shop and a...

Lawson: That's right....

Berge: ...and a newspaper shop.

Lawson: That's right. And so we started here, now...

Berge: How did your brother and all like it?

Lawson: He took to it just like a duck to water. He really liked it. And now, he recently, just this year, had a heart attack. But, he has been in printing 70:00ever since that 1958, uh, when, you know the first of 1958 that he decided to quit being an appliance repairmen and become a printer.

Berge: And, he liked printing?

Lawson: And, so I taught him...he learned all phases of it. And...and I must say, he learned so quickly...uh the...the things about...uh... repairing a linotype for instance, or presses, or any kind of breakdowns like that he could do it.

Berge: So he was really an advantage to you?

Lawson: He was a great advantage to me., uh...we continued that partnership, oh....about, I guess about five or six years. And, then I bought 71:00his interest out. He never liked...he never liked really to have to make decisions that know...with management.

Berge: In other words the newspaper part of it wasn't as interesting to him as the printing.

Lawson: That's right.

Berge: Which is just the opposite for you, the newspaper part....

Lawson: Yeah, that's right. Now, one of the things that I originated was the idea of the correspondents' circulation contest.

Berge: What was that?

Lawson: And, of course, now this is a unique thing that is still used here by the owners of the paper now. They still use it. Now, every other year this has been put the even years. For instance, this year, 1978, was a 72:00correspondents' contest year. Now...uh... what this amounts to, and it's been featured in various press association convention meetings, and, uh... Now, uh, I've appeared before press associations and the like to tell about this contest. Primarily what it was, simply, was, uh...the weekly newspaper success is based on...uh...getting the names of a lot of people into the paper. Now, and so, to do that, why we...well the first thing we did when we 73:00came here. We had originated this thing in Hawesville for the first time, that's where we came up with the idea. We got correspondents, we got writers in each community, to send us in a newsletter every week. Now, actually, a lot of the big papers, now they pay these people to do this. We never have paid anybody. And, they don't to this day. Uh...they furnish them a free subscription. They give them free want ads. And, of course, maybe have a Christmas dinner for them 74:00or, uh, some little gimmicks. Send them gifts at Christmas, and so on like that. Uh, but, then we have this contest once every two years. And, then the people in that contest are the people who write for the newspaper...

Berge: [Unclear]

Lawson: each community.

Berge: Uh-huh.

Lawson: ...the whole concept of the contest is based on subscriptions...

Berge: In their community?

Lawson: or renewal. And, they can sell those to anybody that they can sell them to. But the whole idea is, that if they write for the people of their community they are going to sell those people in their community a subscription to those people and all those...their relatives who may live in Indianapolis or 75:00Ohio or somewhere.

Berge: And what do they win if they win the contest?

Lawson: Cash prizes.

Berge: Oh.

Lawson: It was cash. Now...uh...whereas in a lot of places these people that put on circulation contests, they use to give away a new car. Now, we started out the very first spring that we took over this paper with nothing down and on borrowed money. We held that very spring the first correspondents' contest. And...uh...and, of brother-in-law, he thought I was a little bit goofy when I came up with the idea of giving away as first prize in 76:00this...uh... correspondents' contest...the first prize, as I recall, was $200 cash. And, then there was eight or nine prizes and which, we gave away prizes, I believe, amounting to...about...uh...oh, I guess...three or four hundred dollars. But...

Berge: That way everybody got a prize and they felt pretty good about it.

Lawson: That's right. Actually, uh, it has always been about eight or nine or ten prizes.

Berge: Well, tell me this. Do you remember how much it meant to you in money? The first time?

Lawson: The very first week the contest came in. Now, the same point system that was used at Hawesville in 1953 was used here in 1978. All these years. 77:00Never changed the point system.

Berge: In other words, you got more for a new subscription then you did for a renewal?

Lawson: That's right. And even more for a two year subscription in the the county was worth the top prize...the top number of...

Berge: And that's worth more than out-of-state?

Lawson: And, then less for a two year new subscription out-of-state. You got less points.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: And...uh, so, the whole thing, which my wife and I had figured this thing way back there twenty-five years ago in Hawesville, and it's always 78:00worked. Now, the very first week down here...the very first week...they turned in in actual cash money, more than enough to pay for all the prize money. The very first week. And that contest went on....

Berge: And, of course, once your...

Lawson: ....for three months.

Berge: And once your subscriptions went up that meant your advertising was worth more. Advertisers were happy with the paper.

Lawson: That's right. That's right.

Berge: Let me ask you something...

Lawson: We went from seven hundred in that first spring, we went from seven hundred to fourteen hundred subscribers.

Berge: Well, I assume from the way you've talked that you've probably never regretted then coming to Burkesville?

Lawson: Never, no never.

Berge: OK.


Lawson: Well, actually...of course...when we first come here...uh...we liked the community... uh...generally speaking, uh, now, uh, we've had the Hawesville community was a...uh...they had a different attitude there then what they had here in Cumberland County.

Berge: They were more conservative about new people coming in?


Berge: I hate to put words into your mouth, but I mean...

Lawson: I don't know whether it's conservative, I'll tell you.... Well they did not...they never...well I always clashed with Hawesville and Hancock 80:00County. And, now...I...I mean a...I have to say that I always have had a ...uh...a feeling that Hawesville never accepted me and my ideas, yet I can point to a fact, that ...uh...that I had a great deal of influence...

Berge: In Hawesville?

Lawson: Yeah, on Hawesville. To where, it became a community that received more industrial expansion, in fact...


Berge: As a result of your activity?

Lawson: That's right. I think they would have to rank as one of the very top places in the United States of industrial expansion. And, I was in on the ground floor in all this. My idea of trying to shape those people [unclear] to progress.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: As I said, the first thing I did when I went there was organize a Lion's Club. That Lion's Club became one of the most progressive Lion's Clubs in the country. I was the charter president. I was there to try to promote one of their industries they had there, which, for some peculiar 82:00reason, Hancock County, which a very small county, produced more sorghum, with only one exception, it was the second largest sorghum, that's table sorghum, producing county in the United States. And, I established the National Sorghum Show at Hawesville.

Berge: Yeah, I've always known of Hancock County sorghum. You know another one in Kentucky that people...

Lawson: Around Leitchfield.

Berge: Now...also, Menifee County in Eastern Kentucky. We always think of Menifee County as having good sorghum but not much.

Lawson: Yeah. Now Hancock I'll tell you seriously. You know, as a promoter. The county agent asked me when I first come there if I had any ideas 83:00how I could promote their...I mean...

Berge: Sorghum?

Lawson: ...get their sorghum...their farmers more than $2 a gallon at a roadside market sell their sorghum. And so, then I come up with the idea of the National Sorghum Show.

Berge: Did you ever go back to it?

Lawson: I have never been back.

Berge: Isn't that something. You think you'd go back?

Lawson: I originated still goes on.

Berge: Do you think you ever will go back to it?

Lawson: I don't know. I've always had the idea I'd like to. I'd like to. Uh...those people didn't appreciate me.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: Now that's a fact. They did not appreciate me. Uh...for instance, they got 385 million dollars worth of industry. Uh...384 million of that after I left.


Berge: Um-hum. But for stuff that you started probably.

Lawson: I started the first industry just about right before I left there. But, now...I was on the bridge committee. I worked with Bob Cummings of Indiana, Cannelton, Indiana, who later became the chairman of the toll bridge commission of Indiana. And, I was on that bridge committee for three or four years to get a bridge across the Ohio between Hawesville and Cannelton, is one of [unclear] 85:00bridge. I've got a picture. Bob died a few years ago. There's a monument at the end of that bridge to him. And, of course, I've got scrapbooks and pictures of Bob Cummings and I. He helped me promote the National Sorghum Show. Which, uh, incidentally...see that picture on the wall?

Berge: Uh-huh, the big one?

Lawson: Uh-huh, the big one of the ladies...that's me at the microphone. That is from the Saturday Evening Post.

Berge: Oh, is it?

Lawson: On the back. In 1956, it was...the face of America.

Berge: Oh, yeah.

Lawson: So, I am a "face of America."

Berge: [Laughng]

Lawson: And that picture was taken, incidentally, by Ivan Dimitri, man 86:00recognized as the number one color photographer in the United States and among the three in the entire world. And, I became very closely acquainted with him. In fact, he came uh...ate sorghums...sorghum and biscuits, you know, in our apartment...he stayed around there for a week.

Berge: Why do people use ...use sorghums in plural?

Lawson: I don't know. But that is a fact.

Berge: I hear it everywhere...

Lawson: I seldom...

Berge: I hear... I say sorghum. But, when I'm talking to people who...

Lawson: I do, too.

Berge: I say...I've heard them say "them sorghums is good."

Lawson: Yeah. [Laughing] It's a fact. Now they...they uh...they produce a little sorghum around this county.


Berge: And, they're good. It's always they're good. Aren't they?

Lawson: Yeah. You want to know a funny little deal? Uh, now, uh...I never liked sorghum.

Berge: I love it.

Lawson: Now, my wife and my son, oh, they...they just like sorghum. And...and of really, for a long time, my first year at Hawesville...[unclear], that first year, I got Joe Creason and Charlie Miller from the Courier-Journal to come down and they did a magazine feature in the Sunday Courier magazine. And, of course,...uh...that got us off to a good start. And, that first show, our judge was...uh...uh...Baldwin...who was the 88:00president of the Kentucky State Fair. He was our judge. He and my wife...uh...judged ...uh...thirty-nine different entries in this sorghum deal from Kentucky and Indiana. And, of course, as I said, Bob Cummings got the Indiana deal all over into it., one thing I didn't say there was that in 1953 after I organized this Lion's Club we put on a minstrel show. We had trouble with the local school people...uh...rehearsing. And, of 89:00course, Lion members said, well, why don't we build our own building. Uh... three or four of us, you know, said well, we'll just build it. So, uh...I was one of those four. And, I said well I got a lot of ideas. For one thing, I believe I could originate one of those Opry type of things on Saturday nights, and so forth and so on. And, next thing you know, I was in on this thing. And, then...I bought the land in my name. And, I mean I made down payment on it...

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: And, the guy carried the note. by one these guys all dropped out of it 'til it left me owning that building. It was all...and it 90:00became our coliseum. We named it Coliseum Community Center. And, uh... Now...the one thing that grew up as...and to this day I suppose has to be the barrier between me and those people at Hawesville is the fact that one of the events that we had that Coliseum was square dancing. And there's about eight-five percent Southern Baptists up there. And me and the Southern Baptists don't agree.

Berge: Fell out about dancing?

Lawson: Yes.

Berge: Uh-huh.

Lawson: And, uh...That become...that become the awfulest [unclear] you've ever seen. Uh...The Courier-Journal... they we, my wife and I were going 91:00every Sunday morning [unclear] Baptist Church. I'd go down there and sit in the Sunday School class...

Berge: Just like a stranger?

Lawson: You know...well, I'd sit with these people, and lo and behold we had opened up the Coliseum out there and the next thing I knew I heard that they had gotten up, these Baptist churches in the county, had gotten up petitions. Nobody has these things, but there's a crazy law in the state of Kentucky that any kind of building that permits, mind you, dancing, athletic contests....that would mean basketball or whatever. Or a theater or whatever, 92:00outside the city limits of a city must apply for a roadhouse permit. Now, that's what they hit me with. And, I... It's a dry county...uh...well...they blew that all out of proportion. Now, the day that I went up there to the courthouse and found these petitions and there was one from the Hawesville Baptist Church with all these guys names that I was sitting in Sunday School class with...with the...with the... [Unclear]

Berge:... say to the judge...

Lawson: The only Democrat that I ever voted for in my life, and my wife had 93:00convinced me that he was such a good person. And lo and behold there he was with his name on that petition and the judge in...even in the hearing. He was the judge.

Berge: That should have been thrown out right there. I guess.

Lawson: It should have been.

Berge: It should.

Lawson: But, now, I'll tell you what. I had to fight it. Uh... Naturally there, I had way too much invested. Now, all these people who had...uh...said...uh...went in with me on building that building, course they all came around with their moral support, actually not financial. Uh, but, now I hired an attorney from an adjoining county, and one of them, actually the attorney was a circuit judge, who the minute he walks in, the county judge, know, practically has to bow down to a circuit judge.

Berge: Uh-huh.

Lawson: And...uh... But

Berge: Did you win that case?

Lawson: There was a memorable day. Uh...the courtroom...I've never been in court in my life.

Berge: What was the date of this?

Lawson: The date, if I recall was January the eleventh....January 11, 1954.

Berge: OK.

Lawson: Because, I remember that because the night before on January the tenth, on my stage at the Coliseum, Pee Wee King and his Golden West Cowboys, at that time, rated the number one western swing band in the nation, did an NBC coast to 95:00coast radio broadcast on that stage...

Berge: You're putting Hawesville on the map, and they wanted to wipe you off the map.

Lawson: Yes. That's right. I put Hawesville on the map so many ways while I was there it was no wonder that they got all that industrial expansion.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: But, now, the next morning they had that hearing. on one side of that courtroom...on one side of that courtroom there was...there was all these young Baptist ministers who was trying to make a name for themselves by...uh...

Berge: By closing you down.

Lawson: By closing down this thing. Now... the Courier-Journal gave this great coverage ...and a church was trying to close down a community center. And, it 96:00got on the press wires and all over the state it was published, and boy, it was worth a million dollars [unclear] of publicity for Hawesville and, of course, the Coliseum from that standpoint because it made people in Louisville, Evansville, Indianapolis, uh...Owensboro, everywhere, all of 'em aware that here was big place that they could go square dancing, go to a Saturday night stage show, and so on like that. It was so big that Joe Sproules established a duplicate of it at Hodgenville, which today is celebrate...they celebrated their twenty-fifth anniversary.

Berge: Um-hum.


Lawson: But, he got the idea from me. And, they are now, you know, one of the big....highly of the highly rated...uh...Saturday night shows in Kentucky. In fact, they are close to Renfro Valley. Now, Renfro Valley is coming back now.

Berge: Yeah, they built...they built another barn there. They have two of them there now.

Lawson: And John Lair. I've got this in my column which comes out today. Opening paragraph all about John Lair and he's going to build a third barn this next spring.

Berge: Yeah. I have a place in Laurel County, a little tiny farm on a lake there. It's about eight...ten miles from Renfro Valley.

Lawson: Is that right?

Berge: Uh huh. Let me ask you some general questions to change the tenor of this for just a moment. I'm going to have to be leaving in a few...not too many minutes and I'll be back another day. But, let me ask you some general questions 98:00about...about what...I guess what you'd call community newspaper.

Lawson: Uh...

Berge: That you'd call the kind of a newspaper you have a community newspaper?

Lawson: That's right. Yeah.

Berge: What do your own philosophy what do you...uh... see as the function of a community newspaper and the function of a newspaper... of the publisher and editor of a newspaper the Cumberland News...county newspaper.

Lawson: Well, now I guess somewhat I may be...I may be a little bit of the old fashion type of...of uh...newspaper editor. Uh... In other words, now in looking around me today I seldom see...I seldom see...uh...newspaper editors in these 99:00small communities, maybe it's because they have many of them have been bought up by syndicates.

Berge: Well, I was going to ask you about that, too.

Lawson: Today, though, there are very few editors who ever take up a real...

Berge: Promotion?

Lawson: Promotion. A real... I think a real community leadership idea.

Berge: Now that's... see that's the main point of our study. I've talked with like you today and I've talked to other people who've had similar sorts of newspapers and it seems that many of the older newspapermen had privately owned...owned the shop themselves...

Lawson: Yeah.

Berge: ...ran the shop, seemed to feel that their major responsibility was to help to promote the community.

Lawson: That's right.

Berge: I'm thinking of people like Fred Burkhardt in Casey County.


Lawson: Oh, yeah. That's right.

Berge: You know he had the same kind of operation you have.

Lawson: Yeah.

Berge: And, uh, I know sometimes when I ask them about this they'll say like you did, that you think that this is a major function. And then the next thing that comes out, like it did with you, ...will be that you think that maybe the chains aren't as concerned with that.

Lawson: I don't think they are.

Berge: Why do you think they're not?

Lawson: Because they're owned by somebody who is way off here somewhere. And they put an editor in here.

Berge: And take the printing out?

Lawson: And take the printing out. Or else the printing is separated from ...from the newspaper part. Now...

Berge: When you sold your paper did you sell it to a chain?

Lawson: No.

Berge: You sold it to...

Lawson: I sold it to a...I sold it to a local person.

Berge: Did any chain people ever talk to you about buying it?


Lawson: Yeah. They were the main ones. In fact, they...they talked to me time and again. I think I could have sold out for more money to the chains then what I got.

Berge: Uh-huh.

Lawson: When I... I sold to.... I sold to two young college journalism graduates...from Western Kentucky...

Berge: Uh-huh...

Lawson: ...University. Now, they ...they started coming to me and wanting to buy the paper two or three years before I sold it to them. And, the fact of that matter is I made an agreement, I guess a year, that when they graduated, I was going to make it possible for them to buy. And, as a result, really and truly, I sold it to them at a ridiculously small down payment.


Berge: Uh-huh...

Lawson: ...practically nothing. And, gave them a chance to buy it over a period of ten years.

Berge: I notice you still write your editorial column.

Lawson: I still have written...that...that column I started writing when I was working at the Wabash Plain Dealer. So, that's been in existence at every paper. I have some duplicates, in fact, of my column, that same "Sidelines," written back when I first started in the newspaper business at Fortville.

Berge: Huh. Are you going to keep writing it?

Lawson: I suppose I'll write that as long as I'm able to write.

Berge: Let me just ask your experience in, primarily here in 103:00Burkesville, but at other counties, like Hancock County or even other counties in Indiana, who are the...people...who can and sometimes do make the decisions that help bring about change in the community.

Lawson: Uh...

Berge: I guess you'd say newspaper people are one?

Lawson: Well, now I... Now to give you a little idea. We started in 1958...and uh...I came up with the idea, and in fact, you know, in 1960 the community here...uh...put on the sesquicentennial.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: And uh, and...and so uh, the next year, after that sesquicentennial, 104:00this is still regarded as, I guess as one of the greatest things that ever happened...

Berge: In?

Lawson: In Cumberland County and in Burkesville. But, I, 1961, I run a thing which I called the Cumberland County News Platform for Progress. Now I put this as the masthead. And, of course, it was extensive, uh...set up in type across the was that deep see, I suppose. Now, I set down all the goals I saw that the county should accomplish for the betterment of the 105:00community. Now, like for instance, uh...for twenty-five years we had no gymnasium for the high school. WB. Huh.

Lawson: NO gymnasium.

Berge: Huh.

Lawson: Uh...the teams had to go to...out to Middleburg, ten miles and back, even to practice and to play their games and so on. Uh...uh...I listed among these things [phone rings] a library...a library.

Berge: You want to answer that?

Lawson: Yeah. [Tape stopped and restarted]

Lawson: And, make a long story short, I said the community needs these things. This is our platform. This includes a hospital...a 106:00library...a new...

Berge: Gymnasium.

Lawson: A new gymnasium. A new...actually a complete new high school. Uh...uh...we need new lighting on the streets. Uh...we need wider...a wider main street. We needed to...uh...uh...we needed, for instance a bowling alley. Lack of recreation. Uh...I ...I ...remember...a possibility of a state park.

Berge: Uh-huh.

Lawson: More...more tourist development. Uh...a airport. A airfield. Now, I got 107:00lots of snickers about all these ideas back in 1961.

Berge: How many of them come true?

Lawson: Every one. Every one of 'em became a reality even to the fact that I had to put the bowling alley in myself in 1976.

Berge: I noticed you have all these bowling trophies.

Lawson: [Laughing]

Berge: Do you still own the bowling alley?

Lawson: We sold it last May.

Berge: Let me ask you..uh...this. Who were the kinds of people in the town who helped make these kinds of things reality?

Lawson: Uh...

Berge: Either the names of them or their offices.

Lawson: Now, I'll tell you...uh...the man...the man that I would just have....his record makes it necessary to say that I was lucky to live in a 108:00community were Dr. Joseph Schickel had...was a progressive minded...uh...member of that community.

Berge: What's his occupation?

Lawson: He is a doctor.

Berge: A physician?

Lawson: A medical doctor.

Berge: OK, a medical doctor.

Lawson: And now, long time ago he decided that he didn't like the idea of the way the federal government spent his tax money that he paid into it. And so he established...determined ways that he could take his money...that he would donate money to his community and it would be spent the way he wanted spent. As a result...uh...he...he practically bought, paid for that new part of the park 109:00down there...uh that has a...he built that swimming pool I know.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: He borrowed my pen one evening and sat down there and wrote out a check for $10,000 to pay for labor on the thing. I saw it.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: And, of course, then...he, seventy-five thousand or more dollars to build an industrial portion on the high school out here. So they could have...

Berge: Vocational.

Lawson: Woodworking. Vocational. And, of course, so many, many things. Now he's just one, but he is really the leading one.

Berge: Can you think of any others?

Lawson: Yes. I...I say Les McComas contributed a great deal.

Berge: Who is he?

Lawson: And, he is...

Berge: Now...spell the names...spell the names of these people.


Lawson: Uh...Les is spelled uh...'s Dr. Joseph S-C-H-I-C-K- E-L.

Berge: OK.

Lawson: Now, the other one...

Berge: McComas, how do you spell it?

Lawson: Now the other was a millionaire, who was in this community from...uh...uh...he was the Ford dealer back in 1920s.

Berge: Hm-hum.

Lawson: And his name was Les McComas...M-C-C-O-M-A-S. Capital C in there.

Berge: Any other people you can think of?

Lawson: Um...uh... of course...Those two have been leading benefactors. Now leading progressive people who have taken the lead since I have been here, of course, was the late Judge Lyle H. Webb...W-E-B-B.


Berge: You mean the county judge?

Lawson: That's right. He's county judge.

Berge: And you had a good relationship with him?

Lawson: Yes, always was close to him.

Berge: OK.

Lawson: I was always close to him.

Berge: How about...uh...

Lawson: Randolph Smith. He owns a drug store.

Berge: Hm-hum.

Lawson: Randolph Smith. Now...that's the oldest business in town.

Berge: How...what kind of relationship do you have with the school people?

Lawson:'s been off and on on that. Now...

Berge: Did you ever raise heck with the school people much?

Lawson: I have been probably best known for that.

Berge: Uh-huh.

Lawson: In fact this...uh...I guess I'm probably blamed for the latest eruption.

Berge: What's that, I don't...

Lawson: Just the election just last week or two. When...when two of the present 112:00board members either decided not to run or were defeated.

Berge: I noticed a black woman won a seat ...

Lawson: That's true.

Berge: this community. Just last week. I read the paper.

Lawson: Now everything...of course...the uh...I had...I had been a great sport promoter. Now, you'll find on the record...uh, you'll find the record...and I've got the plaque upstairs...really, uh, presented to me...for having started...for actually having been the instigator of the gym fund drive, which raised $125,000 and which enabled the county to build 113:00that...the gymnasium out there, uh, you know now that seats thirty-two hundred.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: Uh...I've been the instigator of the athletic booster clubs.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: Uh...being a know me...I got the Kentucky Colonels to play the first game in the gym out here.

Berge: Oh, really?

Lawson: Yeah. I just, you know me, I just up and wrote to 'em ... and

Berge: Got 'em to do it.

Lawson: Got 'em to do and...uh...then told them about. But the booster club made...took in $6,000 with that deal. And they [unclear] for years. Now, one of the projects I've had for years, after the gym thing, ...this is the...we are 114:00the only high school in southern Kentucky that does not have an athletic field that has been developed. It is now, just now, in recent weeks. Uh, fact of the matter is ...uh...a week ago last Sunday, they graded off the baseball field, to build a new baseball field, and they still got a football field to build, you know, and a track and so on.

Berge: Hm-hum.

Lawson: These things have been a project, and an editorial project of mine for years.

Berge: Hm-hum.

Lawson: And....I've fought with superintendents and school boards and all that. Uh...

Berge: How do they take this kind of criticism...generally?

Lawson: Well I', I'll tell you what happens. In the end, the people go 115:00over there and vote these people out.

Berge: Hm-hum.

Lawson: Who don't do their job.

Berge: Is that what happened these last two weeks?

Lawson: That's right. That's right. And, of course, the, he is...he's in a good shape...he's got a contract runs...after this year it runs two more years. And, of course, he had a rubber stamp school board.

Berge: But he doesn't...

Lawson: [Unclear]

Berge: But he doesn't now.

Lawson: He doesn't now. He is now outvoted one to four.

Berge: Tell me this, Mr. Lawson. This has always interested me because a number of the counties that I do...that I've been doing this study in are counties were probably the most important election is school board election, because...particularly east of here there are some counties were that's all the money in the state...

Lawson: That's right. That is right.

Berge: How do they handle these elections? If you're a superintendent...

Lawson: They're going to be handled a lot...


Berge: How do you go about keeping your people in? Do...

Lawson: Now, I'll tell you what...

Berge: Like for instance, if I'm running...I'm school superintendent and I want to keep my job. Then I want to have a board elected...

Lawson: You try to anything much that's very controversial.

Berge: Then the less you do...

Lawson: The less you do. Then on the QT a superintendent who gets out here and he is one of the most politickin' people there are.

Berge: Let me just ask you this. In your paper, did you have any way to let people know who were backing the superintendents and who weren't? In other words, how do people when they go to an election, they don't know...when they go vote for school board people they don't know what the school board people are going to do.

Lawson: I'll tell you what. Now, yes, I come out and...uh...reported who voted 117:00for and who voted against.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: Now in my column is where my I don't write the news story.

Berge: I understand that.

Lawson: Now, uh, now Sonny Branham is the publisher. And, he writes the news stories.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: Now, he writes it right down the middle.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: He does not...

Berge: Editorialize.

Lawson: Editorialize. And so, uh, now uh, in my column I've always editorialized. That is uh...that is my column...

Berge: Now, you're not listed as the editor now? Are you?

Lawson: Uh-huh...No...I'm just a...

Berge: You're just a contributing columnist?

Lawson: I'm just a freelance writer.

Berge: OK. OK. And who's...who's listed as the editor?

Lawson: Uh...Sonny Branham.

Berge: Is publisher/editor?

Lawson: Yeah. Yeah. Actually, he and his wife. Sonny and Judy Branham are the 118:00editors now and publishers.

Berge: Have you always thought you had a responsibility to...uh...endorse candidates for local elections?

Lawson: Hmmm...Sometimes.

Berge: Depending upon?

Lawson: Now I did. I tell you what, I did...I did this last election. Uh, the fact of the matter is I endorsed...uh...this young fellow, and...of course...actually Jewell's [unclear] brother-in-law was running against him.

Berge: You're talking about the judge race now.

Lawson: The judge-executive. And uh, but now...Now...uh...I don't really endorse people in these things.

Berge: Particularly if you think they're all qualified. Is that it?

Lawson: Yeah. And now really and truly, of course, I didn't endorse anybody in this...this school deal. Yet, I raised so much cane about the 119:00superintendent...uh...not paying any attention to the athletic program...

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: uh...... that...uh...I thought that it ought to be...uh, you know...lookin' after a lot more. And, uh...At the same time, boy, I hit a real nerve. And, of course, what really teed me off was when I discovered that they were trying to blame it on building a new administration building and saying we don't have any money to do anything on...

Berge: Do the football field.

Lawson: ...the athletic field. Of course, we had an elementary school down here needs of these type...uh... play buildings.

Berge: Hm-hum.

Lawson: Uh...And, uh, these things...


Berge: Are they going to do it?

Lawson: I'll tell you what, these people jumped in there then...

Berge: Are they going to build the new administration building do you think?

Lawson: I don't think so. [Laughing]

Berge: You don't? [Laughing]

Lawson: I don't think so. Uh, because...uh...uh, now...I don't think they can possibly get it across. Uh, of course, now January 1, this [unclear] point of four to one against the superintendent. And these...some of these people run on a...on a...

Berge: Athletic?

Lawson: ... a program...uh...of not building that administration building. And, uh...the colored woman especially.

Berge: We're having...we're running out of time. I want to ask you a couple fast questions. Uh...when you do have a run in, say in a little town like this 121:00with somebody like the superintendent, what kind of personal relationship do you have with those people?

Lawson: Uh...I tell you...

Berge: Does it ever get pretty testy personally, too?

Lawson: Well, you know...That's a funny thing that it hasn't, a rule.

Berge: Like you...

Lawson: I meet them on the street or meet in the Post Office or somewhere like that. If they will talk to me, if they will shake hands with me, if far as that's concerned, the superintendent, I [unclear] he runs out here and sits right where you are.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: And we hash it out right across the table here. Uh...

Berge: that...the man just elected, Mr. Barnes. You meet him out on the street you say...

Lawson: As far as I'm concerned that's the way to be.

Berge: Uh-huh. OK.

Lawson: Now, now...and, of course...I've written a big commentary this week outside of my column.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: See, and it's supposed to go under my byline and it says commentary 122:00that means that I can say whatever I please, you know, about this whole thing.

Berge: Sure.

Lawson: And so...and, and so...what I really did is to say now, Barney, you can can be a good judge,''re a Democratic, this is...this is a county which is strong Republican, you can be a good judge if you don't try now to spend all your time building a...building up a Democrat political machine.

Berge: Uh-huh.

Lawson: Because it can't be done. These people are three to-one Republicans.

Berge: Uh-huh. I understand.

Lawson: See?

Berge: All right, let me ask you one other question specifically. If you had to make a judgment whether you think that the chains that are buying up these local newspapers is it a good or a bad omen, what would you say?


Lawson: Uh, I would say it's bad.

Berge: For the community?

Lawson: For the community. I...I can't see that a guy...that somebody sitting over here. Now, for instance, if they want to...if they want to throw a whole big political deal in here...they can do it, with a chain. They can send down this editorial backing...

Berge: Say in a governor's race or something?

Lawson: That's right. That is bad.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: And, of course, now, these guys have been friends of, uh...up at [unclear]...

Berge: I know. I know. Let me just ask you another quick question. Name some people you think have been really good newspapermen in this state. Community newspapers like yours.

Lawson: Community newspapers. Uh...well, now I always thought the 124:00Central City paper was always a good progressive newspaper. That the Stone brothers run. Now, uh...Actually, I think the Hancock Clarion....under... [Tape stopped and restarted]

Berge: I was saying Mr. Lawson, I'd like to just take a minute because I have to leave to ask you, uh, who you think have been good newspaper people and you mentioned the...uh...the man, the boy that you sort of trained over at Hawesville...

Lawson: Yeah...And uh...

Berge: Central City...which is...

Lawson: The Stones brothers up there at Central City. Uh, they uh, they have had good newspapers. And, uh, really, so many of these people have sold out to chains, especially down here in this area. Uh, that...uh...and as I understand...


Berge: You think it's going to happen more and more? Do you?

Lawson: I don't think it will.

Berge: You don't?

Lawson: I don't think it's going to. Because I believe for know, the Fortville Tribune...was one of those papers...the one that I started with, way back there, uh, has...has been sold along from one to another, and finally to a chain, which was Kokomo...the Kokomo Tribune owned it. Uh...both the...those papers that I owned, the Fortville Tribune and the Lapel Review...uh...just within the last month were sold to individual owners again. Back to individual owners.

Berge: You think...

Lawson: And actually, I find, and I do believe that uh...that this chain 126:00business is going not going to work.

Berge: You think some of these bright young kids come out of these journalism schools are just going to start taking newspapers like this?

Lawson: That's right. I think they're going to go to owning them themselves. And, that is the only way.

Berge: Let me ask you this, Mr. Lawson. Uh, you think that you gained anything over the years by attending and belonging to things like the Kentucky Press Association?

Lawson: Well, now...uh...I'm a great believer in the association. Uh...I was one of the founders and instigators of the Kentucky Weekly Newspaper Association.

Berge: Uh-huh.

Lawson: Now, that was done simply because I thought the Kentucky Press was 127:00dominated too much by the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald.

Berge: Uh-huh.

Lawson: And, so, as a result, uh...uh...this weekly association was formed. I always believed in these press associations. I firmly believe in them.

Berge: What advantages did you accrue from belonging to associations like this?

Lawson: Well...

Berge: Say for yourself and the community.

Lawson: Uh...I don't know...uh...from my own local standpoint...uh...uh...I actually...uh...maybe getting together with other newspaper people and...and learning...uh...and learning little things. You know.


Berge: Uh-huh.

Lawson: Learning...

Berge: Just what other people are doing?

Lawson: Yes. Uh-huh. Yeah.

Berge: Just sort pooling your knowledge? What worked for one person?

Lawson: That's right. Now for instance, ideas of circulation...

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: This correspondence contest...

Berge: How did people take that?

Lawson: ...has been presented...uh...both by me and also Sonny Branham at conventions and association meetings. And, uh...But...uh...I...I believe, of course, also have [unclear] there to maybe attain some advantages and the like. I...I know, I mean, I said, I was one of the 129:00instigators, uh...Carlos Embry of Beaver Dam, being the man who really carried the ball in organizing the weekly association.

Berge: Let me just ask you, have you ever regretted getting into the weekly community newspaper rather than say a daily?

Lawson: No, never. Uh... You know working for a daily for a [unclear] 15 years was a deal. And a day-to-day thing. The weekly...uh...I tell you, in looking back over my life with...uh...actually, I still don't have many regrets. As I 130:00said, the only other thing I would like to have been was to have been a major league baseball writer.

Berge: ...yeah... I understand.

Lawson: Really, I had that opportunity to have gone with the Indianapolis Star and, of course, they've always been know, a Triple A baseball, the next thing to major league.

Berge: I sure want to thank you for letting me come down here and take your time this morning and I probably will, sometime in the next few months, call you again someday and ask you if I can come down.

Lawson: Well, be glad to do it. Uh, now you know, I spent...I spent years...well, I really did't spend all that time. But, uh...when I get in the mood, I go back to it. But I've been writing off and on for ten years my own personal memoirs. And, of course, uh...these are not for publication until I'm 131:00gone, because these really, these really name all kinds of names.

Berge: Well, that's good that someone's doing it. Yeah.

Lawson: My oldest son, uh...Joe...who is a teacher at [unclear] High School in Indianapolis. Uh...I've got a lot of teachers in my family. I've got two daughter- in-laws who are teachers. And, of course, actually both of my oldest sons graduated from Ball State University, and their wives graduated from Ball State University. And, uh... all of them except one, my number two son, just never could take the strain or tensions of teaching high school kids.

Berge: Hm-hum. I can understand that.


Lawson: And, so...Now these books, right here...uh...those books over there. Uh...those there are my memoirs.

Berge: Well...It's good you're doing that. And, one of the reasons we do projects like this is that anymore people don't keep diaries and write memoirs.

Lawson: Uh...

Berge: And, going around interviewing people is one way to get some of this.

Lawson: You know, I's a shame. Anytime I see, like, for instance, a good friend of mine died last Thursday here in this town. He was 93. He was 93. the business life of Burkesville...uh...he was one of those pioneers way back there in the early part of this century. He was in the drug 133:00business. Burkesville Livery Stable...this, that, and the other. And, anytime somebody dies like that...

Berge: What a waste.

Lawson: ...why, why didn't we get a lot of interviews and so forth like that?

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: Now, I had a friend who died last March the 15th in country music. Uh...Uncle Bozo.

Berge: Um-hum. Yeah.

Lawson: Uh... His name was Noble Carver, the last of the Carver family.

Berge: Plaque right there.

Lawson: Right. So, now...I was afraid there'd be a three-line obituary in the Courier-Journal. So I took it upon myself to contact the Courier-Journal. Now, 134:00I...I convinced them to finally end up they used a two-column head in 48- point type concerning the death of this man. And to back it up, I said this man has been a...has been the fellow who really started out a great many big name stars.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: From all the way down from Smiley Burnette...Gene Autry...Pee Wee King...uh...Roy Acuff...Eddy Arnold. And, and so on so on. All down through his life. He died at the age of 82.

Berge: Um-hum.

Lawson: Uh, so uh...I uh...I told them, contact Pee Wee King. Right up there at 135:00Louisville. And, and so they [unclear] Pee Wee, who is a country music Hall of Famer. It's just not somebody out here, you know, calling and telling this story...and I finally convinced them. Now I do that sometimes in sports with the Courier-Journal.

Berge: That's nice.

Lawson: They even headline...they'll have a headline what Lawson says...on the sports page. ... Well, now, I've travelled thousands of miles with the high 136:00school basketball team. I'm not just a...I'm not just one of those guys might listen to the radio [unclear] because I'll be out there at every home game, and a lot of times, when I get a chance, I don't like to drive all that well. [Unclear]

Berge: I see you're a banjo picker.

Lawson: Uh...[unclear] I started in 1927. [Laughing]

Berge: I want to thank you. And, I'll come back and see you again because I

really want to talk about some things. [Tape ends at 2:16:54]