Copyright notice

This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

Is anything in this article factually incorrect? Please submit a comment.

Printer-friendly page
Average: 3.5 (2 votes)

Cole, Willard Glover

by Jerry Lanier, 1979; Revised May 2022 by NC Government & Heritage Library

24 Aug. 1906–28 May 1965

Willard Glover Cole, newspaper editor, was born in Wilkes County, the son of Phoebe Mariah Bumgarner and Thomas H. Cole. He graduated from high school in North Wilkesboro and began his journalistic career at the age of twenty, when he joined the staff of the Journal-Patriot in North Wilkesboro. Soon he was editor of the Ashe County Journal. He returned home briefly to serve as editor of the Journal. before becoming a reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal. He then spent five years in Panama working for a road construction company; in the 1930s he returned to North Carolina to become secretary of the Tabor City Merchants Association. In 1948 he became editor of the Whiteville News-Reporter, a Columbus County weekly.

In 1950, Cole and editor Horace Carter of the Tabor City Tribune began a crusade against the Ku Klux Klan, which had recently become active in Columbus County. In response to many acts of terrorism and intimidation, the two newspapers published incessant attacks on the nightriders. Regularly threatened by the Klan, Cole carried a gun when he answered his door at night. His anti-Klan editorials assailed the organization for its secrecy and its vigilante violence. One Klansman said of him: "I guessed we despised the editor of the Whiteville News-Reporter most. . . . His criticism never ceased for one moment against the KKK." In the aftermath of Klan violence, over eighty Klansmen were arrested on kidnapping and assault charges; nearly all were convicted with sentences ranging up to six years. The two editors, Cole and Carter, shared the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service in 1953 and also received various other service awards. In their successful efforts against the KKK, editors Cole and Carter ably demonstrated the potential of small-town journalism as a positive, amelioristic force in the community. Cole, the older of the two and controller of the larger newspaper, led the fight.

Cole left Whiteville shortly after the Klan crusade and became editor of the Lumberton Post in Robeson County. In 1963 he founded and became editor of the Robeson County Enterprise, a semiweekly with offices in Lumberton. He was working in this capacity when he became fatally ill in 1965.

Cole was survived by his widow, Mary Frances Donnelly, whom he had divorced but remarried several years later; by a son, William John Cole; and by a daughter, Mrs. Mary Jo Cole Burnette. He was buried in the Donnelly family cemetery in Ashe County.


Additional information from NCpedia editors at the State Library of North Carolina: 

*Spelling correction: We have corrected the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography's misspelling of William Glover Cole's mother's name. The incorrect spelling replaced in the article originally read "Maria Dumgarner." We have revised this to be the correct name, Phoebe Mariah Bumgarner. 

*Spelling correction: We have corrected the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography's misspelling of William Glover Cole's son's name. The incorrect spelling replaced in the article originally read "Willard Glover Cole." We have revised this to be the correct name, William Glover Cole.

*Spelling correction: We have corrected the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography's misspelling of William Glover Cole's daughter's name. The incorrect spelling replaced in the article originally read "Jean Cole." We have revised this to be the correct name, Mary Jo Cole Burnette.


Hamlet News-Messenger, 8 Oct. 1958.

Raleigh News and Observer, 5 May 1952, 10 May 1953, 11 June 1953, 29 May 1965.

Time, 11 May 1953.

"William John Cole," The News Record, April 21, 2022. (accessed May 9, 2022). 

Additional Resources:

Braxton, Lee. "They Spoke Out For Decency." The Rotarian 83, no 3 (September 1953). 29, 55. (accessed January 13, 2014).

tleonard. "Courageous editor continued to fight." Past Times (blog). News and Observer. March 7, 2012. (accessed January 13, 2014).

Terry, Thomas Clark. "That Old-time Religion: Three Journalists in the Triangle of Race, Religion, and Liberalism in the South at the Cusp of the Modern Civil Rights Era, 1950-1953." Dissertation. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  2007. (accessed January 13, 2014).



I note that my father William John Cole's name has still not been corrected. Since he has now passed on, he is no longer in a position to advocate for a correction himself. Could you kindly do that? You have a correction footnote, but you have left the text, incorrectly, as "Willard John Cole."

Hello Carilee, 

This entry in its current form is sourced from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography and until recently we were not able to make many revisions to these entries due to copyright restrictions. We are now able to make needed changes and appreciate you bringing this to our attention. We have revised the entry and I apologize for the delay.  

Alyssa Putt, NC Government & Heritage Library

Willard Glover Cole was the correct name in the article. I know this to be true because I am his Grand Neice. His son was William John Cole.

Jo Ann Childress

Please correct, in the final paragraph of the article, the name of Willard G. Cole's son. It should read "William" John Cole instead of "Willard" John Cole. I would very much appreciate your making this change on this web page. Sincerely, Mary Jo Cole Burnette.

His mother's name was Maria Bumgarner. (Not Dumgarner)

Hi Cole,

Thanks for visiting NCpedia and taking a moment to share this correction.

Would you be able to share the sources where you've noted this?  It's really useful for us to be able to include and share additional biographical detail in the references when we make updates to content.

Thanks very much and best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library

Mother's name should be Mariah

There is also an error on his son's name. It is WILLIAM John Cole, not Willard. I certainly ought to know, as I've been married to him for 47 years.

My name is not Jean Cole, but Mary Jo Cole. This was a mistake in an obituary when my father died. Will you kindly correct the error?

Mary Jo Cole Burnette

Absolutely! Thank you very much for taking the time to let us know. We have updated the information.


Michelle Underhill, Government & Heritage Library, State Library of North Carolina

Add a comment

PLEASE NOTE: NCpedia provides the comments feature as a way for viewers to engage with the resources. Comments are not published until reviewed by NCpedia editors at the State Library of NC, and the editors reserve the right to not publish any comment submitted that is considered inappropriate for this resource. NCpedia will not publish personal contact information in comments, questions, or responses. If you would like a reply by email, note that some email servers, such as public school accounts, are blocked from accepting messages from outside email servers or domains. If you prefer not to leave an email address, check back at your NCpedia comment for a reply. Please allow one business day for replies from NCpedia. Complete guidelines are available at