Decell, Hal

Hal Decell was the editor, publisher, and co-owner of the “Deer Creek Pilot”, Sharkey County’s newspaper of widest circulation, for thirty-nine years, including the civil rights era. The “Deer Creek Pilot”is based in Rolling Fork, Mississippi.

Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Decell and his wife, the daughter of newspaper owners, bought a portion of the “Deer Creek Pilot”in 1949.

In 1955, Decell served as then-gubernatorial candidate J.P. Coleman’s press director.

On May 2, 1956, Decell was hired by Governor J.P. Coleman to serve as the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission’s first press relations director for $7,294.41 per year. The Sovereignty Commission was established with a $250,000 appropriation and a two-year mandate to protect Mississippi’s “way of life,”namely, segregation.

By March of 1958, Decell had grown disenchanted with the Commission. Following an attempted investigation into a chapter of the NAACP and an unfavorable report by the State Auditor on the Commission’s use of its appropriations, Decell resigned.

In 1961, Decell won the prestigious Golden Quill Award given by the International Conference of Weekly Newspaper Editors for an editorial criticizing Governor Ross Barnett and the White Citizen’s Council. Decell’s wife and partner, Carolyn, also published editorials. Throughout the 1960s, Decell was critical of Mississippi’s leadership, particularly on the Legislature’s practice of allegedly appropriating money to the White Citizen’s Council.

During the push for public school integration, Decell was active in promoting stability and maintaining open schools while Mississippi’s legislature was considering closing some schools to avoid integration.

In 1966, Decell won the Silver Em Award presented by the University of Mississippi Department of Journalism for the journalist “whose career exemplifies the highest ideals of American journalism.”

Sources:

“Hal DeCell.”Garrett Ray. International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors Biographies. 1986. http://www.mssu.edu/iswne/bios/DeCell.htm

http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/journalism/SilverEm3.htm