Marse Grant, 88, who died Friday in Raleigh, was a flame-throwing writer and editor, one of the most influential journalists in post-World War II North Carolina public affairs. He almost single-handedly kept North Carolina a dry state during the 1960s and most of the 1970s, arguing ardently against the sale of liquor by the drink and lobbying legislators about the evils of John Barleycorn.
He also urged racial conciliation during a time of widespread social upheaval and withstood angry demands for his scalp from readers who thought he had gone too far. In 1960 he wrote, “God loves all people. To think that He prefers one over the other because of the color of his skin is inconsistent with the teachings of the Bible” – an observation that cost the paper a lot of subscriptions for a time.
Angry readers are nothing new to editors, of course, but it was Grant's paper that gave him a unique and prominent pulpit from which to deliver his weekly pronouncements: The Biblical Recorder, weekly newspaper of the Baptist State Convention. At one time it was the state's third largest newspaper, behind the Charlotte Observer and the News & Observer.
During his editorship from 1959 to 1982, he doubled the paper's circulation to 120,000 and scolded, cajoled, and scalded politicians, preachers and anyone else he believed to be in need of his brand of advice. Among his targets were such icons of rectitude as the Rev. Billy Graham, the Charlotte native whom Grant chided for his “strange silence” during a liquor referendum in 1971. Grant also took on old-South politicians, writing in 1968 that “The U.S. Senate … has too many Sam Ervins and Strom Thurmonds blocking progressive legislation.”
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Grant played editorial hardball so aggressively that some of his readers were surprised to meet a kindly, grandfather-like figure when they saw him firsthand. His old-fashioned values about hard work, family ties and treating other people kindly were the heart of his life's work. He was a North Carolina original.