EKU Plays Role in Selection of White Hall as National Historic Site in Journalism

Photo of White Hall

The Society of Professional Journalists has named White Hall State Historic Site, home of newspaper publisher Cassius Marcellus Clay, as the 2011 National Historic Site in Journalism thanks in large part to the efforts of Eastern Kentucky University’s Department of Communication, which nominated Clay’s historic home for the honor.

Clay published an anti-slavery newspaper, The True American. He began printing in June 1845 in the heart of pro-slavery Kentucky despite threats to his life and business. Clay’s objective was “to use a state and National Constitutional right – the freedom of the press – to change national and state laws, so as, by a legal majority, to abolish slavery.”

On Tuesday, April 12, a year after the bicentennial of Clay’s birth, EKU’s Department of Communication and the University’s campus chapter of SPJ will host a special recognition ceremony at White Hall. National SPJ President Hagit Limor will speak at the 11 a.m. event, followed by a reception.

Through the paper, printed in Lexington, Clay anticipated the reaction anti-slavery editorial matter in his paper would bring. He fortified the newspaper office with Mexican lances, guns and two brass cannons. He continued to publish the newspaper from Cincinnati after a mob seized his press, type and equipment.

“While the publication period of The True American was short, the importance of that newspaper in the center of the pro-slavery region of Kentucky cannot be minimized,” Deborah Givens, EKU instructor of journalism and SPJ campus chapter adviser, said in her letter of support. “Clay not only risked property and social standing, but was also willing to risk his life to defend the principles of the First Amendment, as evidenced by his fortifying of the newspaper office.  While the actual office no longer stands, White Hall was always the base of Clay’s struggles.”

White Hall, the home where Clay grew up and spent most of his adult life, was constructed over an older home built by his father in 1798 on 2,200 acres in northern Madison County. Restoration of the home was completed in 1971 with much of the furniture used by Clay and his family returned to the mansion. His books, desks, dueling pistols, letters and pages of The True American are on display in the home, which is maintained by Kentucky State Parks.

Having served as a state representative and later a captain during the Mexican War, Clay helped found the Republican Party and was appointed Minister to Russia by President Abraham Lincoln.

SPJ’s Historic Sites in Journalism program honors the people and places that have played important roles in U.S. journalism history. White Hall becomes only the second site in Kentucky, following the 1965 honor in Louisville for Henry Watterson.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.

Published on December 02, 2010