William Allen White

William Allen White, summer resident of Moraine park from 1912 through 1943, is widely remembered as the charming editor of the Emporia (Kansas) Gazette and as a figure of influence in the Republican party. Less well known is his vigilant devotion to a free press and free speech, climaxed by his 1922 Pulitzer prize-winning editorial,"To an Anxious Friend."

In the summer of 1922, railroad shop men of the Midwest went on strike, and White was particularly concerned since one of the largest shops of the Santa Fe was located in Emporia. When the strike was called, the shop men consulted White and were assured the Gazette would give them fair treatment and an opportunity to answer charges made by the railroad.

In later years, White was particularly proud of the fact that there was no strike-related violence in Emporia - due in part, he believed, to the fair newspaper coverage the strikers received. In other towns where newspapers stridently opposed the union "cars were tipped over and heads were bashed, and there was trouble in the wind."

Throughout Kansas strikers brought to downtown merchants a poster favoring the strikers and asked that the poster be displayed in shop windows. Henry Allen, Governor of Kansas and a close friend of White, issued an order forbidding display of the posters. Despite their friendship, White believed Allen's order unconstitutional and placed in his window a placard saying that "so long as the strikers maintain peace ... the Gazette is for them 50 percent, and every day they refrain from violence will add one percent more of approval."

There was no personal animosity between them. To the astonishment of the press, White invited Allen to lunch when he came to Emporia at the height of the controversy though White had assured Allen he would fight the order to the United States Supreme court.

In the midst of the argument, a friend from Condordia wrote White asking about his decision, and White published his reply as an editorial under the title "To an Anxious Friend."

"You tell me that law is above freedom of utterance. And I reply that you can have no wise laws nor free enforcement of wise laws unless there is free expression of the wisdom of the people - and, alas, their folly with it. But if there is freedom, folly will die of its own poison, and the wisdom will survive. That is the history of the human race ... So dear friend, put fear out of your heart. This nation will survive, this state will prosper, the orderly business of life will go forward if only men can speak in whatever way given them to utter what their hearts hold ... Reason has never failed men. Only force and repression have made the wrecks in the world."

The strike ended and in the fall the Attorney General of Kansas moved to dismiss the case. White insisted that the court rule on the constitutional issue, but the case was dropped. White, years later, said that each thought he was right, that there was never any personal animosity between him and Allen, but he felt it should have proceeded to settlement in the courts.

Provided by Ferrel Atkins, Rocky Mountain National Park Volunteer

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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