The History of the Magnolia Gazette
The Magnolia Gazette, Pike County’s oldest continuously operating business, was established on December 7, 1872 by Captain James D. Burke. Burke, who had served as an officer in Confederacy, had operated a newspaper in Brookhaven before locating in Magnolia. Soon after Burke took over the newspaper, the county seat of Pike County moved from the river town of Holmesville to the railroad town of Magnolia. Among Burke’s subscribers was Queen Victoria of England. The first issue in 1872 boldly headed its local column with the words: “The Magnolia Gazette has bloomed.” The Summit Times noted in its columns of December 1872: “The Gazette presents a handsome appearance typographically, and its contents are quite readable. We wish Captain Burke all success.”
The Gazette was not the first newspaper in Magnolia: John Waddell had established the Magnolia Grand Trunk in 1860 and Henry S. Bonney had established the Eureka Centralian after the Civil War. As well, Luke Ward Conerly would establish the Magnolia Herald during the mid 1870s, and later William Lacy would establish the Pike County Herald, which would eventually be incorporated into the Gazette.
But back to Captain Burke. He was born in 1830 and his Confederate military records reveals that he served as a Lieutenant and Captain in Berry’s Company Cavalry, based out of Yazoo City. After founding and editing the Gazette with courage, style, and intelligence for more than 12 years, Burke died in 1885 rather suddenly and mysteriously. The Gazette at the time gave no particulars, other than flowery prose. However, his good friend R. H. Henry, a legendary Mississippi newspaper editor who founded the Clarion-Ledger, revealed the full story many years later. Henry writes of Burke’s tragic end in his classic book “Editors I Have Known”:
“Capt. J. D. Burke had been connected with several newspapers of the state, at Brookhaven, Magnolia, Hazelhurst, and other towns. He had served in the Civil War with credit to himself and country, and when mustered out bore the commission of captain. He was editor of the Brookhaven Citizen when I bought it from (Major R. W.) Millsaps and others and merged it with the Ledger of Brookhaven. He became my local editor, remaining with me till he secured an interest in the Magnolia Gazette. Meanwhile, Burke’s wife died, and he was never entirely himself afterwards. And one day his lifeless body was found in his room; a Smith and Wesson with one exploded cartridge by his side told the story better than pen can describe it.
“Burke had been with me several years and a more agreeable man I have never known. He was of quiet disposition but when the war was mentioned he became talkative and eloquent of the days when he had followed the fortunes of the Lost Cause. The press of the state paid deserved and just tribute to the memory of J. D. Burke when he closed the last page of his life, which I am attempting to do after a lapse of over forty years.” (page 141)
Mississippian Willie Morris, who served as a Gazette Contributing Editor before his death and who also edited Harper’s Magazine so well in the late 1960s and early 1970s, once commented that “When you are dealing with writing and journalism, the role for the editor in chief is to have the pretension to greatness.” Despite Burke’s sad end, he had this “pretension for greatness” for the Gazette, establishing an institution, which continues to operate more than 120 years after his death. For Burke, the Gazette was more than just ink on pages but an important part of the life of Pike Countians. Burke is buried in Magnolia Cemetery.
After Burke’s death, the newspaper was edited by John Lamkin and later by D.M. Huff, who was financially backed by lumberman Captain J. J. White of McComb.
Huff carried on the best traditions of his predecessors and created an admirable publication. He also made the newspaper a state leader in the Prohibition movement and his columns on the evils of liquor were carried throughout the state.
After more that a decade, Huff sold the newspaper to Joseph “Joe” Elias Norwood, a respected local attorney in 1900. Norwood was born in 1873 in Louisiana, received his law degree from Vanderbilt University in 1894, and joined Judge James Price as partner in Magnolia in July 1895.
Norwood and his wife Kittie Maxwell Norwood would run the newspaper for almost 4 decades. Giving up the practice of law, Norwood’s Gazette was consistently rated among the best newspapers in the state with a statewide following and readership. Norwood served in the Mississippi Legislature and was president of the Mississippi Press Association. During his campaigns for the legislature, he would turn over the editorship to his wife Kittie, who would carry on the show without him, until the election ended.
Norwood sold the newspaper to attorney O. W. Phillips in 1939, who sold out to John C. Gibson just a few years later. Gibson ran the newspaper until Dec. 31, 1965, when he sold it to Charles Stogner, who published it until August 1, 1970, when Stogner sold it to Harrell Griffin of Amite, Louisiana, who owned Amite and Kentwood newspapers. During Griffin’s leadership, the Osyka Eagle was established in 1988 as a monthly feature of the Gazette. In 1993, Louisiana State Newspapers purchased the Gazette from Griffin and operated the newspaper as one of many in their chain.
In 1997, after several decades of decline, the Gazette was purchased by local residents, the Lampton brothers (Lucius and Mark). Lucius, who is editor-in-chief, is called “Dr. Luke” by his patients and practices family medicine in Magnolia. He is also longtime editor of the Journal of the Mississippi State Medical Association. His brother Mark is an attorney in Tylertown, who also serves in the JAG Corps for the 155th. He is business manager.
Under their leadership, the Gazette has experienced a renaissance. It has in more than ten years won dozens of state press awards for excellence, including first places for editorials, special issues, photographs, and columns. It was also selected “Business of the Year for 1998” by the South Pike Chamber of Commerce and received a Community Service Award from the Pike County Chamber of Commerce. It has received praise from newspapers around the state and nation. Subscription rolls have more than quadrupled since 1997, and the Gazette is anxiously awaited on Thursdays throughout Southwest Mississippi.
Critical to the success of the newspaper is the Managing Editor, Donna DeLee, who runs the newspaper day to day. Donna has been in the newspaper business since 1989, starting at the Tangi-Talk newspaper in Amite, LA, under the guidance of the widely admired journalist and editor Mr. Bill Irwin. Donna truly has “ink in the blood.” Assisting her over the years has been Nancy Morris as Office Manager. Nancy coordinates all aspects of newspaper operation. Joy Gardner Reeves runs the advertising department. Louise Lampton runs the accounting operations.
The Gazette features such award winning writers as Literary Editor R. C. Wood, contributing editors Guy Geller, Charles Dowdy, Carroll Case, Allyn Evans, Bolton Morris, and Dawn Dillon Barrett; European Correspondent Lucinda Lambton; Gazette Gourmet Anne McKeown; Cartoonist Cliff Leverette; Religion Editor Lamar Massingill; Tommy Covington, the Mixed-up Files Editor; Correspondents Dwalia South, Beth Jacks, Stanley Hartness, Gloria Q. Smith, and Melvin Harvey; and Columnists Catherine Brown, N. L. Price, Ardis Carter Jones, Patsy Benefield, Betty Mullins, Aline Knippers, Angela Newton-Harrell, the Political Columnist Ming Dynasty Cotillion Queen Becky Nelms Currie, and many others. Also, Crawford Lampton serves as the Gazette’s Weather Watcher for WLBT.