Waldemar E. Debnam Papers, 1854 [1922]-1967

Manuscript Collection #426

  • Descriptive Summary
    Title: Waldemar E. Debnam Papers
    Creator: Debnam, W. E., 1897-1968
    Repository: ECU Manuscript Collection
    Language: English
    Abstract: Papers (1854 [1922]-1967) including correspondence, literary manuscripts, speeches, tape recordings, scrapbooks, photographs, newspaper clippings, pamphlets and miscellany.
    Extent: 3.08 Cubic feet, consisting of correspondence, literary manuscripts, speeches, tape recordings, scrapbooks, photographs, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, a 16 mm. film, and miscellany.
  • Description

    The papers are divided into two subgroups pertaining to his two major publications and his career as a journalist.

    Weep No More, My Lady and My Old Kentucky Home Subgroup

    The first subgroup, which comprises the bulk of the collection, concerns the publication of Weep No More, My Lady and Then My Old Kentucky Home Good Night! Correspondence (1953-1967, undated) consists chiefly of requests for the two books. Persons and businesses from around the country, but primarily the South, ordered the books, sometimes expressing their views about Eleanor Roosevelt and race relations. Of particular interest are a letter discussing racial problems in Birmingham (May, 1963) and a letter containing a tract discussing the John Birch Society (Nov., 1963). Also included in this subgroup are copies of Debnam's 1950 radio broadcasts that inspired Weep No More, My Lady, the manuscript of Weep, copies of both books, clippings reflecting public opinion of the books, and miscellany. A scrapbook, "What Others Say About Weep No More, My Lady," contains chiefly newspaper clippings.

    Journalism Career Subgroup

    The Journalism Career Subgroup reflects Debnam's work as a newspaperman and radio commentator. Of particular interest is a series of material pertaining to Debnam's 1945 coverage for WPTF of the war in the Pacific. Correspondence from Tinian, Iwo Jima, and other locations (May-Aug.), chiefly to Debnam's wife, discuss his movements and the conditions under which he worked as he interviewed servicemen from Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Letters concern living conditions of journalists in Manila (June 12); the debris and dead bodies at Corregidor (June 16); a paratrooper mission of the 11th Airborne Division at Aparri, Luzon (June 25); preparations for attack on Balikpapan and the conditions aboard one of the ships (July 4, 6); crafts and barter habits of natives on Tawi Tawi (July 4); and conditions at Okinawa and an air raid there (July 17, 20). Also included in the series are an approximately ten-minute tape of Debnam's broadcast during the attack on Balikpapan (July 1) and a WPTF publication, This is Debnam, which discusses his interviews. Photographs depict Debnam, unidentified soldiers, and (apparently) news correspondents inside an airplane.

    General correspondence (1927-1966), with the exception of a 1934 letter from Debnam's father, pertains to scattered aspects of Debnam's career. Included among the correspondence are Debnam's letters to his wife, written during his trip in 1948 to German, Austria, France, and other European countries to observe agricultural conditions. Debnam discusses economic conditions, including exchange rates, the consumption of tobacco, and the cost of food, lodging, tipping, and travel. In addition to these topics, Debnam's typescript notes (mailed July 6) record his observations concerning French agriculture and the state of the French economy, a hotel in Vienna, economic conditions in Austria, and the desire of Jews there for a country in Palestine. References of importanceamong the letters pertain to sites and activities in Paris (July 21), the Austrian countryside and aspects of Vienna (July 24-25), and the poverty of slums in Rome (Aug. 9).

    Typescripts of Debnam's 1939 radio broadcasts from a Virginia radio station discuss America's entrance into World War I; the sinking of the TITANIC; the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg in July, 1864; John Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry; the sinking of the MAINE in 1898; submarines used during the Revolutionary and Civil wars; the Johnstown flood; and the destruction caused by the German submarine DEUTCHLAND during World War I. Additional radio broadcasts concern the MONITOR and MERRIMAC and Debnam's views concerning patriotism and the harmfulness of socialism (1950).

    Debnam's miscellaneous publications include newspaper and magazine articles; a song, "Baby, It Isn't Maybe" ; and three pamphlets. The Affair Mumford (1952?) discusses Lewis Mumford's April 14, 1952, speech at N.C. State College attacking Debnam and Debnam's criticism of Mumford's political views. Segregation (1955), based on Debnam's interview with NAACP leader Roy Wilkins, concerns black-white relations and the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. Dear Doctor (undated) describes rural communities in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia in need of physicians.

    Clippings from the Standard-Laconic (ca. 1922), probably written by Debnam, concern activities in Snow Hill.

    Debnam manuscripts include an account of a March 19, [1956?], meeting with Raleigh city councilman Bill Enloe at which Enloe tried to dissuade Debnam from opposing Harold Cooley for the 1956 Democratic nomination for the Fourth Congressional District seat; "Gasoline," a story of a bank robber's escape via an airplane and his eventual capture; and Debnam's brief autobiography (ca. 1960).

    Debnam's humorous article concerning Snow Hill lawyer Swift Galloway is accompanied by an 1888 letter of Galloway to Senator Zebulon B. Vane thanking him for sending literature on the tariff issue.

    Speeches by Debnam include high school commencement addresses and his address at the Sixty-first Reunion of the United Confederate Veterans in Norfolk (1951).

    Also included in the collection are tapes of Debnam's interview with Roy Wilkins and his radio broadcast December 19, [1956?] in which he criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "blacklisting" of Coker 139 and 140 tobacco seeds, and a silent 16 mm. color film of Debnam's interview with two unidentified men.

    In addition, the collection contains toasts and poems written by Debnam, photographs of him, and clippings and miscellany pertaining to his career. A folder of miscellany contains articles concerning the Pan American Airways China-Clipper (1935), "The History of the Etchings on North Carolina by Louis Orr," and aspects of Norfolk (1935).

    Scrapbooks (1925-1937, undated; 1931-1956, undated; ca. 1939, undated) containing clippings and scattered correspondence reflect Debnam's work for newspapers in Danville, Washington, and Norfolk.

    Oversized materials include copies of the Richmond Enquirer (Apr. 18, 1854; Sept. 30, 1862) and the Standard-Laconic, materials concerning Debnam's 1956 congressional race, and a newspaper article discussing Weep No More, My Lady (1951).

  • Biographical / Historical Note

    Waldemar Eros Debnam (1898-1968), a son of Joseph Eppye and Birdie Lee (Speight) Debnam, was born in Wake County. When Debnam was about five years old, the family moved to Snow Hill, where Joseph taught school and founded the Standard-Laconic, a weekly newspaper. After attending the University of North Carolina, W. E. Debnam returned to Snow Hill, where he worked for his father's newspaper. Debnam left Snow Hill to work for newspapers in Kinston; South Carolina; Danville, Va.; Washington, D.C.; and Norfolk, Va. In 1928 he married Stella Mae Glass (October 1902-November 28, 2000) of Rockingham County, N.C. In 1939 he helped start the Norfolk News-Index, a weekly paper, but moved to Raleigh in 1941 to work for WPTF radio as a news commentator. Debnam gained notoriety during the 1950s for Weep No More, My Lady (1950), a book critical of Eleanor Roosevelt, and Then My Old Kentucky Home Good Night! (1955) a book concerning the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. In 1956 he unsuccessfully challenged Harold Cooley for the Fourth Congressional District Democratic nomination. Subsequently, Debnam worked for television stations in Greenville and Washington, N.C.

  • Administrative Information
    Accessions Information

    April 7, 1981, ca. 650 items; Papers (1922-1967) of journalist and commentator, including correspondence, commentary, literary manuscripts, speeches, articles, clippings, photographs, scrapbooks, and oral tapes. Gift of Mrs. W. E. Debnam, Raleigh, N.C.

    Acquisition Information

    Gift of Mrs. W. E. Debnam

    Access Restrictions

    No restrictions

    Copyright Notice

    Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

    Preferred Citation

    Waldemar E. Debnam Papers (#426), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.

    Processing Information

    Processed by M. York, November 1981

    Encoded by Apex Data Services

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