Over the course of his long tenure at The Progressive Farmer, Clarence Poe (January 10, 1881-October 8, 1964) became one of the most influential opinion-molders in the modern South. Born in Chatham County and never educated beyond grade school, Poe eventually was the recipient of five honorary doctorates. At age sixteen he became a writer and office boy for the Raleigh-based magazine founded by L. L. Polk. Two years later he became the editor and, in 1903, with his purchase of it for $7,500, the publisher. Over the next several decades the journal became the preeminent agricultural publication in the South, merging with fourteen other titles. In recent years The Progressive Farmer and its sister publication Southern Living were sold to Time Inc. for $480 million.
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Through his speeches, books, and editorials, Poe promoted numerous Progressive initiatives. He counted as his chief agricultural contribution his promotion of “two-armed farming,” the idea that farmers should diversify into both crops and livestock. Poe crusaded for better rural education and cooperative marketing. Outside the agriculture realm he was a proponent of prohibition and, late in life, an opponent of the Speaker Ban legislation. Poe vigorously opposed lynching. His article in 1904 in The Atlantic drew the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt. Poe’s contention was that solution to “Negro crime” lay in improved educational opportunities and increased industrial and religious training. He denounced Thomas Dixon’s brand of race-baiting and opposed efforts to divide education taxes by race. At the same time, Poe favored racial separation and remained to the end of his life an opponent of integration. In 1913 he unveiled his vision of a “great rural civilization,” wherein the races would be massed and separated by race, along the lines of the South African model.
Although he was urged to run for governor in 1940, Clarence Poe never sought political office. He served on many boards and commissions; as trustee for the University of North Carolina, State College, and Wake Forest; and as president of the Press, Dairymen’s, Forestry, and Literary and Historical Associations. In 1912 Poe married Alice Aycock, daughter of Gov. Charles B. Aycock. He purchased their “Longview Gardens” estate, 888 acres, in 1925. Poe never learned to drive and every working day rode a horse three miles into work. Although he officially retired in 1954, he continued to contribute to and serve as editor-in-chief of The Progressive Farmer for the rest of his life. In 1964, shortly before his death, he received one of the first North Carolina Awards. His friend Virginia Dabney wrote that he was one of “the half-dozen men who have done most for the South since 1900.”
Clarence Poe, My First Fifty Years (1963)
Clarence Poe and Charles Aycock Poe, Poe-pourri: A North Carolina Cavalcade (1987)
The State, April 3, 1954
Christopher Crittenden, William S. Powell, and Robert H. Woody, 100 Years, 100 Men (1971)
Howard E. Covington Jr. and Marion A. Ellis, eds., The North Carolina Century: Tar Heels Who Made a Difference, 1900-2000 (2002)
Jack Temple Kirby, “Clarence Poe’s Vision of a Segregated ‘Great Rural Civilization,’” South Atlantic Quarterly (1969): 27-38
Joseph A. Cote, “Clarence Hamilton Poe, Crusading Editor, 1881-1964” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Georgia, 1976)
Jeffrey J. Crow, “An Apartheid for the South: Clarence Poe’s Crusade for Rural Segregation,” in Crow, et al., eds., Race, Class, and Politics in Southern History: Essays in Honor of Robert F. Durden (1989)
Clarence Poe Papers, North Carolina State Archives