Horace V. Wells Jr. was a legend in Tennessee journalism, and he stood as a bulwark against injustice, tyranny and abuse of the less fortunate.
He founded the Clinton Courier in 1933 in the depths of the Depression and built it into one of the state’s leading weekly newspapers. On a tip from a Linotype salesman that President Franklin D. Roosevelt was sponsoring the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Wells and his wife moved to East Tennessee to start a newspaper. He later purchased the Anderson County News (which dated to 1887) in 1939 and created The Courier-News.
Wells was a 1930 graduate of Vanderbilt University. While in college he worked part-time for The Tennessean, starting as a teletype machine operator and working his way up to state editor. In 1931 he married Dorothy Overall, and two years later they moved to Clinton where he started his distinguished journalistic career.
A real test of his grit came in the mid-1950s during the desegregation crisis. Wells took the editorial stand that desegregation was the law and the law should be obeyed, despite one’s personal feelings. He held fast to this stand in the face of threats to him and his family.
This won him several awards in 1957 including the Elijah P. Lovejoy Award for Courage in Journalism, and special commendations from the Atlanta Society of Professional Journalists and the Tennessee Press Association. Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., gave him an award for “significant contributions to better human relations,” and he received the National Editorial Association special award “in recognition of his unsurpassed example in upholding the dignity of human rights and his fearless leadership in support of constitutional government.”
Wells taught many the journalism and advertising trade, and through his tenure of almost six decades was known as “The Conscience of Clinton.” He often devoted many columns to news of school board or county court meetings that he felt only a few people would read. So he wrote his personal opinion in a Page One column “As We See It!” that was better read, he said, than the editorials inside.
He became involved with the East Tennessee Press Association in the 1930s and served as president of the Tennessee Press Association in 1941. Wells was the first president of the TPA Foundation in 1976.
After serving for many years as the state chairman of the National Editorial Association, he served as vice chairman of the NEA Foundation and in other top positions. He was chosen in 1981 for the Amos Award, for service to the press of the United States.
Wells’ work for his hometown was legendary. He chaired the Anderson County Jury Commission for almost 40 years and was a 60-year member of the Clinton Civitan Club. He held leadership posts in the Anderson County Chamber of Commerce, the Clinton Planning Commission and the Norris Lake District Boy Scouts of America. In 1983, Clinton sponsored Horace V. Wells Jr. Day, and in 1989 Wells Day was again proclaimed and a bust of the editor was unveiled and placed in the Clinton Public Library.
Wells was quick to point out inequities and to heap praise where it was deserved, to push, prod or shove Anderson County into a progressive new world.