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Tupelo Man - The Life and Times of George McLean, a Most Peculiar Newspaper Publisher

Tupelo Man

The Life and Times of George McLean, a Most Peculiar Newspaper Publisher

By Robert Blade
Series: Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography
Hardcover : 9781617036286, 368 pages, 10 b&w illustrations, October 2012

The biography of an extraordinary southern journalist who confronted the status quo


In 1924, George McLean, an Ole Miss sophomore and the spoiled son of a judge, attended a YMCA student mission conference whose free-thinking organizers aimed to change the world. They changed George McLean's.

But not instantly. As vividly recounted in the first biography of this significant figure in Southern history, Tupelo Man: The Life and Times of a Most Peculiar Newspaper Publisher, McLean drifted through schools and jobs, always questioning authority, always searching for a way to put his restless vision into practical use. In the Depression's depths, he was fired from a teaching job at what is now Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, over his socialist ideas and labor organizing work.

By 1934 he decided he had enough of working for others and that he would go into business for himself. In dirt-poor Northeast Mississippi, the Tupelo Journal was for sale, and McLean used his wife's money to buy what he called "a bankrupt newspaper from a bankrupt bank. " As he struggled to keep the paper going, his Christian socialism evolved into a Christian capitalism that transformed the region. He didn't want a bigger slice of the pie for himself, he said; he wanted a bigger pie for all.

But McLean (1904-1983) was far from a saint. He prayed about his temper, with little result. He was distant and aloof toward his two children--adopted through a notorious Memphis baby selling operation. His wife, whom he deeply loved in his prickly way, left him once and threatened to leave again. "I don't know why I was born with this chip on my shoulder," he told her. Tupelo Man looks at this far-from-ordinary publisher in an intimate way that offers a fascinating story and insight into our own lives and times.


Tupelo Man is beautifully written. In addition to revealing the life and times of this 'most peculiar newspaper publisher,' this book is an important work on northeast Mississippi'.

- Fred C. Smith, Journal of Mississippi History, Vol. LXXIV, No. 3

This is a captivating account of the career of one of Mississippi's legendary journalists and community leaders. Superbly written from the unique perspective of his son-in-law, this candid biography of George McLean ought to be required reading for every citizen who is looking for a model in fearless, incorruptible and visionary civic leadership. In addition to enabling us better to understand and appreciate the contributions of this fervent and forceful man, this volume also serves as a fascinating chronicle of some of the otherwise unrecorded but nevertheless significant events that marked this transitional period in our history.

- William F. Winter, former Governor of Mississippi

Tupelo Man is a fascinating portrait of George McLean, whose courageous commitment to social justice transformed Tupelo, Mississippi, into a thriving economic and cultural center. Robert Blade's beautifully written book offers an inspiring look at how McLean expressed his strong socialist views as editor of his small-town newspaper, the Tupelo Daily Journal. Tupelo Man is essential reading for all who wish to understand the "New South" and how the region's future can and should be shaped.

- William R. Ferris, author of Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues

Robert Blade's fast paced, richly detailed biography of newspaper publisher George McLean reads like a good novel, sketching a deeply human portrait of a volatile visionary who believed that helping poor rural folk help themselves was his spiritual mission in life, and who put time, effort, and millions of dollars of his own money to the task. From his mischievous boyhood days of hitching rides on freight trains to his rise as a fractious northeast Mississippi community organizer for literacy and economic development for African Americans and whites alike, McLean springs to life as a passionate man of vision who vowed to change his own little postage stamp of soil for the better, earning himself a lasting place in Mississippi, southern, and American history. Anyone who has ever doubted that one individual can make a difference needs to read this long-overdue story of the Tupelo miracle man!

- Minrose Gwin, author of The Queen of Palmyra: A Novel and Remembering Medgar Evers: Writing the Long Civil Rights Movement