The papers of Weldon Bernard James (1912-1985), reporter, columnist, editor, and United States Marine Corps officer, consist of seven and one-half linear feet of materials detailing his life and interests. Included among the papers are articles by and about James, biographical information, correspondence, identification papers, photographs, publications, writings, scrapbooks, and other materials relating to James’s education, finances, and military service.
Weldon James and his twin brother, Lawton, were born 14 October 1912 in St. Charles, Sumter County, S.C., shortly after their father, Lucian Adwell James, abandoned the family. In 1918 Ada Weldon James died, leaving Weldon, Lawton, and their sisters orphans. Shuffled among family members, young Weldon ended up for a time at Connie Maxwell Orphanage in Greenwood, S.C., but then returned to Sumter County to be reared by relatives. Despite his troubled beginning, Weldon James went on to become a respected reporter, columnist, and editor.
James’s first newspaper experience was as editor for a student weekly at Furman University. He graduated cum laude in 1933 with a B.A. in history and English and went on to teach both subjects at Parker High School in Greenville, S.C., during the 1933-1934 school year. In 1934 he traveled the country writing his “Adventuring Thru America” series. Following his return to South Carolina, he worked for the Greenville Piedmont until 1937.
James longed for adventure, however, and in 1937 sailed for China. There he quickly joined the United Press staff in Shanghai and was later transferred to Nanking where he was bureau manager. He was aboard the American gunboat Panay when it was sunk by Japanese warplanes and subsequently was awarded the Navy Expeditionary Medal “in commemoration of the services rendered...the survivors of the United States Ship PANAY upon the occasion of its bombing and loss on December 12, 1937.” In 1938 he was transferred to Spain where he served as bureau manager in both Valencia and Barcelona and covered the ongoing civil war in that country. Later that year James returned to the United States and joined the UP cable staff in Washington, D.C., reporting foreign affairs developments in the Senate, State and War Departments, and the White House.
In 1939 Weldon James received a Neiman Fellowship to study at Harvard University. The following year he moved to New York, serving as Night Foreign Editor and editorial writer for PM and as New York commentator for the BBC. In 1942 he joined the Marine Corps after having obtained permission to resign from the Coordinator of Information/Office of Strategic Services, a non-military intelligence organization and the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. He served in Europe, Japan, and China. He took one of the first Combat Correspondent teams overseas and served as 2nd Marine Division public affairs chief on Saipan and Okinawa and in Japan. James extended his tour through 1946 to serve as an instructor in the first public affairs school for foreign officers.
Weldon James married Margaret Evelyn Glennie North in 1943 in London. She was the widow of John North, a British baron and the thirteenth Lord North, who had been killed in combat as an officer with the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean in December 1941. The couple’s first two children, Sarah Margaret and Philip Weldon, were born during James’s tour of duty. Their third child, Charles Ronald Glennie, was born in 1952.
From 1946 to 1948 James served as Far Eastern editor for Collier’s. He again returned to the United States in 1948, settling in Louisville, Ky., where he served as associate editor of the Courier-Journal. James was on active duty in the Marine Corps from 1950 to 1952, including a tour as Special Assistant to the Undersecretary of the Navy. During the 1952 presidential campaign he served as Press Secretary to Democratic Party National Chairman Steve Mitchell. Beginning in 1954 James was the Kentucky correspondent for Southern School News. In 1957 he published, in collaboration with Omer Carmichael, a book length study of segregation in the Louisville public schools entitled The Louisville Story. During 1960 and 1961 James studied in Europe and Africa with a Carnegie Fellowship.
James resigned from the Courier-Journal in 1966 to support the United States effort in Vietnam. His farewell editorial, “A Matter of Belief: It’s Past Time to Say to Hell With Ho,” straightforwardly addressed the issue—“I quit. I resign as associate editor of The Courier-Journal. I am going on active duty in the Marine Corps to testify to my belief that U.S. policy in Viet Nam is right—and that the quicker more newspapers and more people give the President solid support, the shorter and less dangerously complicated the war there will be.” Re-enlisting in the Marines, he was assigned as Director of Public Affairs, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, and billeted in Honolulu until he was transferred in 1968. Stationed next in Washington, D.C., James served as Assistant Director of Information and Head of Public Affairs Branch, Headquarters Marine Corps, between 1968 and 1970. Until his retirement in 1972 he worked as Assistant Administrator for Public Administration in the National Credit Union Administration. When he retired, James had reached the rank of colonel. He died 14 March 1985 at Bethesda Naval Hospital.
While the collection includes articles by and about James, the majority were authored by him. These are divided into an early period during the 1930s in South Carolina, his “Goin’ Thru College” series, articles written in China and those relating to the Panay incident, World War II subjects, articles written for Collier’s, and editorials. Reviews of The Louisville Story are also included.
Correspondence spans the years between 1928 and 1981, with the bulk having been generated during the war years when Weldon James often wrote to his wife. Copies of wires he sent while reporting from China in 1937 and from New York in 1941 are also found among the correspondence.
The letters he wrote from China often include graphic descriptions of the results of Japanese bombings of the Chinese. In 1937 Japan had begun its full scale effort to conquer China. The war came to Shanghai on 14 August, known thereafter as Bloody Saturday. Japanese air raids were countered by the Chinese air force, which launched retaliatory attacks despite the bad weather and poor visibility and accidentally bombed panicking refugees fleeing the Japanese attack. Scores were killed and injured.
Bloody Saturday, James once suggested, was “the most tremendous [day] in my life.” Two days after the attack, he sat down to write at length of the events of that day, including the destruction at the scene of one of the bomb blasts—“For two blocks in any direction there were the dead....burned automobiles were scattered around, the people in them rigid carbon, except sometimes for a bit of clothing miraculously unburned....We spent an hour there working with the police and attempting to identify the unidentifiable. Then another airplane appeared, flying directly above, the streets cleared as if by magic....Too shocked any longer to be afraid, I stood in the middle of the street and charted the airplane’s course.”
James left the scene and returned to his office, noting that despite repeated attempts by the authorities to evacuate his staff “our wireless station was there, and without it we might as well have been in Greenville.” “We finally managed to stay,” he continued. “It was the longest night I have known, but one of the most enjoyable. A spirit akin to fatalism had entered me, induced, I think, by all the bodies in different places I had seen: one part of Shanghai was as safe as any other, and you couldn’t do much about it any way....I would not have missed it for worlds. It was what I came for....”
Among the collection’s photographs are a number relating to World War II topics. Of particular interest are images of the Free French in England and of Nagasaki in the aftermath of the nuclear bomb attack. An extensive collection of publications mostly concerns segregation in schools of the American South and race relations in South Africa. Others relate to China as well as British and Middle Eastern concerns. Periodicals include the Furman University weekly The Hornet, edited by James; issues of Collier’s in which articles by James appeared; and the Southern School News.
Drafts of James’s writings include articles written in and pertaining to China, Japan, Africa, and Europe, and personal pieces on men serving on the USS Texas during World War II. Titles represented are his “Adventuring Thru America” series; three unpublished autobiographical works, “Journey in Youth,” “Book II: Spain,” and “Young Man Who Saw the World”; and “The South’s Own Civil War,” which appeared in “With All Deliberate Speed” in 1957. Notes and transcripts of BBC broadcasts by James are also present.
Three scrapbooks record in detail different facets of Weldon James’s life. Twenty pages of an unbound scrapbook,1937-1966, document James and the Second World War in general, while clippings of his “Adventuring Thru America” articles are contained in a second scrapbook. Also in this volume are materials relating to his time in China and the sinking of the Panay. The third scrapbook contains copies of articles written by James that appeared in the periodical PM between 1940 and 1942.