Mason McCullough made it a point to be early at 505 S. Center Street on March 29, 1985. The auction was set to start at 12 noon in front of what had previously been an adult book store near downtown Statesville. The IRS had seized the building for back taxes and it was to be sold to the highest bidder.
At 12 noon the only ones standing on the sidewalk in front of the building that now houses J & J Beauty Supplies was the IRS official conducting the auction and Mason. At the appointed time the official turned to Mason and announced the auction was going to be delayed by twenty minutes or so. He explained that a businessman from Charlotte who purchased and sold properties in the surrounding counties had called to say he had a flat tire on the highway and would be arriving late.
Mason looked back at the official and said, “Would you wait for me?” The man from the IRS looked at him for a few seconds and said, “Let’s have the auction. Who wants to start the bidding?” Mason bid $15,500. “Sold,” was the immediate reply.
Mason McCullough, owner and publisher of the Iredell County News, had a new home for Iredell County’s only African American newspaper at 505 S. Center Street. McCullough had researched the property before the auction and knew the IRS wanted at least $15,500 for the building. He had also arranged a line of credit with the Iredell Credit Union and NCNB Bank.
He paid the IRS with a cashier check later that same day.
Mason was born on Oct. 29, 1943 in Kannapolis, N.C. He grew up during a time of segregation and graduated in 1961 from George Washington Carver High School where he was team captain on both the basketball and football teams and played in the Shrine Bowl. “People today don’t remember it, but there used to be an East versus West Black Shrine Bowl that was played at N.C. A&T University in Greensboro before it was moved to UNC-Central.”
After graduating he studied business and real estate at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte and opened The Beauty Center, a beauty and hair products shop in 1970. “It was the first African American business in downtown Kannapolis,” he recalls. In June of 1972 he relocated to Statesville and opened The Beauty Center at 503 S. Center St., next to Louise Flower Shop. Mason worked for Hunt Manufacturing and sought other business opportunities operating McCullough Furniture and Upholstery and serving as vice president of Reach Development Corporation while his wife Inez served as a reporter for the Iredell County News and worked as a teacher’s assistant at Pressley Elementary School.
In 1980 Mason went to Charlotte to talk with Bill Johnson publisher of the Charlotte Post, an African American newspaper, in hopes of getting more coverage of Black owned businesses in Statesville. To his surprise Johnson decided to open a second newspaper in Statesville called The Iredell County Post and hired Mason as the paper’s general manager. The first issue appeared on Thursday, April 24, 1980 and proclaimed itself to be “The People’s Newspaper.” The paper was published by The Charlotte Post Publishing Co., Inc., and maintained its Statesville office at 226 S. Center St., in the Vance Hotel as its only occupant.
Johnson appealed to the African American community to bring Church, sports, education, human interest, entertainment, community and general information to the paper’s attention telling citizens, “The Iredell County Post is YOUR NEWSPAPER, so use it!” Mason McCullough proclaimed, “Statesville, TRULY is the city of progress.”
By August of 1980 Johnson sold the paper to Mason McCullough who changed the name to The Iredell County News and with help from investors formed the Iredell Publishing Company, Inc. The paper continued to operate first out of the Vance and later at 235 East Front St., before finally finding a permanent home at 505 S. Center St. Early staff at the paper included, LaFonda Blair, Office Manager, Donald J. Bailey, Advertising Manager, Bernard Robertson, Sports Editor, and Charles H. Roman, Church News Writer. The paper was a member of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the North Carolina Black Publishers Association.
Mason McCullough was now owner and publisher of a newspaper, but lacked a newspaper background. Help came in the form of two local men who came to work at the paper. Don Bailey helped bring Morningside High School retired sports coach Herman Horne on board. Horne had newspaper experience and supervised the publication of the Morningside student newspaper, The Oracle. Horne became the papers Senior Editor working with articles and creating the papers layout.
George E. Joye was a local musician publishing the Carolina Bluegrass Review out of Alexander County when Mason was introduced to him by Lee Sharpe publisher of the Taylorsville Times. Joye had been typing up his articles and taking them to the Taylorsville Times which would print his paper. Mason offered to let him use their typesetting equipment to print his Review if he would help at the County News. George Joye became the papers managing editor and designed the prototype for the paper’s annual February Black History Month supplement.
The Iredell County News Black History Month issues were special in that they not gave a history of notable African Americans, they also focused on people living right here in Iredell County. The Feb. 19, 1998 issue featured Stamey and Effie Steele who ran Steele’s Café and Cynthia Carson Turner who ran Mr. Quick’s Convenience Store which had previously been Carson’s Service Station both on Depot Hill. Carson’s Service Station was first operated by Roosevelt Carson and later his son Thomas Samuel Carson.
Ads were featured in that same issue by local businesses who saluted their African American employees. J.C. Steele & Sons saluted William Wesley (West) Summers while Belk saluted Mary Haynes. Larry Hedrick Motorsports saluted Black NASCAR driver Wendell Scott for “his courageous endeavors in paving the way” for future minority drivers. Other advertisers included Hawkin’s Appraisal Service, Starrette’s Office Equipment, Statesville Roofing & Heating, G.L. Wilson Building Co., Walker Insurance, Bartlett Milling Co., Statesville Brick, and Pless-Haire Insurance.
After taking over the paper McCullough gave the paper a new slogan, “The Other Point of View.” He often wrote editorials which like all editorials were liked by some and disliked by others. In 1999, Mason’s friend Rep. Cass Ballenger, who also paid for an ad in that Feb. 1998 issue, got in hot water over a poor choice of words in describing Rep. Cynthia McKinney from Georgia. People were quick to accuse Ballenger of being racist, but McCullough disagreed and wrote a front-page editorial in The County News in April 1999 titled, “Ballenger racist? No Way!” Mason who knew both Cass and his wife Donna stated, “I have never known him to be racist.” Mason also worked for former N.C. Governor Jim Martin’s campaign and was later appointed to a state Ethics Board.
Mason McCullough is proud of the paper he and his staff put out. Under Mason’s leadership the paper tried to serve as a support to the African American community in Iredell County. He is particularly proud of the special issues they put out on Black History Month and Women’s History Month. He made a special effort to bring awareness to Black health issues like the March 8, 2001 issue that focused on “Piecing together the puzzle of Diabetes” and the Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation campaign which sponsored the “Miss Ebony” pageant. In 1997 the papers name was changed to The County News as they expanded their coverage to the surrounding counties of Cabarrus, Catawba, Mecklenburg, and Rowan.
The Great Recession forced McCullough to sell the bi-weekly paper on August 25, 2008 the same year that The Iredell Citizen was forced to close down. It was Record and Landmark publisher Tim Dearman who suggested he sell the paper to Fran Farrer whom he knew from the N.C. Press Association. Fran Farrer was a former advertising and marketing director at the Charlotte Post. McCullough continued to work at the paper for another year to help in the transition. “I worked in the newspaper field for 29 years total.” He later sold the building at 505 S. Center St. in September of 2010. The J&J Beauty Supply operates out of the building today.
Melissa Smith, in the library’s Youth Services Dept., worked as a reporter for The County News for Mason from 1991 to 2008. The County News still publishes today as “The Other Point Of View” both in print and online at http://countynews4you.com/.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article was published in the Statesville Record and Landmark on March 12, 2022 under the title, “Mason McCullough and his Iredell County News served the Black community for 20 years”