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Dubbed “the sage of Lunenburg,” Henry Karr Shannon wrote a daily column, “Run of the News,” in the Arkansas Democrat from 1944 until 1971. Covering everything from politics to popular culture, “he developed the largest following of any columnist in Arkansas,” according to a 1973 comment by Robert S. McCord, then associate editor of the Democrat.
Born on March 1, 1902, at Lunenburg (Izard County), Karr Shannon was the only child of farmers Robert Nathan and Allie Maud (Estes) Shannon. A bout with scarlet fever and measles at age three left Shannon with only thirty percent of normal hearing. When he was five, his mother died of tuberculosis, and his father moved to New Mexico, where he, too, died of tuberculosis three years later. Shannon stayed behind in Lunenburg with his widowed aunt, Lucy Estes Horton, who took him to live with her and her grandfather, Thomas Estes.
As a child, Shannon divided his time between farm work and Lunenburg’s one-room school through eighth grade. He completed high school in Melbourne (Izard County) and junior college at Mountain Home Academy and College in Baxter County. He then studied pharmacy at Little Rock College, became a licensed pharmacist in 1924, and worked at Mac Curlee’s drug store in Mountain Home until he developed allergies to pharmaceutical chemicals.
Following his brief stint as a pharmacist, Shannon passed the state teachers’ exam and taught school at Franklin (Izard County) and Melbourne, where he also served as principal. In 1926, he became Izard County superintendent of schools at the age of twenty-four.
On December 6, 1926, he married Ollie Ellen Fudge of Zion (Izard County), and they had three children.
During his years as county superintendent, Shannon took law courses by correspondence, passed the bar exam, and was granted an LLB degree in 1928. He never represented clients but maintained his law license and used his knowledge of the law in his research and writing.
While superintendent, he also published his first book, A History of Izard County, and spent summers attending Arkansas State Teacher’s College (now University of Central Arkansas) in Conway (Faulkner County) and Arkansas College (now Lyon College) in Batesville (Independence County).
In 1932 he earned an AB degree from Arkansas College, published his second book, Hillbilly Philosophy, resigned as county superintendent, and briefly served as deputy county clerk of Izard County before becoming owner, editor, and publisher of the Melbourne Times weekly newspaper.
During his twelve years as Times editor, he developed a following for a column he called “Nozzin’ Around,” which began as a last-minute filler. Covering a range of topics from events at the courthouse to thoughts about fishing, the column won acclaim around and outside the state and led to job offers from the Arkansas Gazette and the Arkansas Democrat. He joined the Democrat as a columnist in 1944 and continued there until shortly before his death in 1971.
Shannon wrote from the heart and often with humor, connecting with readers on a personal level. His columns exposed government waste and corruption, recalled simpler times back on the farm, explored metaphysical concepts, discussed the latest movies, shared results of his historical research, took utility companies to task—whatever captured his interest or passion.
Although Shannon held strong political opinions—particularly against big government, big business, and big labor—he had no party affiliation and admitted to trusting nobody in politics. In 1973, Robert McCord wrote, in the foreword to a collection of Shannon’s columns, “The book ought to be read by young people, too—especially those in today’s journalism schools, who think they have discovered something new with their advocacy and hyperbole. They haven’t. Karr Shannon practiced it seven days a week for more than a quarter of a century….”
Most of Shannon’s working hours were spent in research, and he used his writing to educate. He helped found the Arkansas Almanac, researching and writing most of the first edition (1954–1955), and wrote and published six books. One of the most popular, On a Fast Train through Arkansas (1948), presented a vibrant, industrious Arkansas, rebutting the negative stereotypes of Thomas W. Jackson’s On a Slow Train through Arkansas (1903), which had characterized the state as backward.
Shannon became a controversial figure during the Central High School desegregation crisis in 1957, one of the few times he found himself on the same side of an issue as Governor Orval E. Faubus, who was more often a target of his columns. Shannon’s opposition to desegregation came not from racism, as some alleged, but from his understanding of the United States Constitution. He wrote at the time, “Mainly what the South resents is forced integration as [a] result of the Supreme Court ruling which was based on sociology and psychology, and not on precedent or constitutional edict.”
Shannon died of cancer on October 16, 1971, in Little Rock and is buried at Pine Crest Cemetery near Little Rock.
For additional information: Lindley, Helen C. “Izard County’s Foremost Historian.” The Izard County Historian 4 (January 1973): 5–9.
Shannon, Karr. Karr Shannon’s Best (From 1960–1971). Little Rock: Mrs. Karr Shannon, 1973.
Shannon, Ollie. “A Short Biography of the Late Karr Shannon.” The Izard County Historian 4 (January 1973): 2–4.
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Last Updated 7/29/2011
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