Harry Golden, 78, a writer and retired North Carolina newspaper publisher who used humor as a weapon to fight for the causes he believed in most deeply, died Friday at his home in Charlotte, N.C., after a heart attack.

He was publisher of The Carolina Israelite, a monthly journal he published in Charlotte for 26 years before closing it in 1968. During those years, Mr. Golden was an eloquent and witty voice for civil rights in his adopted South. Poet Carl Sandburg once hailed him as "the most important man in America today." Sandburg said Mr. Golden was "the only white man with popular influence devoting full time to race."

Mr. Golden's Carolina Israelite basically consisted in one or more articles on the issues of the day, and gained a circulation of about 40,000 at its height of popularity. Among its subscribers were both Harry Truman and Thomas Dewey, and William Faulkner and Carl Sandburg.

When the paper closed in 1968, The Post said in an editorial that Mr. Golden's "humor on civil rights were a constant probe to the South and brightened the days when progress in that field seemed unlikely." The editorial went on to say that the Israelite "became a bigger part of American folklore each time it came off the press."

Mr. Golden defended the U.S. Supreme Court's historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, that led to the end of segregation in public schools, and attacked the "massive resistance" to it of some Southerners with a piece called "The Vertical Negro Plan," calling for the installation of stand-up desks in public schools. In his view, Southerners seemed only to object to sitting, not standing, beside blacks.

He proposed the "Golden Out-of-Order Plan" to speed up the integration of public facilities. He observed that many Southern whites, who were against integration, would use (for instance) black drinking fountains if theirs were out of order. So he suggested the continuance of separate white facilities, but keeping them "out of order" until whites got used to the idea.

In 1958, a collection of Mr. Golden's pieces were published in book form under the title of "Only In America." The book became a best-seller and he gained national fame. But with that fame emerged a story from his past he had kept hidden until then.

As a young man in his native New York City he had run a brokerage firm that eventually went bankrupt. When he filed for bankruptcy, it emerged that he had held money given him by investors for stock purchases, and then invested the funds later, when the price of the stock had declined. He was indicted for mail fraud, pleaded guilty, and served four years in prison.

After being released from prison, he took a job as a hotel clerk in Manhattan, wandered south, and worked as an advertising salesman and reporter and in North Carolina before founding his own journal.

Adlai E. Stevenson, twice the Democratic nominee for president of the United States and a Harry Golden reader, said upon learning of Mr. Golden's prison record, "I suspect that this experience deepened Harry Golden's understanding, lengthened his vision, and enlarged his heart." In December 1973, President Richard M. Nixon gave Mr. Golden a full presidential pardon for his mail fraud conviction.

In addition to publishing his paper, Mr. Golden contributed articles on Jewish history, Zionism, and the South, to The Nation and Commentary magazines. He also continued to write books filled with humor and history.

He once explained that, "While Anglo-Saxons were still roaming the forests of Great Britain, painting their bodies blue and eating wild strawberries, the Jews already had diabetes."

He said that he practiced "personal journalism," which he compared to the job of an editorial writer or columnist. "The personal journalist is the only hope for an outrageous opinion," he said.

He was born on New York City's Lower East Side, one of five children of Leib and Nuchama Klein Goldenhurst who were immigrants from Austria-Hungary. His father, a scholar and Hebrew teacher from Galicia, became an editor of the Jewish Daily Forward.

Mr. Golden's survivors include three sons and a brother.