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A history of Sanford's ground-breaking strategy that established the winning centrist formula for southern politics
In the spring of 1960 two talented, capable men, each with great passion and conviction, opposed each other in a pivotal governor's race that was to shake North Carolina and change southern politics forever. Both Terry Sanford and I. Beverly Lake were Democrats in the one-party South of that era. Yet they were different in almost every other way. Lake, a ...
A history of Sanford's ground-breaking strategy that established the winning centrist formula for southern politics
In the spring of 1960 two talented, capable men, each with great passion and conviction, opposed each other in a pivotal governor's race that was to shake North Carolina and change southern politics forever. Both Terry Sanford and I. Beverly Lake were Democrats in the one-party South of that era. Yet they were different in almost every other way. Lake, a middle-aged law professor, was committed to segregation. Sanford, an ambitious young politician and lawyer, believed in expanding opportunities for all citizens.
In their run-off Lake wanted the contest to be a referendum on preserving segregation. Sanford's platform rested on the improvement of public schools. It was a heated struggle that would bind them together for the rest of their lives. With unparalleled access to both sides and an objective correspondent's hindsight view, John Drescher has written the biography of a campaign that set the winning strategy for many who followed, and of a winning candidate, a governor rated as one of the finest of the twentieth century.
Sanford, the moderate, won, and his victory is an oddity, for in the civil rights period from 1957 to 1973 only twice in the South did racial moderates defeat strong segregationists in a governor's race. In a gamble that almost cost Sanford the election, he became the first major politician in the Bible Belt to endorse the Catholic John F. Kennedy for president. In the November vote he defeated his Republican opponent in what was then the closest North Carolina governor's race of the century. His win validated his belief in the triumph of good will among North Carolina's people.
Sanford became a bold, aggressive governor of unusual energy and creativity. His school program added teachers and dramatically raised teacher pay. He helped establish a statewide system of community colleges and started an anti-poverty fund later emulated by LBJ as a model for the War on Poverty. He was the first southern governor to call for employment without regard to race or creed. Sanford became the model for other southern governors who stressed education and a moderate stand on race relations. He influenced other gubernatorial candidates across Dixie -- Jim Hunt in his own state, William Winter in Mississippi, Dick Riley in South Carolina, Bill Clinton in Arkansas. The effects of that 1960 race continue to be felt in North Carolina, in the South, and across the nation.
John Drescher is on the staff of the Charlotte Observer, where he has been state capital reporter, government editor, city editor, front-page editor, and regional editor. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In the early 1950s, in his bungalow on Hillside Avenue overlookingdowntown Fayetteville, North Carolina, Terry Sanford kept a notebookin a bedroom dresser drawer. In the notebook, Sanford, then ayoung lawyer aspiring to be governor, jotted strategies for responding torace-baiting politics. While knotting his tie or emptying his pockets, anidea would come to him, and Sanford would pause to scribble:
Never get on the defensive. Have a network of people to tell you about false rumors and materials. Be aggressive with a positive program in the beginning.
Sanford started writing in the notebook during the 1950 U.S. Senaterace between conservative Raleigh attorney Willis Smith and liberal Sen.Frank Porter Graham, formerly president of the University of North Carolina.Graham was University of North Carolina president when Sanfordwas an undergraduate in the late 1930s and a law student in the 1940s.Sanford, like many Chapel Hill students, revered the kindly, warm manthey called "Dr. Frank." Graham invited students over to the president'shouse on Sunday afternoons, and Sanford visited a dozen times. Grahamopened another world for Sanford, a small-town boy from Laurinburg,southwest of Fayetteville, near the South Carolina border. Graham talkedof the plight of textile workers and women and black people—-the kind oftalk, Sanford commented years later, that could get you thrown out of officein the South. Sanford and Graham became friends.
In early 1950, after Graham hadbeen appointed to the U.S. Senate bymaverick Gov. Kerr Scott to fill a vacancy, Sanford supported the campaignof his mentor. Sanford, then thirty-two, was not a newcomer to politics.The year before, he was elected state president of the YoungDemocrats, a stepping-stone for ambitious, young politicians. He plungedinto the 1950 Senate race, a racially raw campaign that turned manyNorth Carolinians against each other. Graham led Smith and two othercandidates in the first Democratic primary with 48.9 percent —just shortof the majority needed to win the nomination outright.
In the runoff a few weeks later, Graham was defeated with racist tactics,including widespread fliers, from the anonymous "Know the TruthCommittee," that said, "White People Wake Up." "Do you want," thead asked, "Negroes working beside you, you wife and daughters in yourmills and factories? Negroes eating beside you in all public eatingplaces? Negroes riding beside you, your wife and your daughters inbuses, cabs and trains? Negroes sleeping in the same hotels and roominghouses? Negroes teaching and disciplining your children in school? Negroessitting with you and your family at all public meetings? Negroesgoing to white schools and white children going to Negro schools? Negroesto occupy the same hospital rooms with you and your wife anddaughters? Negroes as your foremen and overseers in the mills? Negroesusing your toilet facilities?" If you do, the ad said, vote for Frank Graham.If you don't, vote for Willis Smith: "He will uphold the traditionsof the South."
Smith supporters used an array of tricks. Among them were ads thatpurported to be for Graham but actually were intended to sway white votersto Smith. For example, a black man walked into the offices of theDaily News in Washington, North Carolina, requested anonymity, andplaced an ad. It was addressed "To the Colored Voters" and signed "ColoredCommittee for Dr. Frank Graham." The ads referred to recent U.S.Supreme Court rulings favoring integration and said, "These and otherliberal rulings will mean nothing unless we have far-sighted, honest andfair administrators. We think Dr. Frank Graham has all the qualities....Our vote counted in the last primary. We did it before—We can do itagain."
In a different tactic, well-dressed blacks rode through eastern NorthCarolina in a car with "Graham for Senate" banners. The riders workedfor Smith backers. Many of the tricks were believed to have been performedlocally without the knowledge of the Smith campaign. Yet Smithwas comfortable discussing certain issues of race; he carried handbillsshowing that in the first primary, Graham carried more than 95 percent ofthe vote in six black precincts in Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, andCharlotte. Smith said those lopsided totals were a menace to democracy.
In the runoff, Sanford picked a precinct of mill workers in Fayettevilleand learned how to organize. He went house to house. The precinct votedfor Smith in the first primary, but swung to Graham in the runoff, one ofthe few precincts in the state that switched to Graham. Reacting to theracially oriented attacks, many whites in eastern North Carolina, whereblacks made up a higher percentage of the population, abandoned Graham.There was a mob mood at the end of the primary, one observer laternoted, and Frank Graham was lynched politically.
Sanford was bitter about the campaign, which he thought dirty and vicious.It scarred him forever. Shortly before Graham died in 1972, Sanfordsuggested to him that Smith's death three years after his election wasGod's retribution. The race left Sanford afraid of racial politics. But heknew if he were to run for governor, he might have to tackle the issue—orit would tackle him. Graham was just so nice and sweet, Sanford said,he let the Smith forces get off the defensive. Sanford was determined thatwhen he was in charge, he wasn't going to get beat on the race issue. Sohe plotted and studied and waited for his day to come, when he wouldhave to deal with the hottest, thorniest issue of that era for a liberalSouthern politician. He continued to write in his notebook, until he hadtwenty-five or thirty pages of notes and strategies:
Don't give them any quarter. Counter-attack on another issue. Don't let somebody drag you into something you don't want to do.
Sanford was born in Laurinburg in 1917, the second son of Cecil Sanfordand Elizabeth Martin Sanford. Two younger daughters were to follow.Eventually, the family lived in one-and-a-half-story frame house onMcLaurin Street, two blocks from downtown. His father operated a familyhardware store, J. D. Sanford and Son, until it went out of businesswhen the Great Depression struck in the late 1920s. Then he held a varietyof jobs, including selling insurance to poor people, working for theWPA, and later keeping books for an oil company.
To his lifelong friends, it seemed Sanford was born politicking. As ayoung child, he sometimes received a spanking from his mother becausehe would go visiting, forget to tell her where he was going, and spendhours talking as she searched for him. He delivered newspapers andtelegraphs and sold the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal.He once said that he knew just about every house and person in Laurinburg,a dusty little farm and trading town surrounded by cotton and tobacco.He also sold vegetables in what was politely called New Town butmore typically, by whites anyway, called Nigger Town. The Sanfords, likemost people in the early 1930s, didn't have much, but still New Town wasto young Sanford a shock. "I never have forgotten the plight that theyfound themselves in," Sanford said decades later. People were hungry.Outdoor toilets were in disrepair.
Terry Sanford reckoned his family was "on the downside of average" financiallybut was still well respected because of the roles his parentsplayed in the community. Cecil Sanford was a quiet man who liked politicsand the First United Methodist Church. "He was a very private person,"said John Mitchell, who worked with Cecil Sanford at Service OilCo., where Sanford was a bookkeeper. Cecil Sanford was the superintendentof Sunday school at First Methodist. The Sanfords used to walkto church. They attended Sunday mornings for Sunday school and theSunday service. They went back on Sunday nights. They also attendedchurch on Wednesday nights. "I'll tell you the truth," Terry Sanford saidlater. "I got about all the church that I wanted—maybe a little bit more."
Terry Sanford inherited his love of politics from his father. Cecil Sanfordliked liberals and anti-establishment candidates. In 1936, for governorhe vocally supported renegade Ralph McDonald, a college professorwho called for "a New Deal for North Carolina." McDonald lost to the establishmentcandidate, Clyde Hoey, the brother-in-law of former Gov. O.Max Gardner, who had created a powerful organization—the Shelby Dynasty.Terry Sanford said of his father, "I always went with him on whoeverhe was for, so I sort of got in the habit of being for the challenger....I had a pretty good example of a man that always thought he was rightand seldom won." When he was older, Terry Sanford's favorite presidentwas Franklin Roosevelt, because he remembered the little guy. His parentsregarded FDR as a savior.
Terry Sanford inherited his outgoing personality from his mother, alongtime schoolteacher much loved by the townspeople of Laurinburg."She was a wonderful person. Good personality," Mitchell said. "She waswell-liked by everybody in town." Miss Betsy was highly respected as ateacher. She had a good sense of humor; she sometimes lost her glasses,only to find them on her head. She also told her children that the peoplewho lived in New Town did not have the same opportunities as whitepeople. While typically it was his father who led Sanford into politics,during the 1928 presidential campaign between Herbert Hoover and AlSmith, eleven-year-old Sanford marched in a torchlight parade throughdowntown Laurinburg carrying a sign that said, "Me and Ma are for Al!"At school, they had Al Smith buttons and pencils.
While his parents could be strict, they also gave Sanford enough freedomto roam. He was mischievous and played tricks on his family. "I supposeif I'd been caught and paid the penalty of everything wrong I did, Iwouldn't be sitting her talking with you," Sanford once said to an interviewer.His parents let him smoke rabbit tobacco. When he was twelve,they let him buy an automobile—for one dollar. He tried to avoid work asmuch as possible, but with no allowance, he would cut grass, wash windows,or paint to have some money. One day he talked his mother into allowinghim and a friend to spend the night in a swamp, so they could tryto catch an insect that only comes out at night. Another time, on the wayback from a family beach trip, he and his older brother rode in the trunkof the Sanford's old Ford. They were to knock if they had any trouble.Terry knocked. The Sanfords stopped the car. Terry said he had a sorethroat—and then fell unconscious. Carbon monoxide had seeped intothe trunk. A physician told the Sanfords if they had traveled much furtherwith the boys in the trunk, the boys would have died.
As a teenager, Sanford was liked, yet was different from the others. Hedidn't hang around Charlie Williamson's pharmacy with the small-towndrugstore cowboys. He was good-natured, adventurous, handsome, andbright, but there was a different air about him. He was always doing somethingor working on something or off on a trip or to a meeting or to amovie. "He was like the prodigal son. You were home all the time, and hewasn't," his mother once said. At Pine Lake Camp, where he worked,Sanford would take long, solitary walks when the other were sleeping. AtBoy Scout camp, he liked the group activities but he was often seenswimming by himself for tong periods in the camp's big lake.
He was average at sports; he struggled with football but enjoyed tennis,fishing, and sailing. He liked the outdoors and was an Eagle Scout atfifteen. He played the saxophone in a band he formed with some friends.His own mother said that he was not outstanding in high school. Theonly thing his Latin teacher could remember about him was how he usedto lean his chair back in the library; she thought he was going to fall back.Girls teased him about his dimples. Dickson Phillips, who knew Sanfordas a boy in Laurinburg and later became his law partner, said that youngSanford stood apart. "He was not one of the boys," said Phillips, a retiredfederal appeals court judge. Phillips said that Betsy Sanford communicatedto her son "that there were better things to do than hang aroundthe drug store, play high school athletics, which were painfully inadequatein those days, and carouse around at night at road houses. That'swhat the peers were doing. That's what we all did. He was about otherthings."
The Sanfords stressed education. Betsy Sanford had gone to collegeand Cecil Sanford went briefly to a business school. They expected theirchildren to go to college. Terry Sanford visited Chapel Hill and the newcampus at Duke University. He ended up starting at Presbyterian JuniorCollege, in nearby Maxton, which is now part of St. Andrews College inLaurinburg. He hitchhiked to class every day. Eventually, he headed toChapel Hill and the University of North Carolina to finish his college education.
In Chapel Hill, he continued to scrounge for money to pay the bills.He delivered the student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, to the west sideof Chapel Hill during one of the snowiest winters in years. He washeddishes and waited tables at Swain Hall, the dining hall. He managed hisdormitory. Before he left Laurinburg, he bought a suitcase he took toChapel Hill, but he didn't pay for it for a year; every time he went backhome and saw the merchants, Mr. Hammond and Mr. Monroe, theywanted to know when he was going to pay up. But there were benefits tohitchhiking back to Laurinburg. When he came home from college, hismother always baked a coconut cake.
Chapel Hill changed him. He was struck by the spirit of the place—thenew thoughts, the different types of people from across the state andthe country. "I probably would have followed a different path and probablybeen a different kind of person if I hadn't gone to Chapel Hill," hesaid. Frank Graham opened his eyes further to the lives of sharecroppers,women, textile workers, and blacks. He was introduced to student government;they didn't have class officers in high school in Laurinburg. Hewas elected speaker of the University of North Carolina Student Legislature.A classmate recalled that Sanford was "a nice fellow, easy to getalong with. He was a fellow you knew would get somewhere. [Sanford]seemed mighty mature as a freshman. He knew enough to be attractive topeople and he had a suave attitude about him then." He called his friends"buddyro" and played tackle on the Grimes dormitory touch footballteam that went undefeated one year. Among his new friends were northernersLouis Harris, the future pollster, and Richard Adler, who wouldcompose the Broadway musical Damn Yankees.
He went to Chapel Hill thinking he might become a doctor, but aftergraduating in 1939, he enrolled in the law school. During his first year inlaw school, he met an outgoing undergraduate named Margaret RoseKnight of Hopkinsville, Kentucky. She was an English major, which hethought intellectual. She was dating a friend of his. Sanford thought shecould do better, but it took a year before he had the nerve to ask her out.Although he had dated in high school, she became his first steady girlfriend.
Before he graduated from the law school, Sanford joined the FBI, withdirector J. Edgar Hoover offering him a job in December 1941. He was assignedas a special agent to Columbus, Ohio, and St. Louis, where he enjoyedthe life of a bachelor. When he later applied to join the Society ofFormer FBI Agents, he received a letter from one of his former colleagues."My first impression was to blackball you on account of all the calls I hadat our room in the Forrest Park Hotel after you left from female callers,"the former agent wrote. "How you ever got out of St. Louis single is morethan I know."
Although as an FBI agent he was exempt from military duty, Sanforddecided to enlist. He entered the army in 1942, four weeks after hestopped in Hopkinsville and married Margaret Rose Knight. At FortThomas, Kentucky, where he was sent for training, he was told that paratroopersate steak every night and received fifty dollars a month in extrapay. He volunteered for parachute duty. His first meal with the paratrooperswas bread, coffee without cream, and cold turnip greens. But he didget the extra pay. And he had another motivation: He wanted to bewhere the action was. He ran up and down a hill all winter and qualifiedas a jumper. He won a chance at officer training and was assigned to the517th Parachute Infantry at Camp Mackall, a few miles from Laurinburg.He stayed with the outfit, which came to be known as the 517th ParachuteCombat Team, throughout the war. He fought in five campaigns, inItaly, France, Belgium, and Germany, including the invasion of southernFrance and the Battle of the Bulge, where he was wounded by shell fragments.
He entered as a private and was discharged as a first lieutenant. Torally his troops, Sanford used to say, "Stick with Terry and you'll fartthrough silk"; he later exhorted his political troops with the same words.Sanford thought highly of the colonel who commanded the 517th. "Hehad a great sense of the military in terms of tactics and strategy but he alsohad a great compassion," Sanford said later. "He didn't want anybodykilled and he didn't take any unnecessary risks." The 517th consistentlymet its objectives, giving the group great confidence. They thought: Youjust turn us loose and we'll end this war. The fighting gave Sanford confidencebut it also left another mark on him. One day, on a hillside in Belgium,he watched friends dying all around him. The time he got afterWorld War II was a gift, he thought.
After the war, he finished law school in 1946, having made a wealth offriends and contacts who later became a key part of his political foundation.He stayed in Chapel Hill for two years as assistant director of theUniversity of North Carolina Institute of Government; he helped in directingthe annual Boys' State programs held in Chapel Hill. He was activein politics; Sanford and his neighbor and friend, University of NorthCarolina law student Bill Friday, helped manage the election of O. MaxGardner Jr. as president of the Young Democrats Clubs. Sanford and Friday,who became president of the University of North Carolina system,remained friends and associates for the rest of Sanford's life. Sanford wasbusy in Chapel Hill, but it was time for a change. He was thirty years old.He had put himself through college, served as an FBI agent, and married.He had fought in the Battle of the Bulge, was awarded the Bronze Starand a Purple Heart, and helped save the world. There was one thing leftto do. He was ready to start running for governor.
Sanford had known since he was an undergraduate he was going to run forgovernor, although he didn't tell anybody then. Now he thought it wastime to leave Chapel Hill. He considered his options. First, where wouldhe live? He didn't want to go to a small town. He had an offer from a lawfirm in Charlotte, the largest city in the state, but thought he would bemiddle-aged before he'd get enough recognition to enter politics. Hedidn't like Raleigh, the state capital, as a political base. Fayettevillewasn't far from his hometown, and it was big enough for a law practice tothrive. It was, he thought, the perfect size for him to quickly emerge as aleader. It was in the east, which he considered his home. His friend PaulThompson loaned him five hundred dollars to pay off some debts andhelp him get started in Fayetteville. He and Margaret Rose moved therein 1948, and Sanford practiced law. First he worked with Charlie Rose Jr.,whose son would later serve in Congress. Then Sanford joined L. StacyWeaver in forming Sanford and Weaver; later, he brought in old Laurinburgfriends Dickson Phillips and Donald McCoy.
Sanford threw himself zealously into Fayetteville's social and civic life.Within two years, he was a Rotarian, chairman of the CumberlandCounty chapter of the Red Cross, member of the advisory board of theSalvation Army, president of the Fayetteville Jaycees, a director of a hospitalfor black people, chairman of the Boy Scout troop committee, activein the American Legion, a captain in the National Guard, and a stewardat Hay Street Methodist Church. A newspaper ad in 1949 included hispicture and urged readers to tune in to WFLB radio that night to hearTerry Sanford, attorney and president of the Jaycees, talk about betterschools and roads. When the News and Observer of Raleigh named him itsTar Heel of the Week in September 1950, reporter Jack Riley noted, "Hehasn't found time for many hobbies." Sanford conceded that he enjoyedfishing for shad in the Cape Fear River, hunting deer at Lake Waccamaw,or "just fooling around the river in a boat."
He found time to politick. In 1948, he actively supported Harry S Trumanfor president, while much of the local Democratic leadership supportedStrom Thurmond. Sanford brashly offered to debate theDixiecrats' state treasurer, who lived in Fayetteville. A year later, theYoung Democrats Club (YDC) from that district nominated him to bestate president, a traditional stepping-stone to elected office. The SeventhDistrict YDC printed a pamphlet introducing Sanford to YDCmembers, pointing out his accomplishments at the university, in WorldWar II, and in Fayetteville. The YDC president was to be chosen at athree-day convention in New Bern in September. Candidates competedhard for the prestigious office. Max Gardner Jr. was helping Sanford.Gardner called his friend Clint Newton, who was in the textile businessin Shelby. "He thought Sanford was in trouble," Newton said. He askedfor help. Newton flew to New Bern and met Sanford for the first time."We just became inseparable friends," Newton said.
Bill Staton, a young lawyer in Lee County, also received a phone callfrom a friend who knew Sanford. "I was told a young man named TerrySanford wanted to run for president of the Young Democrats Clubs ofNorth Carolina and eventually hoped to be governor," Staton said. Sanford'sorganizers were looking for a Wake Forest College graduate whocould recruit other Wake Forest grads into Sanford's camp. A few weekslater, Sanford and their mutual friend visited Staton in his law office andtalked at length. "I was impressed with Sanford and made a commitmentto be of some help," Staton said. "I thought he was an alert, intelligent,bright man. I thought if you were going to be interested in politics at thatparticular time in the state, riding with him held a lot of hope for the future."Staton and Newton became two of Sandford's closest and longest-runningpolitical allies.
Excerpted from TRIUMPH OF GOOD WILL by John Drescher. Copyright © 2000 by John Drescher. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|Chapter 1. Sanford||3|
|Chapter 2. Lake||32|
|Chapter 3. Kickoff||59|
|Chapter 4. Wild-Card Lake||86|
|Chapter 5. Shooting at Sanford||113|
|Chapter 6. Lake, Apart and Afire||137|
|Chapter 7. Attacks and Lies||164|
|Chapter 8. Showdown||191|
|Chapter 9. JFK and Mr. GOP||220|
|Chapter 10. Epilogue||247|
Posted November 11, 2000
Mr. Drescher writes an excellent account of political change in the South in the early 1960's and the courageous efforts of Terry Sanford. The novel is informational, yet entertaining. An excellent book for people who lived through this period of change and others who are interested in how far we have come.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.