Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Hodding Carter, April 1, 1974. Interview A-0100. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Senator Eastland is immoral, Carter says

Carter describes longtime Mississippi politician James Eastland as "basically immoral." Eastland serves wealthy Mississippians in order to enrich himself. Eastland has kept power in Mississippi's new political landscape because of the absence of a candidate who can appeal to both black and moderate white voters.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Hodding Carter, April 1, 1974. Interview A-0100. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

What is Eastland?
Oh, basically immoral. A person whose major allegance is to the economic class he comes from. A person whose lack of belief in his words is matched only, I think, by fundamental belief in what the reality of those words are. I mean, I think he is a total racist. He is basically anti-democratic, with a small d, at heart. But he doesn't believe that stuff he says about anything. Reminds me of another time—on another politician, but I mean old Ross is a far more likeable guy in any way I can think of—Ross Barnett—than Jim Eastland. Once he said to daddy, they were on a platform back here in Greenville, 1961, 1962. He said "Hi, old Ross. I've been hearing some back things about you. But I want you to know I don't believe a one of them." Dad said "Will you say that publicly, Ross?" And he went [Carter imitates a rather malicious laugh]. Well, Eastland, you know, was always offering rides on his plane and doing all this and that and the other and he doesn't care about any of that. He likes power, which is what most politicians do. And he wants to advance the immediate interests of that handful of food and fiber folk. He represents best. In his later years he's sure become mighty intimate with the Bunker unknown Company, which is where mostly his good running mates are now. But I haven't ever seen anything very good done on him because everybody slips into fancy, you know, cliches about southern politicians.
Who are his real close supporters, the people he represents?
Basically, the big planters, the guys who are in the extractive industries generally. I mean whether it be oil or timber. He is a willing front man for the organized patriots, but I think that's, you know, nothing. I mean he just does it because it fits the image that he wants. If there was ever a guy whose basic guiding light as a senator was to make sure that he came out of this world a damn sight richer than he came in, it's Jim Eastland. I mean, you know, he's unabashed self-server in terms of legislation to deal with the fact that he's got oil holdings in Tennessee and this here and that there. But he's also a master cultivator of his important constituents and he's never been accused of forgetting how to do favors up and down the line.
So what happens to Eastland when suddenly his constituency broadens and starts including several hundred thousand blacks who are registered to vote?
Not very much because thus far he hasn't been challenged by anyone who could really appeal to that constituency—I mean that new vote—and at the same time grab hold of a middle ground on the white vote. There just hasn't been such a candidate come forward. And that must be because they can't see how the two can be linked together. Another thing is, ah, he basically—I mean, even those that really hate him. And for instance one of the guys that will be here tonight is Billy Percy. The Percy family probably thinks that the Eastlands—no he won't be here either, goddamn it. I'm sorry about that, too. At any rate, they can't stand them. On the other hand, Eastland on the agricultural committee has done too many favors up and down the line for cotton. So what are they going to do? They're not going to oppose him. They just think he's a bum. But he's our bum, as the saying goes. There's nobody going to beat him now. Power is too much. The lack of a real viable alternative unknown . Oh, Gil Carmichael came about as close as anybody's going to come. But there won't be a next time, anyway, so that doesn't matter.