Effective use of race in statewide campaigns drowned out powerful liberal influences
As the home of the University of North Carolina and Frank Porter Graham, Chapel Hill emerged as "the beacon of the South," as well as the hometown of several North Carolina governors. However, Graham's 1950 U.S. Senate race against Willis Smith followed the national temper of opposing liberal causes. Race emerged as a potent commodity in political campaigns.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, [date unknown]. Interview A-0140. 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
- TERRY SANFORD:
. . . I think you'll find that the influence of Frank Graham and the University of North Carolina had a whole lot to do with shaping the leadership of North Carolina. Now, not many people would admit that, and not many, maybe, would observe it. But I think it's true. You can just look at the leadership . . . you can look at the
legislative leadership, you can look at the governors. It was the University of North Carolina and the Edward Keter Graham tradition which Frank Graham picked up. Edward Keter Graham was his uncle, whose life was cut short by the flu epidemic of the World War One era. But he set the tone for the new University. Of course, the
old University was . . . put out all the substantial leaders, too. Morrison, Kitchin, and every governor, I suppose, from the turn of the century on, was from Chapel Hill. And Chapel Hill, even before World War One, was the beacon of light in the South. So, I think a great deal of that. And then Frank Graham's picking up the liberal causes, making them less unpopular, or at least giving hope to those who otherwise might not have come close to some of those issues. So I think Frank Graham had a lot to do with it. Now, Frank Graham was named to the Senate, and it scared a lot of people, a lot of his friends. Now, how are we going to win? Well, interestingly enough, the Tom Pearsalls, the Battles, the Coxes in Asheville, just look around the state . . . all the substantial people that had been leaders in the legislature and leaders in politics supported Frank Graham. And he got 49.2% or 48.7 or something like that. And the spoiler was Robert Reynolds. So into the second primary they went, Willis Smith, virtual unknown . . . president of the American Bar Association, but that doesn't cut much ice in eastern North Carolina. . .
legislator two or three terms. Kerr Scott had appointed him to some kind of state committee. He was more on Kerr Scott's side than the old establishment side. But they talked him into running against Frank Graham. At that time he was Chairman of the Board of Duke, incidentally. In his first speech, he talked about the socialist/communist influence. I think he made the speech in Elizabeth City. And talked about the Anglo-Saxon heritage. Well, that's . . . you know, if you were a little bit worried anyhow, both of those rather innocuous phrases would cause you to wonder and worry slightly as to just what he's up to . . . But he wasn't up to much. They played those issues slightly,
they played more the "pinko" issue than the racist issue in the first primary. But all of these things could be credited back to Frank Graham's very liberal attitudes on labor and on race. And on everything else that amounted to anything. In the second primary,
just all the fury and the hatred broke loose. Jesse Helms now disclaims any part in that, but he and a young lawyer named Daniell, or Daniells, from Wake County . . . I don't know what ever's happened to him . . . led the way of making this the race issue. Then it got to the nastiest campaign we'd ever had. That was the same time Nixon was running against Helen Gahagan Douglas and Senator McCarthy's man was running against
Willard Tydings . . . forgotten that man's name. Those three campaigns were just the ugliest in the whole nation. And that was when people said, "You know, this race issue is powerful medicine." And it did win. It had just swept this state like a prairie fire. If I had the energy and the time and the . . . a little bit of resources to do it, I would have done something like you're doing around the state now, just to pick it up while it was still fresh. Because I think today that it's unbelievable that passions ran so hot, and it's . . . it was the . . . it was the lesson to those who would heed it, that the race issue is a terrible weapon and can be used with overwhelming effectiveness. Simply because there was no reason for Willis Smith to beat Frank Graham. I happen to say and think that Willis
Smith was hardly involved in it. That it swept him up just as it swept up everybody else. I always thought he was a very decent kind of a person, but still the people around him saw this as winning more votes and support every day, and building up a bitterness against the
opposition. And they used it and played it and threw more fuel on the fire, until actually, it really consumed the state, in that sense.