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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Margaret Carter, October 25, 1975. Interview A-0309-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Becoming politically active; reflections on early socialist leanings

The Great Depression and her college experience drove Carter into political activism. She describes the poverty and desperation she saw around her during the early 1930s and talks about why she voted for Norman Thomas, the socialist candidate for president, instead of Franklin Roosevelt.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Margaret Carter, October 25, 1975. Interview A-0309-1. 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

CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
So, after he became a lawyer, how long was it before you became actively engaged in politics?
MARGARET CARTER:
Let's see … he became a lawyer in 1934 and by 1940, we had become appalled at the way the local establishment abused the New Deal program. They cursed it. They swore at it until they realized that they themselves had to be rescued by it and then as soon as it had rescued the banks and the biggest insurance companies and the largest landowners, they wanted it to stop there. We didn't believe that most of the people had lost confidence in the New Deal or lost their enthusiasm for Roosevelt. So, in 1940, in cooperation with Maury Maverick, Sr., we organized our county convention for Roosevelt. We had not organized the precinct convention. We just took the people that the regular machine had sent to the county convention and turned them around so that they sent delegates who would pledge continuing support of Roosevelt without continuing support of Garner, who was vice-president at the time.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Had you been an enthusaistic supporter of Roosevelt from the beginning?
MARGARET CARTER:
As soon as he had been elected, after the first 100 days, I was an enthusiastic supporter of him.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
You voted in the 1932 election?
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes, I did. That was my first presidential election, but you couldn't tell from Roosevelt's campaign, the part of it that reached down to the grass roots where I lived, that Roosevelt was going to do anything very different from what Hoover had been doing.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Did you vote for Roosevelt?
MARGARET CARTER:
No.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Did you vote for Herbert Hoover?
MARGARET CARTER:
No. I voted for Norman Thomas. [Laughter] You're the first person I've ever told that. [Laughter]
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
You feel that there is some liability attached to that?
MARGARET CARTER:
Oh yes, there certainly is.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Do you think that there still is?
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes, because I tried voting outside the Democratic party once later and I keep hearing about that time. I also voted for Republican John Tower. 1 1 for the U.S. Senate He ran in a special election, as you remember.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Yes, in 1961.
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes, against Blakley, 2 who had just run in the Democratic primary and been rejected. 2 William A. Blakley. (Blakley had been appointed to the Senate in 1957 to fill the unexpired term of Price Daniel, who resigned to become governor, and in 1960 to succeed Lyndon B. Johnson, who ascended to the Vice Presidency. In the special election in 1961, Blakley led a field of 71 candidates, running without party designation. The runnerup was Tower. In the 1961 runoff, Tower won the Senate seat. Blakley had opposed Yarborough in the Democratic primary of 1958 and been defeated by Yarborough. Blakely had, therefore, been denied the Democratic nomination on the only occasion when Democratic voters had had a chance to express a preference. So, no one could say in the special election that Blakley was running as a Democratic nominee and we had no obligation as party members to vote for anyone in that special election. Tower was the lesser of two evils, in my view. I thought that a relatively impecunious teacher from Witchita Falls would be easier to get rid of than a millionaire from Dallas. [Laughter] In that, of course, I was very clearly mistaken.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Would you care to speculate on how many Texans could say truthfully that they have voted both for John Tower and Norman Thomas?
MARGARET CARTER:
[Laughter] That would be interesting.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
To go back to that first election-I'm trying to put two and two together here-at the time that you found out that your husband was going to be a lawyer, you warned him not to get involved in politics, and then in 1932, you voted for Norman Thomas. What happened in the intervening time?
MARGARET CARTER:
I didn't marry my husband until 1934.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Was there a period of several years there when you went from a relative lack of political involvement in your early twenties to a time when you became fairly aware and politically conscious in your early thirties?
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes, but it was as a person on the sidelines. For one thing, I was a teacher and I had begun to teach in high school and the thing that I was most interested in was history and by that time, I had gone to graduate school at Texas Christian University and the man who was head of the history department was named Jack Hammond who had also been a successful reform candidate for mayor of Ft. Worth. I suppose that it was Dr. Hammond's campaign that first made us actively interested. He was also a Disciples minister and he was appalled at the conditions that leading citizens allowed to continue in the thirties. People actually starved to death in the hotels and rooming houses on the courthouse square; and the public hospital was so overcrowded that people died lying out on the grass in front of the hospital. They couldn't get in. And he went around preaching in as many churches as would listen to him--and that was a good many,-saying that no matter how hard a time the rest of us were having, we were all in the same boat and local government must do more about the poorest people. Both my husband and I had been very poor. His father had died when he was three weeks old. I was separated from my father by a family quarrel after my mother died… we had both known extreme poverty and although we never staryed after we were married, we lived on an extremely limited income and that didn't make us want to get over with the people that were safer than we were. It made us feel a part of all the people who were as insecure as we were. We felt that the New Deal leadership of the Democratic party was dedicated to taking practical steps to improve the lot of the poorest people. My husband has been a poverty lawyer all his life. No one told him that you couldn't make a living in poverty law, and so he did.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
And at the time you voted for Norman Thomas, was there much support at all in a place like Ft. Worth for a Socialist candidate?
MARGARET CARTER:
No. As far as I know, no organized support. It was just something that I did by myself. The only other influence that I can think of that moved me in that direction was that I majored in English in college and became acquainted with the magazines that had the best literary critics. Among them, of course, were The Nation and The New Republic. I couldn't afford to subscribe to The Nation or The New Republic but I read them regularly in the Ft. Worth Library and before I knew it, I was getting out of the literary section and into the political commentary.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
So, what I guess I'm getting around to was that this was more or less an isolated person voting in secret for a Socialist candidate. There were no organized Socialist clubs or anything like that?
MARGARET CARTER:
No. And I had no ideological interest in Socialism. But I couldn't see a dime's worth of difference between Hoover and Roosevelt as they made their campaigns.