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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James Folsom, December 28, 1974. Interview A-0319. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Campaign tactics in the gubernatorial race and goals as governor

Folsom discusses some of his goals in becoming the governor of Alabama, arguing that he hoped to ensure that rural citizens would have better representation and to abolish obstacles, such as the poll tax. In addition, Folsom describes some of his campaign tactics, beginning in 1942 with his first, unsuccessful, bid for governor, as well as his more successful campaigns later on. In particular, Folsom describes his use of a hillbilly band on the campaign trail and his use of the "Suds Bucket" as to symbolize his advocacy for change.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James Folsom, December 28, 1974. Interview A-0319. 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

ALLEN TULLOS:
And then you ran again two years later, is that right?
JIM FOLSOM:
Yeah, but I was living in north Alabama then. I just put my name on the ballot because I had run before and I knew that somebody else was going to run and I decided that if they were going to give it away, they might as well give it to me. I didn't put much effort into it the second time.
ALLEN TULLOS:
You were selling insurance at this time, in north Alabama?
JIM FOLSOM:
Yeah, I was organizing an insurance business up here in north Alabama. Had a little insurance company in my hometown and unfortunately, all the stockholders banded together, the majority of them, and controlled the interests and sold it to an outside company later on. Finally, I was supposed to see my little interest in it. I didn't have much interest in the thing, but my brother-in-law was one of the seven original stockholders in it and he is the one that got me organizing in north Alabama and that's the way I got up here. Ordinarily, it is a hard task, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. It let me learn the ways and means of north Alabama, the problems and how they had been left out. North of Birmingham, they had been left out of roads, left out on schools and left out on everything. They had been left out on reapportionment. Half the population in Alabama was north of Birmingham, north of First Ave., half of the population is north of the center of Birmingham. But, there was one senator north of Birmingham, one county senator that could succeed himself. All the rest of those little old counties up there didn't have any legislature votes. After I was up here, I could see the injustice of it. They weren't getting any roads in there and there was a reason, they didn't have any representation. That's the reason that I ran for governor, so that we could get equal our representation in the state legislature.
ALLEN TULLOS:
That was in 1942, when you first ran.
JIM FOLSOM:
And that speech turned that, and the final case decided in Alabama . . . it started in 1942, and was decided in every state in the union except Alabama, and Alabama was the last one, which was with the last Novemeber election, and I reckon that the court has issued the final decree on it. But it was started in 1942 and ended in 1974. That's how long it took. Now, that's how long it is going to take on . . . I hope not, but I am afraid that it is going to take about that long on . . . a man practicing law in the legislature and practicing law in the courtroom, too, that's a plain conflict, you see. And of course, I've been onto that issue all along. There's an organization that's been started recently called Common Cause. They've adopted my position on that. Have you ever heard of Common Cause?
CANDACE WAID:
Yes sir.
JIM FOLSOM:
Have you read the book?
CANDACE WAID:
Yes. I've also read one of your speeches where you've talked about that being a conflict of interests that would always be there with a lawyer in the courtroom and . . .
ALLEN TULLOS:
Now, another thing that was related to that was the poll tax and you fought for a long time to do away with the poll tax in Alabama and that took a long time.
CANDACE WAID:
That was a very independent position in Alabama at that time. How did you come by that?
JIM FOLSOM:
Well, that was the Congress advocating those things back in 1947. You know my position. In other words, everybody's a Communist from 1917 until we recognized Russia, started dealing with Russia and China, why everybody was a Communist who disagreed . . . a fellow that wanted majority rule was a damn Communist. There wasn't no question about it with anybody. And my opposition didn't believe in majority rule, so, to them, I was a radical of the worst sort. Now, how in the hell can a man be a radical who believes in the Constitution as it was written? In 1947, all I wanted was just like the one man, one vote decision says. That's all I wanted. I didn't want anything else. And to put ladies on the jury, all those things. I advocated right along as I went. And everything that has come to pass that I went out for were things that were needed. And the separation of powers, it will come. But one man, one vote . . . reapportionment, it's going to bring on the separation of powers.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Now, in the 1942 campaign, you didn't use the band, the hillbilly band, the Strawberry Pickers that you later used. Is that right? You first used the band in the '46 campaign for governor.
JIM FOLSOM:
I used in '46, I used it in '54 and I used it in the '62 campaign.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did you get that idea . . .
JIM FOLSOM:
I haven't really put on a campaign since '62. That campaign, I got poisoned and blind in this eye right here, had a busted blood vessel in my head. And that stayed there for two and a half years.
CANDACE WAID:
How did all of that happen?
JIM FOLSOM:
Well, I was on television and it happened. You tell me, and I'll buy you a big ice cream.
CANDACE WAID:
That's my favorite.
JIM FOLSOM:
It busted a blood vessel in my head and it stayed bleeding there for two and a half years and they corrected that. But all that put a strain on my heart and later on, four years ago, they had to put a new valve in my heart. So, I'm alive, just eye is all. But that's just politics, you know. Like George Wallace getting shot, that's politics. You know, they did it with Abraham Lincoln and . . .
ALLEN TULLOS:
Another thing that you were well known for was the Suds bucket. Where did you get that idea?
JIM FOLSOM:
Well, I just wanted to change what you are seeing come about over the South, representative change. And I got a mop and Suds bucket to represent the change. And you used to use it to scour the kitchen, I remember it myself, you've probably read about it, I used to help scour it. You scoured it on Saturday and it just cleaned it and brought a hue to it for Sunday's dinner and the rest of the week. You had to scour that thing once a week. I had to have some way of financing my campaign, I didn't have any money. My opposition was pretty well organized, two groups of them. A group of bankers and politicians in one group and another group of bankers and state politicians in another. I was just sitting around talking to some people like I am to you now, and I told one of my friends to get a band up and he got it up. And we were getting ready to start out and I said, "Now, what I want you to do is to get me an old corn husk mop and two old oaken buckets." He didn't listen to me and I finally had to get off and whisper to him what I wanted them for. He got them and put them in the car and didn't tell anybody what they were for. We had enough money to go for one day. We had a hundred dollars, that's what we had. I didn't know whether we would be able to go the next day or not. I made four speeches. The opening speech on Saturday and on Monday morning, we started out with a hundred dollars and we spoke at Falkville up here and then other little towns, Hartselle, the county seat of Lawrence, Moulton and then at Decatur that night. And we didn't pass the bucket. And the next day, we paid the hotel bills that night for that many boys, five or six or seven of us and well, I had to do something. I didn't know whether it was going to bring me any money or not. I told them what I wanted to do, I called them in and I said, "We are going to pass that bucket." I got up and made a little speech, "Put in the suds, and I'll do the scrubbing. I am going to clean that capitol out down there. There is a green breeze out of the north, I'm going to fly all the way down through there . . . " of course, I considered myself the green breeze out of the north, . . . "open up the windows of that capitol, let in a green breeze of the north fly through there, and you will have the cleanest, greenest smell that you ever saw in your life." Well, they knew what a green breeze was. Well, it was just like my Ma scouring with a broom when I was a kid. That's that story.