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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, May 14, 1976. Interview A-0328-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Sanford parallels his later political campaign with Graham's

The Frank Graham and Willis Smith senatorial campaign left Sanford embittered about politics. Unlike Graham's quiet demeanor, Sanford learned to attack negative campaigns aggressively.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, May 14, 1976. Interview A-0328-1. 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

BRENT GLASS:
I was interested in how that campaign, what kind of impact it had on you, and obviously . . .
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, it left me very bitter because I thought it was a vicious, dirty campaign. I might say that I never thought that Willis Smith personally was responsible for it. And that was another lesson that I learned, and that was to keep charge of your own campaign. I personally thought and think that Willis Smith's a very decent individual. He got dragged, sucked into this. He really wasn't all that experienced in politics, though he'd been Speaker of the House and a Kerr Scott supporter, as a matter of fact. Not many lawyers were. But he got one step further and one step further, and the campaign got dirtier and dirtier, and he just got drawn into it. First thing you knew, forces that he couldn't stop were running that campaign.
BRENT GLASS:
This was the
TERRY SANFORD:
Oh hell no. He would deny, has denied it today, but one of the principal architects of that was Jessie Helms. And another principal architect was a young fellow named Daniels from Angier. I believe he's dead now. Anyhow, he was one of my Legionaire buddies. But the racism, they saw it as a winning issue. And they took full advantage of it. Smathers was beating Pepper at the time on pretty much the same sort of an assault. More Communism than black in Florida, but the race issue in northern Florida was just as evil as it was here. The only thing I'm saying is that I learned a lesson from both sides. One, don't give them any quarter; and second, don't let somebody else drag you into something you don't want to do. You'd better keep charge of your own issues. I really do think that that shortened Willis Smith's life. I could be wrong. But I think he was embarrassed by having been victimized by winning in that way.
BRENT GLASS:
Did Graham ever talk about it after . . . did you ever talk with him about that campaign afterwards? He wasn't really a politician. He must have been a politician to have done what he did at the University, but . . .
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, he was too gentle and too considerate of other people. He never expressed an unkind thought about Willis Smith to me, and I expressed several at the time that, in retrospect, I'm certain were not correct. Well, it didn't take me long to feel they were not correct. But he never showed any bitterness. He probably never showed any bitterness about anything.
BRENT GLASS:
Could you say that you learned anything from Graham directly as far as politics were concerned?
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, I learned the most important lesson of all, that it was the purpose, and the issue, and the reason for being there that were important, not getting there, which is a very valuable lesson. In fact, if it were not for that, then I'd say politics would not be for me if you didn't think that when you got there, you could do something worthwhile in that you ought to try to get there in a way, an honorable way. Now I didn't do anything differently much from what Frank Graham did in the second primary except I did it more forcefully. I did it in a way that he was too gentle to have done. I didn't mind fighting back when Lake accused me of getting all the block vote. That was then a code word, the block vote, meaning that the blacks were voting for you unanimously; therefore, you weren't to be trusted. And that was about the way it turned out. Well, they accused him of getting the block vote. And I was ready for them. Well, I'll tell you another little story that I doubt has ever been out. And I maybe ought to, since I don't know what'll come of this, it won't hurt to leave the county out.
BRENT GLASS:
Whatever you say, you have control over.
TERRY SANFORD:
I understand. But in any event, at that time, it was possible to control the black vote beyond maybe what they thought they could do. Johnson was asked, "Do you want the black vote in Durham?"
BRENT GLASS:
Which Johnson is this now?
TERRY SANFORD:
Jeff Johnson, the campaign manager for Frank Graham. "Do you want the black vote for Graham, or do you want to split it up so that it won't hurt in the second primary?" This, at that time, was the most obvious black block in the state. He meditated for a while, and he said, "Well, let's shoot the works. Let's try to win in the first primary." Well, you know, they almost did. They got something like forty-eight or forty-nine percent. It was very, very close. They did, indeed, turn the block vote on him. So Lake turned the block vote on me. He said, "I got all the block vote." I said, "Nothing of the kind." I had seen to it that Seawell got the Durham vote. He got it all. And I was reading polls. I didn't have to guess. I knew I couldn't win in the first primary. Seawell had a certain appeal to the black votes. He had a certain appeal to the Watts Hills here because of Hodges. I just saw to it. I not only didn't lift my finger, but I told this same person that asked Jeff Johnson, "See that Seawell gets that vote. I don't want them." But he got about eighty-nine percent of it, or something like that. I got it all in Raleigh, and I got it all in Wilmington, and I got it all in Fayetteville, and I got it all everywhere else.
BRENT GLASS:
How about Winston? Does Winston have a machine?
TERRY SANFORD:
Oh yes. I got it all in Winston. There isn't any question I got the black vote in the first primary because I'd been the only one really speaking to their problems.
BRENT GLASS:
But not in Durham.
TERRY SANFORD:
I didn't want it. I didn't get it in Asheville either for a peculiar kind of, not a peculiar reason, but up there the sheriff and the city manager ran it. I carried that Buncombe County, but I didn't get the black vote. That's about all they could take away from me. And they really did take it away from me. They'd bought it, and they had controlled it. I say bought it in a legal sense of it. You know, if you hire the workers, you get the vote. And that's the way it was. Then in Statesville, there's a man named Churchill who's car salesman, a car dealer, a right well-t-do fellow. I don't know; it seems to me like it was a used-car operation. But anyhow, I'd known him, and he was very friendly to me. But he's also a racist. He'd decided to be for Lake. I lost that county. I'm bound to have lost the black vote because Churchill had the reputation of owning it. I hope his name was Churchill. I'll do somebody disservice if it wasn't. In any rate, so when he accused me of having the black vote, I says, not so. I got what I could, but Seawell got it in Durham, Larkins got it in Asheville, and Dr. Lake got it in Iredell County. Well, then it took him ten days to deny that. You know, I kept saying, well, he got the block vote too. Well, Frank Graham wouldn't have done that. That wasn't dishonest. It might have been sneaky. I think it was just aggressive defense of the position. It was, of course, a dishonest issue from the start to finish to talk about a block vote. In any event, I learned from Frank Graham not to be that nice on that particular issue.
BRENT GLASS:
Where there any other kinds of blocks that people could feel they could deliver, like, let's say, industrial mill workers, or this kind of thing?
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, the union was a real detriment to the politician in this state. But I'd always spoken very kindly of unions, not because I thought it was any political advantage, in fact, I knew it was a political detriment. The communication workers did a tremendous job with Scott, including when we wanted a telephone line for some statewide radio broadcast. Nobody in the top command had to bother about it, but the workers saw to it that we got the A-grade line. We got the quality because Scott had been good to them or decent to them, which nobody else had ever been. Hodges made them a whipping boy. He tried to break unions with the power of the governor's office. Well, I hadn't and I'd been good to them and if they looked across the field, they didn't have any friend but me. The communications workers are all right because they're very quiet about it. They just go on about putting up posters and probably taking down opponents' posters since they got all these people out with the telephone companies.
BRENT GLASS:
How about unorganized
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, nobody can deliver them. Then Millard Barbee was president of A.F.L.-C.I.O., and he just was absolutely chomping at the bit to endorse me. And I was trying as best I could to tell him, don't do me any favors. You know, don't say anything. He finally did endorse me. I'm satisfied it cost me more votes than it got me. I had no problem with giving labor, organized labor, its proper place. I felt that the unionization had been good for the country, let alone for workers. So, I hadn't had any problems with being friendly to labor and didn't later on. You know, that's still not a popular position in this state, the "Right to Work" law. But anyhow, no. Not only could they not deliver that vote; that vote, in spite of Millard Barbee's endorsement in the second primary, went to Lake, as you might guess. He was more likely to get that vote than I was, in spite of the union discipline or lack of discipline.