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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, August 20 and 21, 1976. Interview A-0328-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Advising Kennedy on race issues to win southern support in 1960

When Kennedy and Johnson were running for the presidency in 1960, it seemed that the barriers that kept a southerner from winning the election may have diminished. Kennedy had a difficult time winning southern support because people in the region disliked him and his racial policies. Sanford advised him on race without assuming an official position as spokesman for the South.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, August 20 and 21, 1976. Interview A-0328-2. 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

I don't think that Kennedy ever understood the race issue, really.
BRENT GLASS:
Not Jack Kennedy, but maybe Bobby Kennedy did a little bit more.
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, I don't know that Bobby understood it. Bobby saw the politics, the positive politics in it by that time, but I don't think they had any awareness. They didn't have any experience. You know, I gave Jack Kennedy about as good advice as he ever got on the race issue because I knew more about it. No, he had called Martin Luther King in jail and made a lot of points, but then of course, people in the South didn't like him. There is an interesting little 1956 story. At that time, it was Kefauver-Kennedy as far as the North Carolina delegation was concerned. Scott was there supporting Kefauver. Nobody in the Old Guard liked Kefauver because he had been a "traitor to the South" and he was fairly liberal on the race issue. So, Sam Ervin and the Old Guard supported Jack Kennedy for Vice-President, something that they never fully explained in 1960 when they were so bitterly opposed to him. So much for that.
BRENT GLASS:
Well, after you made the seconding speech, were you then sort of pressed onto the national scene as the southern spokesman?
TERRY SANFORD:
I didn't want to be. I very carefully advoided that role. I didn't want to be, I didn't have any interest in the national scene except as another citizen. I was concerned with North Carolina and what I was going to do. (Tape turned off)
BRENT GLASS:
I think that we were talking about your role as a spokesman for the South.
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, I didn't think that the South needed a spokesman.
BRENT GLASS:
Well, a liberal spokesman.
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, I didn't really want to put myself in a role that diminished what I was doing in North Carolina, even to the extent that I instructed Henry Wilson not to let my name get on any invitation lists for any of the dinners at the White House. I got out of the governor's office in Kennedy's second term. I didn't want the people of North Carolina thinking that I had supported Kennedy because I was trying to play the role of big shot and jet setter and the like and I didn't want it to diminish anything that I was doing. Now, I met with Kennedy a number of times in the White House about various things, most of which pertained to North Carolina. I did go to one meeting of key people that he called to talk about the race issue. I went several times to talk about several things such as the Appalachian program we were trying to develop at the time. I went to see him about . . . I really leaned on him to get the environmental health center put here and so I went several times to see him about that and leaned on him hard. That's what I turned my green stamps in for. Anything else that I wanted for North Carolina, I simply called Henry Wilson or Bobby Kennedy and didn't bother the President, assuming that I could have gotten through. I assume that I could since Evelyn Lincoln was very fond of me and always appreciated, probably more than the rest of them, what we had done for him. But I never attempted to play that, I never attempted to use it, when I was asked about Jackson, Miss . . . we happened to have a Southern Governors Conference as that was going on and Kennedy made his dramatic television speech, nobody else would give it a favorable word except me. But other than that, I didn't attempt to be a spokesman and didn't want to be. I felt that it would take away from the extremely demanding tasks I had set for myself in North Carolina.
BRENT GLASS:
Well, you said that you did talk with him from time to time or at least once about the time was right for a national southern figure.
TERRY SANFORD:
He raised that question by simply saying that the bar to being a Catholic had broken down and he said, "Now, I think that the bar of being from the South can be broken." I dismissed it. I wasn't going to enter a serious conversation with him about how I ought to be the next candidate. I thought that it was presumptuous, I would have even thought that it was silly, but I think that obviously was what he was getting at and I said, rather jokingly, "You've got Lyndon Johnson."
BRENT GLASS:
He didn't consider Johnson a southerner?
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, I don't know whether he did or not, I never asked him. But Johnson, of course, was a southerner, he was accepted in the South as a southerner.
BRENT GLASS:
Did any of your contacts with the Kennedys or with other national figures plant a seed in your mind as far as running for national office?
TERRY SANFORD:
I don't know that I could ever say that a seed was planted. I said that thought was lurking around in my mind as a possiblity, it was a possibility that somebody from the South could move into the Presidency through the nominating process, not the way that Lyndon did, but I was beginning to be more and more convinced that that time in history had come. I didn't talk to anybody about it, I wasn't trying to develop that idea and I wasn't really focusing on it and I didn't really have the overwhelming desire to do it, in any event.