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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, July 15 and 24, 1975. Interview A-0331-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Memories of campaigning for his father in the 1920s and 1930s

Talmadge discusses his involvement in his father's political campaigns during the 1920s and 1930s. In particular, he recalls his father's campaign to become the Commissioner of Agriculture for Georgia in 1926 when Talmadge was twelve years of age. Talmadge describes his father's debates with J.J. Brown, an established state politician. His father, whom he describes as "an unknown country lawyer and farmer" was victorious in that election and subsequently went on to run for governor of Georgia in 1932.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, July 15 and 24, 1975. Interview A-0331-1. 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

Senator, would you go back to when you really first became aware of politics and so forth. I know that you were thirteen years old, I believe, in 1927 when your father, Eugene Talmadge, was first elected Secretary of Agriculture.
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes, he was elected Commissioner of Agriculture in 1926.
JACK NELSON:
I meant Commissioner.
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Prior to that time, he had run for local office three times and was defeated. He ran for the legislature, the House of Representatives twice and the State Senate once. My father was somewhat of a maverick and they had a courthouse political machine in Telfair County and they knew that my father wouldn't take orders and they didn't want him to go to the legislature and he didn't go. However, when he ran for statewide office, they got behind him and supported him and supported him loyally until his death, in all of his races thereafter.
JACK NELSON:
When were you first really caught up in his political career? Even in his earlier races when he lost?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Of course, I knew little about them at that time, I was quite young. The first time, I guess that I was really reasonably active in his political career was the first race for Commissioner of Agriculture in 1926. At that time, I was twelve years old, about thirteen about the time that he was elected and I remember his famous debate with J.J. Brown in McRae, Georgia, I attended that. We had sent some wagon loads of water melons up there to help feed the crowds. After the debate was over, my father and Mr. Brown were shaking hands and he introduced Mr. Brown to me and I went and got him the biggest watermelon out of the pile and he said, "Give it to my chauffer over there and have him put it in the car."
JACK NELSON:
Can you tell us something about the debate?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Well, of course, J.J. Brown at that time was one of the most powerful political factors in the state. He had a vast organization of employees that did little but politic and they were selected from influential families and because of their political awareness. They were supposed to be an unbeatable machine. My father was an unknown country lawyer and farmer there that lived five miles south of McRae, Georgia. No one took him seriously at the outset. Mr. Brown made the mistake of challenging him into a series of debates, the first one in my father's hometown of McRae, the second one in Mr. Brown's hometown of Elberton, Georgia, the third one in neutral territory in southwest Georgia at Dawson, Georgia and my father was a very forceful debater and speaker. He just cut Mr. Brown to ribbons in all three debates. The press gave it a good deal of prominence and that was what elected my father Commissioner of Agriculture.
JACK NELSON:
Were you active in his later campaigns as well?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes. About the time that he ran for governor, in 1932, I had just finished my freshman year at the University of Georgia and one of my duties was to advertise his speeches. In those days, you would go to all the little towns around there and nail up placards, paste signs on trees and on the placards in courthouses and things of that nature. I remember one time that I was advertising a speech that he was to make at Cedartown, Georgia. I went in the meat market. In those days, the meat markets had sawdust on the ground and had a big round trunk of a tree there that they used as a table to cut up the meat when the housewives would come in to buy it. I handed this butcher a circular there announcing my father's speech and he said, "I wouldn't vote for that goddamned son of a bitch for nothing." I didn't know whether to hit him or run or what to do. I learned then that all you can do is turn the other cheek. So, I walked on out and kept on delivering circulars. Then, thereafter, in 1934 when he was seeking reelection as governor, I made my first political speech. I had a friend in college named Aubrey Evans from Sycamore, Georgia, and he decided to have a big Talmadge rally down in Turner County, near Sycamore. We had an old cotton warehouse and he had three or four hundred people there with a great big sign, "Welcome, Herman Talmadge". I was only twenty years of age.
JACK NELSON:
This was sort of heady stuff.
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes, it was heady stuff. That was my first political speech.