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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George A. LeMaistre, April 29, 1985. Interview A-0358. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Alabama politicians benefit from the New Deal

LeMaistre describes Bibb Graves and the southern posture toward the New Deal. Graves was an outgoing person who embraced the spoils system but "was not a bad governor." Graves and other southern politicians "soft-pedaled" their opposition to the New Deal because they understood how they could benefit from its programs.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George A. LeMaistre, April 29, 1985. Interview A-0358. 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 J. GOING:
Let me ask you again, what do you care to say, do you have any ideas about Bibb Graves as such? What was your general impression of the "little colonel?" Didn't they call him the "little colonel?"
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Yes. Well, Bibb Graves had a very outgoing, friendly personality, and he was the consummate politician. He, everywhere he went, he glad-handed everybody. He had a slogan which he put into practice that in any administration that he had anything to do with, those that made the pie would help eat it. What that meant was that if you didn't help him, you were not likely to be appointed by him to any kind of job.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Kind of another version of "to the victor belongs the spoils."
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
The spoils system was in complete charge when he was there—it was just the spoils system. Some of his people like Jim Folsom's later on were not all that interested in the public's welfare. They were more interested in number one, I guess, but Bib Graves was not a bad governor.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Classifications, of course, are often times misleading, but he's generally classified in the progressive column.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Not only a progressive, but he is classified as one who was a great supporter of education, and typical of Bib Graves, wherever he supported education, he left a monument to Bib Graves. If you look at all of the campuses in the state, you'll find a Bib Graves Hall for education somewhere on it.
ALLEN J. GOING:
And he's also usually referred to as one of the Southern governors who was strongly supportive of the New Deal that they managed to soft-pedal. Whereas other southern governors were very much opposed to it.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Most of the southern governors, though, saw so many opportunities . . .
ALLEN J. GOING:
Yeah—
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
For their state to receive benefits from the New Deal, they managed to soft-pedal their opposition. They might criticize it in private, but you didn't find many of the governors out leading a fight against anything Roosevelt was trying to do.
ALLEN J. GOING:
And, of course, the two senators then, first Black and then Hill and then Bankhead were all strong supporters of the New Deal.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Yes, and once the TVA was put in place the support of Alabama was just almost conceded.
ALLEN J. GOING:
That's right.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
No way you could afford as a politician to oppose TVA, because there's no doubt about it, it did bring tremendous prosperity to the Tennessee Valley. That was a section up there that just wasn't paying its way. They didn't have anything.
ALLEN J. GOING:
I guess of all the states included in the TVA region Alabama probably had more actual territory than—well, East Tennessee would be a vital part of it.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Well, East Tennessee just has that part of the valley that comes down through Knoxville and down into Alabama, but it swings into Alabama, then makes a U-turn, then goes back up.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Really, the bulk of the benefits, and I guess that that part of Alabama was one of the most depressed areas anywhere.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Those beautiful farms up there that had for years produced the best cotton crops in the United States, had begun to wear out. And they were not getting anything for their product—it wasn't commercially feasible to raise cotton. The cotton mills up there were closed down or working one shift, and the people working in them weren't making more than a dollar an hour, something like that. One of the big arguments made against the minimum wage law, where Hugo Black was involved, was that if they paid $1.35 an hour they would break every hosiery mill and every textile mill and every saw mill in the state of Alabama. none of them could operate under those terms. So as the New Deal went on, it just became obvious that it was good for the state.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Yeah.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
[laugh] Maybe deficit financing is good even for the Reagan administration.
ALLEN J. GOING:
But, again, there was strong opposition to the New Deal in Alabama from industry.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Oh yes, Alabama Power Company never stopped its fight against the New Deal. And some of the big banks; it's amazing that the thing that saved the banking industry in this country, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was created by a bill sponsored by Henry Stegall. He represented the second district—third district, I guess, down in southeast Alabama. Yet the bankers never supported it. They were very much against this interference of free enterprise.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Ironical—then they were saved in desperate times.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
[laugh] Like the doctors with medicare, they didn't know what was good for them.