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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 >>

Foots Clement urges southerners to stick with the Democratic Party

LeMaistre remembers Marc Ray "Foots" Clement, an Alabama organizer and adviser to Senator Lister Hill. Clement was a shrewd political operative and an expert at gauging political moods and winning support. He used these skills to realign Alabamans behind the Democratic Party after its failed experiment with the Dixiecrat Party in 1948. Clement understood that political influence lay with the Democrats in the aftermath of the New Deal.

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:
Clement just loved politics—he was fascinated by it.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
He loved it and he was enough of a detached critic, I guess you'd say, to realize the he really was not a good lawyer. He never applied himself to being a good lawyer. In his law books that were used when he was in school, you'd find on almost every page a tally of some kind where he'd count the votes that were for this proposition and those that were against it, or you'd see one of the candidates for student office with the number 46 beside his name and his opponent down there with 37. You'd be left to figure out whether that was how they were voting in the Barracks or whether that was how they were voting over at the "Piping Hot" corner [laugh] , which was one of the places where the campus politicians gathered, but it's perfectly obvious that he did the thing he was best at doing.
ALLEN J. GOING:
And shows where his mind was running when he was looking at the law books.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Exactly. And he was shrewd enough to be able to pick out of a group of people—he had hundreds of friends—but the ones that moved into political office were largely brought there simply because he saw that they had this product that could be sold to the public and he set about and helped them organize their campaigns, worked with them, and he never exercised any kind of king-making powers. He never said "you've got to hire so and so."
ALLEN J. GOING:
Not like a typical boss.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
No, he was not the political boss. I've heard him, much to my regret because I was paying the telephone bills, get on the telephone and talk for an hour and a half to the senators just about what the climate was in Washington and was it looking any better and that sort of thing and he just liked to do that kind of talk, and as an aside, he had one principle which I always disliked but I had to admit it probably is correct, that was that he was dedicated to the proposition that if you wanted somebody to pay attention to what you had to say, and to carry out what you asked them to do, the best time to approach him was about two or three o'clock in the morning. Wake him up and then he's got nothing else to think about except what you're saying, and you'd be surprised how many people he would call at the wee hours of the morning, tell'em to support somebody or some proposition that he was interested in. And the interest in politics didn't only extend to candidates, it extended very strongly to the Democratic party. He helped to organize the State Democratic Executive Committee and to protect it from some rather strong attempts by people who had no reason to try to get hold of it except to further their own interests. And he was almost uniformly successful. One reason he was successful was because he started a lot earlier than they did. He would have his candidates lined up and ready to go before the time came to qualify.
ALLEN J. GOING:
That, I think you had indicated before, he was very influential and instrumental in getting the State Democratic Executive Committee back in line after the Dixiecrats . . .
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Well he saw that the key to getting the state back in the Democratic column instead of going off with the Dixiecrats was not trying to persuade two million people that this was the better of the two choices. The first thing he had to do and the most important thing he had to do was to persuade the executive committee that was laying down the rules for the party, the Democratic party, that it was important that they stay within the party and not do as they did in 1948 and go chasing moonbeams and leaving their constituents in a situation where they couldn't even vote for the nominee of their party. So he saw that and began working on the Committee and was extremely successful with the chairman of the Committee— all worked with him, conferred with him. I guess Roy Mayhall was chairman longer than any of the others during the time Clement was active, but all the members of the Committee were friendly to him.
ALLEN J. GOING:
He was just a dedicated loyal Democrat who wanted to be sure that the state didn't go astray from the regular—
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
That's right.
ALLEN J. GOING:
—from the regular party, and I guess that all goes back to his early background and interest in the Party.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Well, let's face it, in 1930 through 1939 the only hope this part of the country had was with the Democratic party. The Republicans had not—I don't suppose anyone in the Republican party ever said let's get the South now like we did in 1865, but the result of what they were doing was about the same thing. The steel mills couldn't compete, the textile mills couldn't compete, and it was simply a matter of changing the policy so people down here had a fair chance.
ALLEN J. GOING:
And that was—didn't come about until the catastrophe of the depression.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
That's right. It took the disastrous depression to shake the people's real sense of fairness enough to make them say, "Well we can't keep doing a big segment of the country that way."
ALLEN J. GOING:
So Clement, like you and I, were really kind of brought up in our formative years in that tradition but he was really giving a practical application
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
You would have been very lonely in Alabama as a Republican. Your only hope if you were a Republican in Alabama was that every few years when the Republicans were in power in Washington you might get an appointment as postmaster in a small town.
ALLEN J. GOING:
To kind of summarize, his efforts were largely with the congressmen, particularly those with whom he was closely associated and with the two senators, not so much involved in the state or the gubernatorial race other than the party—
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
The party officers were the only state offices that he really turned all out for. His primary interest was always the two senators. The congressmen were close friends, and received his support wherever it was possible to do it but he would, as far as I know, he would never have taken a position favoring one of the congressmen against one of the senators. What would have been very upsetting to him would have been to have one of his associates, one of his group to run against either Hill or Sparkman.