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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Thomas Jackson White Jr., March 14, 1986. Interview C-0029-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Racing to secure an appropriation for art museum in changing political climate

When North Carolinians elected their first Republican governor in many years, White, a Democrat, raced to move the project forward before his party left power, he recalls. He managed to secure an appropriation in a very short amount of time, but this small victory was greeted by further opposition from the press. Despite aggressive reporting by the <cite>Raleigh News and Observer</cite> and the <cite>Raleigh Times</cite>, White hired a contractor, but that process presented its own host of additional problems, which White describes.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Thomas Jackson White Jr., March 14, 1986. Interview C-0029-2. 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

So, prior to the end of 1972, North Carolina had nominated and elected its first Republican governor it had had in fifty years. This was Governor James Holshouser. Of course, this meant that everybody that had been running the state government for all these years were going out of office by the end of 1972. Within the space of about four days I had to get the board of directors, I think they called it, of the prison department, to which a portion of the land had been allocated, to meet with me and let me explain to them how we needed that land. I had to get the land allocated to the State Art Museum Building Commission by the council of state. This required a meeting of the council of state. We had the meeting of the council of state and the allocation was made but due to an error the allocation was not made; this made it necessary to get them back together to make the allocation to the Building Commission correctly.
PAMELA DEAN:
And this is all while the government is changing?
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
This was in the last three days of Democratic rule in North Carolina at that time.
PAMELA DEAN:
Why was this deadline? You wanted to get it done before the new government came in, that was why you had this timeframe?
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
I wanted to get it done, period. And I didn't know what kind of luck I might have with the Republicans, being a Democrat. I think the Republicans probably would have gone along with me, but I couldn't be sure of that, but I thought I was sure of what I could do before January 1, 1973. I was sure I could try to make the allocation come to pass. And this is what occurred. I got all these people together in the space of almost a few hours and I've forgotten many of the details about it but I had good help. I ran into one snag I wasn't expecting from (I will not call his name) but from an official who was in position to be a lot of help. He tossed in a little bombshell that caused me to have to call on the council of state to meet a second time. And I only found out about this problem by overhearing some people talk about it in a restaurant at lunchtime.
PAMELA DEAN:
Now, what was this again?
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
It was the manner in which the land was allocated, I don't remember the details. But this man had to sign a paper that authorized the reallocation of the Prison Department land to the State Art Museum Building Commission and it was either inappropriately signed, or it wasn't signed, or something else was not exactly as it should be.
PAMELA DEAN:
One of those bureaucratic snafus.
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
Anyway, it was something that I had to get right on and get it done, and it was done at the last minute. That which I have told you up to this point was just the beginning of the museum fight. The Raleigh News and Observer and the Raleigh Times being what their editors make them, plus the way they train their reporters, continued to criticize the site selection, our Building Commission, and they saw to it that our Commission's Chairman received his full share of criticism and catigation. Well, eventually, I can fill you in on the date, I think, it must have been about 1977, the building contract was let. The contractor who was the successful bidder as construction contractor was named Middlesex Construction Company of New York. On state bids like that one you have four "prime" contractors. You have the general contractor, the plumbing and heating contractor, the electrical contractor, and one other. The general contractor usually is the one whose duty it is to coordinate everything. It used to be that you just had one general contractor and he called the shots, and that was a much more satisfactory way of dealing. Unfortunately, the contractor in the position of being the general contractor, the building contractor (Middlesex Contruction Company), and therefore the one whose duty it was to coordinate the efforts of all the four contractors who were successful bidders, chose a man to perform this duty who was very abrasive and eventually incurred the displeasure of the people he was trying to coordinate as fellow contractors. I suppose this man could not help being what he was, and he just seemed to be unable to lead his fellows who represented the other three contractors who were successful bidders nor inspire them to get the job done and get it done right. The contractors, or some of them had many arguments with the man Middlesex placed over them. These arguments began to occur after a short period of time and continued throughout the time Middlesex was on the job.