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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Edward L. Rankin, August 20, 1987. Interview C-0044. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Rationale for the appointment of Sam Ervin to the Senate

Rankin discusses Governor Umstead's decision to appoint Sam Ervin to fill the vacant United States Senate seat from North Carolina in 1954. Ervin's appointment came just after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the <cite>Brown</cite> decision and Rankin addresses the question of whether or not that even influenced Umstead's decision. When asked if another prominent North Carolina Democrat, Irving Carlyle, might have been selected had he not publicly stated that North Carolina would abide by the law, rather than waiting to see what the public stance of the party would be to the decision, Rankin contends that Umstead carefully selected Ervin and that such "political infighting" did not play a role in the decision.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Edward L. Rankin, August 20, 1987. Interview C-0044. 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 want to take you back, if I may, to May of 1954. That was when the desegregation decision was issued by the U. S. Supreme Court. Governor Umstead had not formulated any response and so forth. He expressed disappointment. One of the, I don't know whether you would call it a legend or not - Irving Carlyle of Winston Salem, who was a close friend of the governor's, spoke to the state Democratic Convention which was held a few days after the decision had come down and not long after Governor Hoey had died in office as a U.S. Senator in Washington. In his speech Irving Carlyle put in a paragraph that said, "This is the law of the land. We must obey it," and so forth and so on. Umstead had not at this time made any official response or taken a position and so on. We newspaper people speculated, had been speculating, if Carlyle was a strong candidate to succeed Hoey. After he made that speech, the governor nominated Sam Ervin. Do you have any personal knowledge of whether that really knocked Irving Carlyle out of the Senate nomination? EDWARD L. RANKIN, Jr.: In my opinion, it did not. As a matter of fact, I don't think Irving Carlyle would have been selected.
You don't. EDWARD L. RANKIN, Jr.: I do not. I do not think that, you know, based on my best recollection after so many years. We had a few deaths while I was there, as a matter of fact, so I went through this senatorial appointment procedure several times with the governor. I learned a few things out of this. A senatorial appointment is more than politics. It really is. Politics is a major component of that decision but an appointment to the U.S. Senate by a governor is about as important a decision as a governor will ever make. He is keenly aware of not only the immediate facts involved, [but also of] the future, the fact that his place in history is on the line. It's just different from anything else I've ever been through, appointments of judges, or to the Supreme Court. There's an intensity of feeling about this among the people, his supporters, the organization, the party. It's agonizing. It's absolutely agonizing. I do not think Irving Carlyle would have been a top level candidate for this to start with. So I don't think he knocked himself out of it. I don't think he was ever in.
Well, that's very interesting. EDWARD L. RANKIN, Jr.: Now, Mr. Umstead, another interesting thing about him, he kept his own counsel as well as any man I've ever seen. I mean with me he was as candid as anybody could be but also he didn't, in things like this, he didn't speculate about them. He didn't talk about such decisions before they were made. There's another thing about Mr. Umstead, unlike any other governor I've ever seen, Mr. Umstead had more close personal friends scattered over North Carolina than any governor I've ever worked for. Much of this went back to his days at Chapel Hill. His class at Chapel Hill were made up of a rather remarkable group of men. They all went back to their home towns, but they stayed in touch. Many of them were in World War I. Many of them were in the American Legion together. Many of them were big democratic workers. They stayed in touch. They would go to the reunions in Chapel Hill. So I could call any one of these persons - one I think of is Jim Hardison from Wadesboro, for example - I could call him at four o'clock in the morning, and I'd say, "The governor, William Umstead, asked me to do this." [And they'd say] "What does he want done?" I mean like that. There was a bond of personal friendship that meant a great deal to these men and to Mr. Umstead. He would talk to these people, individually, about whatever, and they'd advise him. Of course, he was very open and he'd listen to anybody but he kept his own counsel until he made a decision. It's funny you bring this up because I told Sam Ervin this story three weeks before he died. Hugh Morton and I went to interview him and got a tape. Bless his heart, when we first got there, I didn't think he'd be able to talk because he had terrible emphysema. But he got interested in talking to us and suddenly he was breathing better. We had an interview of about an hour. But I told him this story. When the governor was near a decision, and we knew it was close, Mr. Umstead buzzed me and said, "Get Sam Ervin for me on the telephone. I want to talk just to him personally." I called Ervin's law office or wherever he was. It was Morganton, I think. I got him on the phone.
The Supreme Court. EDWARD L. RANKIN, Jr.: Yeah, the Supreme Court but I think he was not in Raleigh. He was in Morganton. He was at his home, I think, or maybe in his law office. I don't remember. Anyway, I said, "Sam, Governor Umstead wants to speak with you. Will you hold on, please?" I put him on hold. I walked in the office, and I picked up the phone for Mr. Umstead. Mr. Umstead said, "Sam, (or words to this effect) Sam, I've been thinking about this a long time. I want to appoint you to the United States Senate." That was it. They talked about how the announcement would be made. It was a big, big day. I think Sam Ervin was the type of person that Mr. Umstead was looking for. Sam Ervin and William Umstead were close personal friends. They both were World War I buddies. They had been through a lot of the same experiences together. Plus the fact, obviously, Sam Ervin was qualified. Of course that appointment, unlike some of the others, stuck. Ervin stayed until he was ready to retire.