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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 >>

Regional meetings and political opposition to the Pearsall Plan

Rankin discusses the purposes of regional meetings held regarding the Pearsall Plan throughout North Carolina during the late 1950s. Rankin focuses here on the importance of winning the support of the public via the General Assembly. He describes the reasons for political opposition to the plan among state legislatures and describes how the regional meetings were meant to spread the word so that reactions to the plan would come through legislators, rather than through the plan's orchestrators.

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

JAY JENKINS:
Well, now, one thing I noticed, and we may be jumping around here, but the governor had meetings with all the legislators from the Piedmont, west, and east. Of course, I was a newspaper man. I remember a lot of those legislators were restive. They didn't think that this was enough and so forth. A lot of them were torn, even though only two of them voted against it. My question was, I got the feeling that Hodges must have gotten pretty firm commitments from members of the legislature from the regional meetings that they had to keep them from going off half-cocked. EDWARD L. RANKIN, Jr.: Okay. The value of the regional meetings was to prepare for the special session. When you look back at it, it's astonishing - the governor, Pearsall and legislative supporters set a goal of wanting to do it in a week. They wanted to come in and knock this out in a week and go home. Of course, you couldn't begin to do that unless the members of the General Assembly knew in some detail what legislation is proposed. They had to look at some drafts of things. They had to talk. They had to satisfy their own interests. Plus the fact that there were some changes in the Plan made during these meetings as of a result of the legislators' comments and questions, not of great substance but helpful - if you do this, then you've got a better chance of passage, not only in the legislature but later in the amendment. Tom Pearsall, I think, with his strong legislative background, probably had as much to do with the success of the meetings, or the fact that the meetings were held. Hodges, who had no legislative experience, was open to any suggestions. One of the great things about that, Hodges, in many ways, was the opposite of Mr. Umstead. He understood how to run a big organization. You have to delegate. You have to hold people responsible and accountable to you but you've got to let them go, you know. So he was open to whatever constructive suggestions were made. Of course, he was, as you know, a great communicator. So I imagine that Tom had as much to do as anybody in saying . . . First of all, you're correct. The legislators were restive. They didn't know what we were doing. Also, they are accountable to their voters. In others words, how do I run for the General Assembly and get elected or re-elected? What is my position? You could have had a hundred and seventy different positions taken. So the meetings were to serve many purposes. It was to above all focus on the Plan as the best approach we know in North Carolina to get through this era, this period, that we're in and to save our public schools and to enable us to move ahead. And it will work. You hope it will work. Legislators tend to be pragmatists . . . and you've got to hang on to something. So the meetings were set up. I think the Charlotte Observer or somebody jumped on it - or maybe it was the News and Observer, I don't know - talking about meetings in the woods or something. [Laughter] That bothered Tom Pearsall. But anyway the meetings were successful. The astonishing thing, too - to show you how important the issue was - every member of the General Assembly attended at least one of the meetings. I mean there was 100% attendance. If they couldn't go to this one, they went to one over here. You probably saw in the manuscript where John Kerr, Jr. - who was just a great guy, but I mean he was a segregationist from the word go - he went to two or three of them. Somebody leaned on him and said, "John, weren't you over at that meeting over there." He said, "Yeah." Said, "What are you doing here?" He said, "Well, I'm the governor's handyman. [Laughter] You know they were working around these folks that they knew were fire and brimstone. But John had agreed to come to help. So some legislators went to more than one, and some of them at the request of Tom Pearsall and the Governor, to say that "I was at the meeting down east and here was the reaction." So that, you know the feeling of that, it comes better from another legislator than have Tom or Paul Johnston say, "Well the folks down there are all for it." So it helped to carry the word, and that was the purpose.