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
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
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.
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.
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.