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

Spectrum of responses to <cite>Brown</cite> and the Pearsall Plan

Rankin again focuses on the spectrum of political and public responses to the <cite>Brown</cite> decision and the Pearsall Plan. According to Rankin, there were those who wanted state officials to disregard the orders of the federal government and proposed going so far as to rid the state of public schools in order to thwart desegregation. Others, however, wanted the state government to follow the <cite>Brown</cite> decision and integrate public schools. Because there was such a wide array of responses, the political climate was tense and Rankin stresses the importance of political leadership in mediating different views. In particular, he stresses Governor Hodges's ability to court various constituencies.

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

So I'm saying there were all shades of resistance to the Brown decision. Much of it was just absolute fury and anger at interference of the federal government, and of course as many public elected officials, resented being put in a hell of a spot. I mean this was a terrible dilemma to be in. They don't want to be in this dilemma. They don't want to have to face up to this. So it was a feeling as expressed better maybe in Georgia and Alabama, a lashing out, saying, "Never, never," and all that. The Pearsall Committee, the first one, as you know, was appointed by the Governor. The second was appointed as a legislative authorized group. It served as a catalyst in many ways to take the lighning and the thunder and everything else. Everybody, whether they liked the Pearsall group or not, they realized they were working on it. But the Attorney General was restive. He thought we had to do something. I mean both Harry McMullan and then later William Rodman, they felt that we were not doing enough. In watching these other southern states, they seemed to be getting away with it. They'd get up and say, "No, no, no." Everybody would applaud, and nothing would happen. So North Carolina resisters said, "They're doing it. Why can't we do it?" Well, I don't think there was any doubt that from the beginning that the cooler heads in North Carolina said, "Look, this is not going to work. We're not going to get any relief that way. We've got to find our own solution in our own way." That's to their credit.
I think one element in this, as a businessman who spent all his life in business, big business, that Hodges was able to get the support of the business establishment in North Carolina behind this plan. I'm sure one argument was disruption is bad for business. Don't you think that was a pretty big factor. EDWARD L. RANKIN, Jr.: Definitely. Mr. Hodges was a man of many talents. I worked for him for five years. I traveled with him and everything, all over the United States. I traveled with him in western Europe, and I went with him wherever. He could walk in a board room and command the respect of Tom Watson of IBM, or he could go in a crossroads store and sit down and talk to a bunch of guys sitting around a cracker barrel and communicate with them. He had that talent. He was an amazing combination. I've just never seen anybody in public life who had quite that range, maybe FDR, somebody like that had it. There are not many people who had that ability. He was respected by the business, industrial community mainly because he'd been successful. He knew what it was to meet a payroll and do all the things that business people respect. And he had devoted his time to it, and he said, "This is the answer." Yes, business people were concerned. But I think he was able to cut across a wider range. Part of it might be the fact that he had so little background in the Democratic political party. He didn't have a lot of scars from past campaigns. I mean that was a benefit for him really. What business people knew about him was basically favorable. He hadn't had to battle in the political arena. He hadn't had to make a lot of people mad, [laughter] like governors before him had to do.
Well, now, as you recall those days, did the governor's office get a whole lot of input from the public, and if so, what was the tone of it during this period? EDWARD L. RANKIN, Jr.: We got, it was . . .
Across the spectrum. EDWARD L. RANKIN, Jr.: Yeah, across the spectrum. We were battered on all sides. Overwhelmingly correspondence and calls and visitors [said], "Why don't you do something? Tell them (the Federal Courts) to go to hell. What the heck are you going to do?" The majority - then on the other side, those who agreed with the Brown decision, the academic, the liberal people - I don't even like to use that term anymore because it's hard to define liberal and conservative anymore. But back in those days perhaps it was clearer, like Irving Carlyle who said, "Of course, we're going to obey the law." Well, the problem with that approach is, it's over simplistic. You've got to say, certainly, North Carolina will obey the law, but it's going to do this within a framework of the kind of state we are, and where we are, and the circumstances. We are going to have to work our way through it, and at that point in time. That was a very simplistic statement to make. I mean Irving was a great person and a fine man, but just to say, of course, "we'll obey the court opinion" was ludicrous.