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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Robert Giles, September 10, 1987. Interview C-0063. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Giles evaluates the key actors involved with the Pearsall Plan

Giles assesses the key players involved with the Pearsall Plan.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Robert Giles, September 10, 1987. Interview C-0063. 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

JAMES JENKINS:
Bob, I wish you would deal with some of the personalities who played such important roles in this Pearsall Plan, starting in any order you wish, Governor Hodges, Tom Pearsall, or William B. Rodman, the Attorney General.
ROBERT GILES:
Well, let me take them in the order that you just mentioned, first Governor Hodges. I think that Governor Hodges, back then in 1955-56, if he had chosen to go that path, could have taken the extreme segregationist point of view. In my opinion, the state of North Carolina would have followed him right down that road. I think, for example, Governor Hodges could have, if he had chosen, exploited the race issue politically to the extent that I believe he could have got the constitution amended to close the public schools entirely. I think he could very possibly have got the constitution amended to permit him to run again for governor indefinitely or to permit a governor to have an unlimited number of terms, on the theory that we must have a strong governor to protect the state on this matter. That was done in Arkansas by Orville Faubus. The custom and tradition there was that the governor of Arkansas would serve only four years. I don't know how many, ultimately, he served consecutively. I believe about twelve or fourteen years. The same, I believe, in Georgia where state laws were amended to permit the governor to succeed himself at least once. The point is that that was not the kind of person that Governor Hodges was. He simply did not believe that it was in the state's interest to handle the school problem that way. Secondly, he simply was not the sort of person to try to gain personally on that sort of basis. In my view, that was completely foreign to his personality. Now let's take Mr. Pearsall.
JAMES JENKINS:
Excuse me, before you go to Mr. Pearsall, I want to go to Mr. Hodges for just a minute. The fact that he came into office as a businessman without any political experience, so to speak, didn't that strengthen his hand a great deal?
ROBERT GILES:
I think that it certainly was a plus and helped him with what you might term the business community of the state. I chuckle a little bit about what I recall back then that Governor Hodges said about his lack of experience, and he was no politician. Well, the fact of the matter is that he was a natural, what I'd call a natural, politician in the sense that he knew how to work with people to persuade people and to lead people. He could discern between what I would call some individual's particular points of view and what I would call the broad currents. I think he just had the natural ability. What I'm saying is that he was a far better politician, in that sense, than probably most anybody you could name who had been active in politics in elective office for thirty years.
JAMES JENKINS:
Very good point, very good. And Mr. Pearsall, what kind of fellow was he?
ROBERT GILES:
He was an extremely, very attractive and gracious person. Personally he was courteous, polite, and friendly. He was that kind of individual who did not attempt to dominate or order people around, rather he was straightforward, and he led people. He persuaded people to his points of view, an extremely likable person. I think he would have made a great governor of North Carolina. I know that Governor Hodges would have been glad and was interested in having Tom Pearsall get into the 1960 gubernatorial race and run in the primary there. But Tom Pearsall himself decided that he would not do that. As I vaguely recall, I think there was some indication at the time that the health of his wife was not good or whatever. But for his role on that committee, I don't think we could have had a better person in the state. It was a tremendous public service, I think, because he was a key person in saving the public school system. You could have had the same Governor Hodges in office, but if you had a different individual, a different person who had turned up and established himself in that position, as chairman of that committee, and who had chosen to go another course, it could have reversed the history of the state.
JAMES JENKINS:
You were telling me earlier, when we were talking privately about this, that members of that commission also made valuable contributions.
ROBERT GILES:
I think so. I think every member of the Pearsall Commission—I keep wanting to call it committee and I wondered if that was the technical name—I think everyone was a strong person in his own right and made tremendous contributions, because we needed, the state needed, to have a varied and representative committee working on that issue. Bill Mildford of Waynesville, from the west, a member of the state Senate; Lunsford Crews from Halifax County in the east. He also was in the state Senate at the time. Claude Philpot, who later was elected Lieutenant Governor; William T. Joyner, Colonel Joyner, a very prominent and highly respected attorney from Raleigh, a person of great, wise counsel. Then there was a Mr. Hoffman who was a prominent businessman from one of the western counties.