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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Martha C. McKay, June 13, 1989. Interview C-0076. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The defeat of the ERA in the North Carolina General Assembly, 1973

McKay explains that almost immediately following the formation of the North Carolina Women's Political Caucus that passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) because the group's primary objective. Here, she describes the process by which the ERA was defeated in the North Carolina General Assembly in 1973. Emphasizing the group's lobbying campaign, McKay argues that the ERA would have passed had it not been for the last-minute political maneuvering by state senators such as Gordon Allen and Charlie Dean. Because the ERA nearly passed in 1973, McKay notes that the NCWPC believed they would be able to push it through in the next term, but in the meantime the opposition had time to organize, and as a result, 1973 was the closest they ever got to ratifying the amendment.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Martha C. McKay, June 13, 1989. Interview C-0076. 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

KATHRYN NASSTROM:
It seems too, although maybe I'm making too much of a connection of this, that very soon the Caucus was deeply involved in the ERA campaign here in North Carolina.
MARTHA MCKAY:
Yes, we were involved in that when I was still president. 1973.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
So when it first went down to defeat in '74
MARTHA MCKAY:
'73.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
No, '73. Okay, so it seems right off the bat the organization had sort of . . . something it had been working for go down in defeat.
MARTHA MCKAY:
Yes, but it wasn't that bad. That's the closest we ever came to passing it and the only reason it didn't pass is one guy switched his vote after the Senate was in session. That particular man had committed himself in writing to vote for it. And has made noises since about running, but he's never come out to run, and if he had you can believe there would have been organized opposition. Guy name Gordon Allen. He switched and Charlie Dean, the floor leader for the bill - if it was a bill, or the resolution, whatever it was - let him switch. Good guy, nice guy, for the all the right things, but not really strong. I mean a strong leader like Bob Byrd in the senate would have said, "No! You've given me your word." They hold, in the U.S. Senate, they hold the darn troops together. At any rate, that's what happened, and of course his name, Allen, was right up there near the front. We watched him from the gallery go over and speak to Charlie Dean and got down on one knee and had a big conference, then went back and said that he - I don't know if it was the second, third vote or something - that he was going to change his position. I don't think that we had any sense that we had been terribly done in or working to no avail. We darn near made it, and that was closest that the ERA ever came in North Carolina. Because Jim Hunt was Lieutenant Governor and he was prepared to break a tie, and when they walked in that room it was 25-25. Betty McCain and I worked on that together, although we weren't out front together. She worked her side of the street and I worked my side and we communicated on the telephone all the time. If this was in the other interview I gave, stop me.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
Actually the process by which Gordon Allen walked and the fallout from that you did describe in that other interview.
MARTHA MCKAY:
But you see the reason it was in the Senate is because we were too successful in the House. Terror struck the hearts of those guys when the house vote was - I can't remember what it was - but it was over, 60, 70, I don't know. At any rate there were only about 40, it seems to me, "anti" votes. So we were too successful. Then when they were able to get Bill Witchard to agree to postpone the next vote in the House they were able to switch it to the Senate. Betty and I and the people here working - we had an organization set up, we had some paid people here in Raleigh - didn't have but about a weekend to work on the Senate, maybe five days, not much, when they pulled that switch. But we knew it was 25-25 and Gordon Allen had put it in writing to his constituents. Of course you always go to their constituents, to get the commitment from them. Anyway, I did go over that, so that's enough of that. No, we didn't feel like deflated balloons or anything. We felt we fought the good fight. Of course we were disappointed.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
Did you just think then that if you spent more time the next time around it would be successful?
MARTHA MCKAY:
I think we probably were more sanguine than it turned out we should have been about the next time around. In the meantime the opposition got organized. We didn't have that organized opposition, not organized the way they were later on, that first time. Of course we were angry. We were angry because it was simply a maneuver on the part of the leadership, two or three people, that did that. It was not what you might call the will of the groups. It was just maneuvering. Well, of course, that's par for the course, the General Assembly or any other body, that's not something you would say was unique.