Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James B. Hunt, May 18, 2001. Interview C-0329. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Government as a positive and useful force in individual lives

The political orientation of Hunt's parents and the social realities of his hometown led Hunt to view government as a positive force. He argues that education in particular provides a means of improving private enterprise.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James B. Hunt, May 18, 2001. Interview C-0329. 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

JACK FLEER:
In your hometown I guess we can call Rock Ridge home. Is that right? In your hometown in addition to your parents, were there influences that came to bear on your formulating an interest in politics?
JAMES B. HUNT:
Well, not a whole lot locally. I lived in a county that had a pretty, a very conservative county government. I didn't live in a town. I lived out in the county. In fact my uncle was a county commissioner, and he was actually beaten in a campaign by a more conservative candidate. He was not, he was not liberal, but he was progressive, wanted to do things for the county, helped them get a new hospital and things like that. So I saw, rather than seeing too many candidates who were really progressive for the people and going to try to help change things and make your life better, I saw mainly people who were ultra-conservative and who would not make the kinds of public investments in schools and other things that we needed. I was turned off by that and knew that there had to be a better way. My family was always deeply interested in education. My mother was a teacher. We were always attuned to candidates who wanted to do something big to improve schools. That's why I responded to Terry Sanford when he came along as the person in my time who had made the strongest proposals to improve our schools, not a little bit but in a dramatic way.
JACK FLEER:
What you're talking about seems to me or reflects the idea that government can be a positive force in the lives of individuals. What you also refer to in terms of your uncle and his opponent, it seems like there was a lot of conservatism and maybe some resistance to government. Why do you think—
JAMES B. HUNT:
I call it ultra-conservatism, just really opposed to spending any money for schools or anything else.
JACK FLEER:
Why do you think your family took a position that government could be a positive force? Where do you think that came from because it's obviously still an influence in your life today?
JAMES B. HUNT:
Well, see it depends on how you define government. I define government as an organization we all belong to, have an equal vote in and one that has the authority and the resources to improve your lives especially in education and the infrastructure, roads and highways and so forth. I think that my family was progressive in philosophy, one, because they cared deeply about other human beings and their opportunities in life to improve themselves. They had the confidence and the motivation to want to change things and improve them. They were not willing to sit back and let fate run its course or let other people fend for themselves. I trace it directly to our Judeo-Christian heritage and our work ethic and our action ethic that we ought to do something to help others. It's the golden rule. Jesus the Christ talked about it. We took it very seriously, still do. We believe we have a responsibility to help people to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit those in prison and to help them have a good education and a good job. Those commandments I think we have to live out in our lives, and my family believed that, and they were very active. It wasn't just a matter of government. Hey, it was getting government to authorize a referendum so you could have a new hospital. You do it, and let us vote for it. It's us. Government is a means. It's a kind of tool we use. It isn't the only tool. Most of what we do to create jobs is done through the private sector, ought to be. I believe strongly in private enterprise. But I also know that you have to work through your government to kind of give people that opportunity to be educated so they can compete and be successful in that private sector.