Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with David Burgess, September 25, 1974. Interview E-0001. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A weak black coalition and lack of aggression causes Graham's 1950 senatorial defeat

Burgess assesses Frank Graham's 1950 Senate campaign. Accused of pro-black sentiments, Graham lost the election to Willis Smith. Burgess argues that the passivity of North Carolina blacks and of Graham crushed Graham's candidacy and the southern labor movement as a whole. These sentiments are repeated later in the transcript.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with David Burgess, September 25, 1974. Interview E-0001. 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

BILL FINGER:
One thing that comes up in the '50 campaign that's . . . I don't think has been as clear, is how much of a coalition between labor and blacks and liberal whites actually was operative and represented any power, places like Durham where the tobacco workers were active.
DAVID BURGESS:
Yeah. Well, I would say the analysis goes something like this, at that time: Since 1901, the Black Codes and, say late 1890's, the . . . you never really had a militant black movement in this state, say the first 50 years of the 20th century. You had a much more virulent and strong movement in South Carolina, in terms of . . . even voter registration or any measurement. Therefore in 1950 we were dealing essentially with little pockets of black power-a very weak black movement. I think it was a coalition, but a coalition of leadership with somewhat a precarious coalition base. Second, we had to fight the usual racial appeals. In the textile industry the blacks were in the picker room, and the less desirable jobs, sweeper jobs, they never really moved up into the spinning or spooling jobs . . . actually the machine job of spinning. Union members were racially divided but they would be classified as red necks and bigots. I was quite unhappy that Frank Graham never attacked Willis Smith, his rival, for the Senate seat. Terry Sanford who later became Governor of North Carolina, of course, was the campaign manager, and I remember going to see him a couple of times, said, "Frank's gotta say something." We in the CIO were putting out pamphlets attacking Smith's anti-labor position.
BILL FINGER:
You were doing this in labor papers?
DAVID BURGESS:
Yeah, and we were working very hard on registration, and of course we had no real hold in eastern NOrth Carolina where the campaign was ultimately decided. Willis Smith was terribly effective in the last few weeks of the second go-around. But I remember I worked that night . . . primary campaign, I was working in Rockingham, taking people to the polls and all that sort of business. I came home to Rock Hill and learned about the defeat. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth. I always remember the story . . well, you've probably heard it from other people . . . about Frank Graham's role in the Raleigh headquarters the night of the defeat. He was going around hugging ladies and encouraging the men and everybody was in tears except him.