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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mary Price Adamson, April 19, 1976. Interview G-0001. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Adamson accused of being a Soviet spy

In the middle of her campaign for governor, Elizabeth Bentley, a former acquaintance from New York, admitted to being a Soviet spy and accused Adamson of aiding her. Adamson defends herself and explains her perspective on her relationship with Bentley, including an assertion that Bentley had made her accusation because Adamson had refused to enter a sexual relationship with her.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mary Price Adamson, April 19, 1976. Interview G-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

you probably have in the back of your mind this terrible unpleasantness about Elizabeth Bentley that broke during that time.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Right. I wanted to ask you about that, but one more thing about the campaign. I wondered if you have any feeling about the role of the press?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
How could I help but have a feeling when the Raleigh News and Observer called me . . .what was the word they used, "North Carolina's biggest complainer?" I've forgotten the exact word, but anyhow, "She's at it again," and all that. That's the kind of clippings that I have in the press book if I would ever get around to looking at them and organizing them again. The press was very hostile.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you have any supporters from the press?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
Well, Austin and the Carolina Times were supporters and I will say that of the whole bunch, the Greensboro Daily News, whether it was because I had worked for the Greensboro Daily News and it was my hometown paper and my brother, Enoch, had worked for them and so had my sister Branson. . .they definitely did not support the Progressive party or my campaign, but they did not go into the real violent attacks.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I wondered about the Elizabeth Bentley incident, when she was testifying in the summer of 1947 . . . .
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
No, it was in the campaign summer when all of that . . . .
MARY FREDERICKSON:
It was actually the summer of 1948?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
That's my memory of it and I fell sure that's right, because I know that my reaction was that this was a putup job to discredit the Progressive party, when the reporters came to see me in the office in Greensboro, my to my surprise, to tell me about this Elizabeth Bentley before the House Un-American Committee in Washington. She had said that she was an agent of the Soviet Union and she had been assisted by me. She got much publicity, you know.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So, you heard about it first from the reporters and they asked you for a statement and you said, I think I read it somewhere, "That's fantastic!" Did you have any idea where she came up with this story?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
The only thing that I could think of . . . .
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you know her?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
I knew her on the basis that I had met her casually in New York as one does, and when she found out that I lived in Washington, and again, as I do, I had a bed in my apartment and said, "Look, if you haven't got a place to stay, you can sleep over at my apartment." I just didn't think about it at all. So, she never asked to sleep there but she would call up and say she was on an expense account and how would I like to have dinner? Well, I just didn't see anything in it but a casual business.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did she ever talk to you about political matters?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
Not really. I came soon to the conclusion that I didn't care for her as a person, as a matter of fact. I rather thought that she made homosexual advances and I didn't care for that and so, I tried to just not be available when she would call. Whether all of this fantasy of hers was a case of a woman scorned or not, I don't know. (Laughter)
MARY FREDERICKSON:
This had been when you were working for Walter Lippman and the acusation that she made was that you had gone through his papers and fed her information. What was his reaction to that? Did you ever talk to him about it?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
I never talked to him about it because I didn't quite know what I should say. By that time, I had gotten hold of legal advice and they advised me not to talk about it, that it was better for me not to be open and tell what I . . .to express myself but to be very careful about what I said. So, I never thought it was proper that I should go and involve Lippman, but I remember quite well that when the press came to him, his remark . . .and this shows what an excellent newspaper man was, his statement was, "It's news to me, if it is so," which pretty well covered the situation and that was enough to say.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I wondered how you would calculate the effect of this on the campaign.
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
Oh, it was terribly distressing to me, I'm sure it had a bad effect on the campaign and I had worked hard.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you feel support sort of slipping, or was it that easy to . . .
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
It was pretty obvious to the people who had been dedicated workers in the campaign about what it was all about. It was the beginning of the McCarthy era. My friends and so forth, they were loyal about it. For instance, in Durham the students said that it wasn't safe for me to sleep alone in the apartment and that on the porch that I was talking about before, they could put a cot out there and they would take turns in coming to stay. I got a rash of telephone calls, ugly telephone calls and so forth. The people who owned the building were wonderful about it. They never tried to get me out and so forth, so there was wonderful loyalty and that meant a great deal to me in general terms about the goodness of people and about specific things when I was in an uncertain situation.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you know the opposition in Durham well, the group that came at the Wallace party that night in Durham? Was it an organized effort that was opposed to you or was it individuals? Crank individual calls, or was it a more concerted effort than that?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
I can only conclude from the fact it was so well organized that it was organized.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
But you didn't know who was . . . .
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
I didn't know at all who was doing it and so far as I know, none of the loyal supporters within the party knew about it at all, but it was obvious on that Wallace tour in the state that there was bound to be some sort of organization. I will not make guesses about it. I have some guesses but I would not like to make them.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was the Klan ever involved directly in leaving any kind of message for you?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
There were no signed messages. There was nothing like that that I could say, "This is a Klan action," or an action of anyone else.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What were the consequences of Bentley's charges on your personal life and within your own family? Did they show the same kind of basic loyalty and support that they had?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
Again, we have respect for each other and there was that kind of loyalty, very much.