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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Marguerite Tolbert, June 14, 1974. Interview G-0062. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Father sets an example of civic involvement

Tolbert's first interest in politics came from attending Benjamin Tillman's campaign rallies with her father. He set an example for her future activism by staying involved in church and city affairs.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Marguerite Tolbert, June 14, 1974. Interview G-0062. 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

CONSTANCE MYERS:
How did you become interested in political affairs? I think you were, because you were active to some degree in the suffrage movement.
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
At my father's and mother's knees. I came through the era when Benjamin Ryan Tillman rose in South Carolina and was trying to emancipate the farmer and the common man and the poor man, and he became the first governor interested in the farmer. He was called Pitchfork Ben. And then I went to Winthrop and there I ran into Ben personally and his daughter Sally May. She and I sat together in class;a brilliant girl she was.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
What was her name again?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Sally May Tillman, and she's out in Seattle now, Sally May Schuller. I graduated from Winthrop with honors but I worked for mine. But Sally May could just glance at a page and it was hers.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
But your hearing about Ben Tillman's political organization and political career . . .
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
My father was against old Ben. We were against Ben and we fought against Cole L. Blease, who came from Newberry, who they said was the offspring of Ben Tillman. But I learned later to respect Ben Tillman in my old age, in many ways, and at Winthrop too though I disliked him because he didn't give us any holidays. Old times at Winthrop, when you went in September, you stayed till June. Then later, he did give us Christmas holidays. He was dynamic; oh, he was dynamic and brilliant. It would take forever to discuss that. But I went to the political meetings with my father in Laurens Park.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Back in Laurens County.
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Laurens County, right in town.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Was your father then, as well as being an insurance broker, also active in civic affairs?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Very, very much.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
In what capacity?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
In the church and the city. He was just a moving power for good. He would come in and we kept up with everything; politics were discussed around the table. They didn't have very many magazines then. We took the Literary Digest. And they aired the scandal about Teapot Dome. I can see my father coming in now. We kept up with that scandal; worse than Watergate in those days. The Republicans came out and said, (singing) Oh, we ain't gonna steal no more, no more, We ain't gonna steal no more, and the Literary Digest says, How in the hell can the country tell You ain't gonna steal no more?
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Oh, good Lord, that's rare. (laughing)
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Oh, those were rich days!
CONSTANCE MYERS:
Was your father mayor or city councilman?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
No. No, but he was a big leader in the Methodist church and in civic affairs.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
What was his first name?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
James Franklin Tolbert.
CONSTANCE MYERS:
And your mother's name?
MARGUERITE TOLBERT:
Emma.