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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Edwin Caldwell, March 2, 2001. Interview K-0202. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Some political setbacks for Caldwell

After working to elect Howard Lee mayor of Chapel Hill, Caldwell decided to run for the school board, but he was more of an organizer than a politician, and "couldn't get elected." A losing but impressive showing in a county commissioner's primary earned him a reputation, however; but after he rejected the political offers that reputation garnered, he lost the race badly.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Edwin Caldwell, March 2, 2001. Interview K-0202. 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

I decided-after Howard ran for mayor, I decided I was going to run for school board again. I want to say to you its different when you are running for something and not controlling the elections. I couldn't very well run for the school board and call the shots and run the kind of political get out the vote. I couldn't get elected. I didn't have anybody else to step in and do that sort of thing. Everybody sort of expected me to turn the vote out. So I never got elected. I ran for the county commissioners. That's difficult because we are talking county wide, Chapel Hill was an oasis within the county. People would say, "Chapel Hill Liberal you know." Jessie Helms has even said "Chapel Hill liberal we need to build a fence around that University." He thought that for years. When you start talking about running in the county you are talking about a different ballgame. But, I put my name up and I ran for County Commissioners. There were several other people that ran; there was Jimmy Wallace, who later became mayor of Chapel Hill. There was a guy named George Harris, George ran Glenwood Pharmacy. They just sort of put their names up, they didn't think they could win, it was just a good opportunity to get some exposure. I ran seriously, I organized the county the same way I organized Chapel Hill. I made contact with all the political leaders from the North that were black. We organized and got people registered, we knew who was out there. We were going to do the same thing for turning out the vote in Northern Orange that we had done in Chapel Hill. I had worked with them and we were able to do that, let me back up and say how I was able to do that. Jimmy Wallace and George Harris were not know outside of Chapel Hill, very popular in Chapel Hill, but they didn't know anybody in the county. I knew quite a few people in the county. Let me back up and say that my uncle was Albert Leon Stanback. They have a school named after him up in Northern Orange. Everybody knew the principal of the school, everybody knew my Aunt Catherine Stanback. My mother had also taught school up at Cedar Grove and all those people remembered my mother as a teacher. When I went in they all said, "We know you. You are Miss Pearl Caldwell's son. How's she doing? You got our help that's our teacher." A lot of things were already in place because I was going off the reputation of my mother. A lot of people knew my father in Northern Orange because he used to hunt he just has a lot of friends there. Uncle Leon and Aunt Catherine. Everybody knew me up there and they were willing to work. We had this thing organized. One of the things that happened was there were ten people in the race. I knew, and I had calculated, that if I was going to win a seat on the County Commissioners I needed to win it in the first primary. I needed to get the number of votes that I needed so I didn't have to be in a runoff. I think I missed that by twenty something. Which put me in a runoff. Got murdered next time around. Because I think there were about four people that I had to run against. And all those folks who went to those other white candidates went to the people in Northern Orange. What happened in Chapel Hill, because I did so well in the first primary, they said, "he's serious, serious candidate." And when they began to realize that I was running a serious campaign. I was running to win I wasn't running for the sake of running I was running to win. The shakers and movers of the Democratic Party started saying "I want you to run as a coalition between Jimmy Wallace and George Harris." They wanted to put them on my shirttails. I said, "No, I'm running my own independent campaign, I don't run with anybody else, I don't want to go in- [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
So I was still trying to run an independent campaign. They were determined that we were going to run as a coalition, and my campaign started to come apart because I started to loose votes that I had been able to count on from the white community. All kinds of stories began to come out that I had called for what they call a bullet vote or single shot vote. Which I didn't. I just said I was running my own campaign. I had my own literature my own organization. I had people working for me. They were supposed to be doing the same thing and I didn't need to them on the brink come in and question how I was running my campaign. I didn't need that. I didn't need to bring other people in because I all ready had my campaign people that had worked with me. People like Billy Barnes, his wife Ann Barnes, Ann was in the [unclear] for many years. Berlin [unclear] just a number of persons were in my campaign. I had a pretty good campaign staff. I knew also that if I didn't come in the first time, that was held in May, the first week in May. Well the University closed down the first week in May, students went away, I lost that vote. I lost the vote of the professors that had to go on their vacations during that period before summer school started. I said, "its all over for me if I can't come in, and I missed that by twenty votes." And I knew it was all over. I did more-I didn't campaign, I did more trying to hold onto the votes that I had. I was losing them because they were writing letters and editorials that Ed had called for single shotting, he didn't want to support others in a coalition. I got letters home now that I kept. That really bothered me and hurt me, and I was looking for my resume and was looking at the newspaper that I have at home. It says "The Northern Walker Boys and somebody else slaughters Ed Caldwell." And they pretty much did. I knew I couldn't win it, if I couldn't win it on the first time around with ten people in there. I couldn't carry that kind of vote. You've got to understand that Northern Orange was very conservative, very conservative. There were know Klan, I guess you call them Klavets or something. Where they had little organizations in the county, and we knew where they were. Because we had white friends who would say, "Don't go in there. Stay away from there. You ain't doing nothing but risking your life if you go in there. You're not going to get any votes out of there." They let me know where I could go in and that sort of thing. But in the county I depended mainly on the black vote, got very few white votes in the county. Quite an experience, enjoyed it, quite an experience. Got to be. Because I had contacts, I developed a lot of friendships, therefore, I was better known in Northern Orange.