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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George Esser, June-August 1990. Interview L-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Black supporters of the Republican Party

Esser offers some insights into black leadership in North Carolina. He describes how some black leaders threw their support to the Republican Party in order to gain access to influential politicians. Nathan Garrett supported Governor James Martin, and Floyd McKissick shocked his constituents by supporting Richard Nixon. In exchange, McKissick won support for Soul City.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George Esser, June-August 1990. Interview L-0035. 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

Is Nathan, would you describe him as part of black power in North Carolina?
GEORGE ESSER:
Well, very much.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Or does he provide access for you?
GEORGE ESSER:
It's very interesting. when Reagan won in '81, Garrett and Sullivan had a lot of Labor Department contracts, which immediately were terminated.
FRANCES WEAVER:
You mentioned that on the tape.
GEORGE ESSER:
They decided that they were never going to let that happen again. So Nathan supported the Republican ticket in '84 and '88, the Republican state ticket. He's never supported Jesse Helms, but he supported Martin, and for that reason he has had real access to Martin. And Wanda, his wife, is a member of the Probation Commission. I would say that probably the vote for Republican candidates for statewide office, let's say governor, only five or six percent, but it includes some able people. I think it's better that there be some access on the part of people like Nathan to people like [unclear] Martin, than that there be no access at all. Or that it be done by people who are really hustlers. I'll never forget the shock out in North Carolina when Floyd McKissick supported Nixon in 1968.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Yeah, we weren't here then, but I guess so [Laughter] .
GEORGE ESSER:
Well, the payoff on that was Soul City. And he got the support of the federal government. And I won't say, you know, Soul City went bankrupt, but even today there are—well, Soul City exists physically, and there are people in the area who participated in that who have been successful. And it made a lot of difference in Warren and Vance counties.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Did it?
GEORGE ESSER:
Well, for example, warren County today has a black controlled Board of County Commissioners and County Manager.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Wow, yeah, and that, you think, is directly related to Soul City?
GEORGE ESSER:
I don't think it would have happened with Soul City. Now, that doesn't mean that, in warren County you've also got some of the worst relationships between—well, you've got more tension between white and black leaderships then you so in, let's say, North Hampton.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Where in the black leadership in this state now?
GEORGE ESSER:
Well, I think that it's primarily concentrated in the major cities in the Piedmont.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Businessmen?
GEORGE ESSER:
Well, some businessmen but lawyers are the leaders, the Dan Blues, the Mickey Michauxs. Now, obviously Harvey Gantt is now a lawyer.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Howard Lee?
GEORGE ESSER:
Howard Lee, well, Howard Lee is not a lawyer but he's a leader.
FRANCES WEAVER:
And he's part of the black power structure.
GEORGE ESSER:
That's right.