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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William C. Friday, November 19, 1990. Interview L-0144. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Impact of Graham's 1950 senatorial campaign

Friday discusses his work in Frank Porter Graham's 1950 senatorial campaign. Citing the "racial hatred" that permeated political opposition to Graham's candidacy, Friday argues that the campaign dissuaded him from ever pursuing his own career in politics. Instead, he chose to "work through other people," which he describes briefly.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William C. Friday, November 19, 1990. Interview L-0144. 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

How did the Senate race of 1950 affect you? In your view, did it affect you, at all?
Yes. Well, I, like anybody else, at that age, at that time, I didn't become bitter about it, I just knew that that was no way for a state to make a decision. The racial hatred part of it, to me, was just a disaster. But it drove me away from political involvement, as a participant. I said, "I don't want to waste my life fooling with that kind of garbage and trash." And I haven't regretted that decision at all, because I learned that someone in an administrative position in a university, at the level that I was privileged to serve, can do so much more than a governor or senator, when it comes to getting lasting things done in a state. And I've often said that being President of the University was a much better position than being Governor of the State anytime, because for that reason. Now, you don't go out and gain a lot of notoriety, and they don't do this-or-that. But, if that's what you want to do you ought to go on and get in politics, and take your chances. But, more than that, I really did not approve of what happened there, in any way personally. And that influenced me as much as anything in this most recent Senatorial decision. And it's a terrible commentary on our State, but it has to acknowledge it, it's true.
So, it sort of affected the way that, subsequently, when you @ the possibility of political involvement, [unclear]
I worked through other people. I worked to help Terry Sanford. And then I think I've been involved with nine different Governor's. And in each of cases, myߞI felt my opportunity was to show them how effectively the University could serve the State, but not be dominated by the political process. Keep it cleaner and [unclear] . And that was why I did it that way. But, no, I will acknowledge, at this time, when I saw what was happening, and I don't mean it was going to be, and I knew that Harvey Gantt couldn't win, with the way they were doing in the last two weeks. There was a moment or two when I wished I had done it this time. But, they would have done the same thing to the University all over again. And one of hisߞone of the people working in his office who'd been a life-long friend of mine, came to me and said, he was just not going to let what they planned happen to me, without telling me. And he told me of the accumulated files they have over there, at the campaign headquarters, of the Speaker Ban law, the medical school, the homosexuals, the community church, first one thing and another. Well, you know, what you come down to say to yourself is that what right do I have to drag the University through all that again. So, I went outside the State, and then I've known Lou Harris for a long time, I sent him the results of a poll that had been run by the AFL-CIO, did I tell you this before?
And that poll showed that in the first series of questions, and that's pollster's way of doing things, they asked eight questions right out, and then they discuss several areas of crisis in a given situation, and then they ask another series of questions. Well, the first question, of course, is just a flat-out: If you had to vote between these two people, who would you chose? Well, two percentage points separated us on that question, and he was first. When they finished the interview, the thing shifted and forty-two percent would have voted for me, and twenty-two percent for him. And I said, "Louis, what this says is that a) he can be beaten this time, and b) it'll take somebody who is not controversial, but who's firm and clean to beat him. And Louis answered, "All of that is correct," he said, "What have you got when it's over?" He said, "You'll know what he'll do." And saidߞI said, "If I were you I'd ask myself what right have I got to do this to the University?" I just said, "I just don't want to be responsible for it." And I'd done what I considered a harder days work as I could do, every day I was in there. And I didn't feel that I had failed in any way, to do that, whether I succeeded or not, is another question. But, after that, and thinking about it was when I decided I wasn't going to be tempted. But, everyone that looked at that, and everybody that called, and everyone that studied those things, said, "You can remove him." And I said, "But, at what price?" So, you know, it's a personal call at that stage.