Title: Oral History Interview with Edward L. Rankin, August 20, 1987. Interview C-0044.
Interviewer: Jenkins, Jay
Interviewee: Rankin, Edward L.
Subjects: School integration--North Carolina North Carolina--Politics and government Pearsall Plan North Carolina--Biography
Abstract: In 1948, Edward L. Rankin left his job as a journalist in order to work as William Umstead's press assistant during the his gubernatorial campaign. Umstead was not elected in 1948, but when he chose to run again in 1952, Rankin eagerly joined him on the campaign trail and became Umstead's private secretary after his election that year. Rankin describes his perception of Umstead as a personal friend and as a political figure, his struggle with illness, and his death in 1954. Rankin focuses on Umstead's reaction to the Brown v. Board of Education decision, handed down just prior to his untimely demise. According to Rankin, Umstead took care to understand the meaning of the decision and its potential ramifications for the South before working to establish a citizens group headed by Tom Pearsall. Although Umstead believed that Brown was a mistake on the part of the Supreme Court, he was determined that North Carolina would abide by the Court's decree. Following Umstead's death, Rankin stayed on as private secretary to Umstead's successor, Luther Hodges. According to Rankin, although Hodges and Umstead had not had the most congenial personal relationship, Hodges was determined to maintain Umstead's approach to the issue of school desegregation. Rankin describes in detail the activities of the Pearsall group, the spectrum of responses to the Brown decision and the Pearsall Plan (1956), and efforts to challenge its implementation. He discusses the leadership roles of such individuals as Governor Hodges, Tom Pearsall, lawyer Paul Johnston, and state superintendent Charlie Carroll. Rankin's recollection of this tumultuous time in North Carolina history draws attention to the role of political leaders in mediating a potentially explosive political minefield.