Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, December 18, 1990. Interview L-0050. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Running for governor in support of civil rights in North Carolina

Sanford briefly discusses his adherence to advocating for civil rights in his 1961 gubernatorial campaign. Sanford recalls how forces of racism had prevented Frank Porter Graham from becoming governor in 1950 and how the same had nearly happened to Kerr Scott in 1954. Sanford describes his own campaign against segregationist Beverly Lake, arguing that he would rather have lost the election than to have compromised on his support of civil rights.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, December 18, 1990. Interview L-0050. 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

Can you comment on just the reaction to the statement that you made in January of '63? It was the first time John Ely mentioned in his book in history that a southern white governor had made an open stand for the rights of Negroes or the rights of black people? How did you receive criticism for that statement and what made you come out openly for the rights of blacks?
Well, I think we took that position to a certain degree during the campaign which was a very difficult position to take because nobody had ever in the South run a campaign against a racist attack by being decent. And so how did you do that? I'd seen Frank Graham lose his campaign in 1950 and I'd seen what the racial attack almost did to Kerr Scott in '54. Then we ran against Beverly Lake who was an all out segregationist. I think the most recent statement to me the last time I saw him a year or two ago was that the great tragedy of American history is that the South lost the Civil War. So that's the man I was running against.
What was his name again?
Beverly Lake. His son has now almost won a Supreme Court position. You know, he's been testing the election over here right now in Durham. So, we had beaten down a racist campaign which some people say is the first time in a statewide race in the South post Civil War that that was done. So, we had been very careful to be against segregation by being for the Supreme Court decision. And unlike Virginia, with this massive resistance, we were going to answer it with massive intelligence. We had staked ourselves out. And furthermore, I think we had staked ourselves out to history that I would have rather been right on that issue than to have won. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to win by compromising on that issue. I thought it was so important in the sweep of history that North Carolina not pay like South Carolina and Alabama and Mississippi and to a certain extent, Georgia. So, there wasn't any question that we were going to take the right position on it. The only question was how far can we push that politically. And we pushed it pretty far. We pushed it far enough that Richardson Preyor couldn't win and pushed it far enough when I ran for President in '72, they got even with me.