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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Martha C. McKay, March 29, 1974. Interview A-0324. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Defeat of the ERA in the North Carolina General Assembly, 1973

McKay offers an explanation for the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment in the North Carolina General Assembly in 1973. She describes the coalition of women who supported the ERA and she argues that their success in the house may have sparked concern in the senate. McKay describes this as a pivotal moment during which the ERA became controversial because of growing vociferous opposition. As a result, McKay suggests that North Carolina legislators were increasingly reluctant to associate themselves with the ERA and McKay says that it was defeated because of "subterfuge." Two specific incidents she notes in bringing about the defeat of the ERA was the influence of Judge Susie Sharp, who allegedly made telephone calls, and the (possibly exaggerated) illness of Kitch Josey.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Martha C. McKay, March 29, 1974. Interview A-0324. 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

BELINDA RIGGSBEE:
What do you think were the major reasons for the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment?
MARTHA C. McKAY:
Well, it's somewhat complicated. I think that probably the majority of the legislators simply didn't want to have to be recorded on it one way or the other. I think it would have gone on through if groups of preachers and women who were making a lot of noise in opposition hadn't gone down and started lobbying against it. It had not appeared to be controversial when it was first introduced. We knew that it had been fought in other states, of course, we tried to get it up as soon as possible, but anyway, they came down there. I think that once it became somewhat controversial, the fact of the matter was that the majority just didn't want to have to vote one way or the other. They tried, the Democratic leadership, tried to provide them with an out. I believe that had nothing to do with whether they were for it or against it. Because the Democratic leadership, i.e., Ramsey through Watkins, requested Tom Sawyer of Greensboro to put in a bill which would call for a referendum and that wasn't because they wanted to give the people an opportunity to vote, if they wanted to give the people an opportunity to vote on issues of real concern to the state, they'd do a referndum on coastal issues and things like that, like they do in California and other states. And no fault, we're getting nothing. Special interests are running the legislature and it was just an out for them. And that lies directly at the feet of the Democratic leadership. Then, beyond that, the Women's Political Caucus and the ERA Radification Council, which had a number of women's organizations as a part of it . . .
BELINDA RIGGSBEE:
Was that a part of the Women's Caucus, the Radification Council?
MARTHA C. McKAY:
We formed it and we paid for it. There were many women's groups that were in there. The Federation of Women's Clubs, the League of Women Voters, the AAUW, Association of Women Deans for North Carolina, The North Carolina Secretaries Association, United Church Women, just about every women's organization that was of significence in the state. But we of the Caucus, and those organizations . . . and the BPW, they were in there, the Business and Professional Women, they've been working, educating their membership on the Equal Rights Amendment for fifteen or twenty years. And they were a big help in terms of trying to something with the legislature. And then present and past women party officials helped working the party route. What happened was that a great deal of pressure was put on the House to defeat the referendum bill. You see, we had extra work to do that we didn't count on. And I think one reason that it was thrown from the House to the Senate was that we were too successful in that effort. Because they expected it to be about even-steven, even a few days before, they were saying that it would be about fifty-fifty . . .
BELINDA RIGGSBEE:
You mean the referendum bill?
MARTHA C. McKAY:
Yes, that's what people in the legislature were telling us. Give or take a few, with the weight being thrown to the side of the defeat of the referendum bill. The vote, however, was something like eight-six to thirty-two and I think that . . . I don't know whether to use the word, "scared" . . . but it scared them that the women knew how to use the tools of politics that effectively. I mean, that when you begin to move toward the real challenge of power, those that have the power get challenged. The real channels of power is what I started to say . . . and I think that probably was it. I never went over there and interviewed people, but my guess would be that there was a little suprise that it wasn't accepted cheerfully in all quarters. Because what they did immediately was to throw it to the Senate. And they did that by subterfuge . . . I call it subterfuge, I don't know what they would call it. They persuaded the people who were working for the bill in the House and mainly those who were on the House committee that would have to vote it out, that the chairman of that committee was ill and that the eighty-two to thirty-six vote or whatever, he was against the bill, thanks to Judge Susie Sharp . . .
BELINDA RIGGSBEE:
Yes, I've run into her in my research.
MARTHA C. McKAY:
Yeah, well, this guy told me.
BELINDA RIGGSBEE:
Now, was this Folger, Senator Folger was head of the Senate committee . . .
MARTHA C. McKAY:
No, it was
BELINDA RIGGSBEE:
Yeah,
MARTHA C. McKAY:
is a nice guy, I've known him for years, but he was against it and he told me that Susie Sharp's opinion influenced him more than anything else.
BELINDA RIGGSBEE:
And that was brought up at the February 8th hearing, the letter was read, was that the main expression of her opinion?
MARTHA C. McKAY:
She made some telephone calls. This is my understanding, now. She didn't tell me, but I understood him to say that she had made a telephone call. I believe that Kitch used to live in Greensboro before he moved east, and it seems to me that maybe he had lived in Reidsville for a while, which is where Susie Sharp is from. And it's my understanding, and I didn't try to track it down, but that she did make some telephone calls. I wouldn't swear to it, but that's my understanding. My memory is that I heard more than one person say that. That she had made some, quote: "discreet" unquote, telephone calls. At any rate, Kitch Josey has had a couple of heart attacks, but he was able to run for the legislature and was serving and they persuaded one of the very nice legislators that was trying to steer it through the House that . . . of course, they put him in a box and I'm sure that he consulted with others, but they put him in a box, that the vote had been a big blow to Kitch Josey and that he had a couple of heart attacks and that he just wasn't able to call his committee meeting on the following Friday. And the vote was on about a Wednesday, I believe. So, as soon as that young man told me that, I said, "You've been had." However, what can you say, you know, there's a kind of a courtly gamesmanship that goes on and you don't question somebody if they say that someone is ill and they wish to do . . .