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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 >>

ERA narrowly defeated at the last minute in North Carolina

McKay describes the process by which the Equal Rights Amendment was narrowly defeated in the North Carolina General Assembly in 1973. First, she explains how she and other advocates of the ERA vigorously campaigned so that on the day of the vote, the ERA should have gone through the senate with a 25-25 split. Jim Hunt, then serving as lieutenant governor, was prepared to break the tie. The morning of the vote, however, two state senators, Mike Mullins and Gordon Allen, changed their votes of supports to votes of opposition, resulting in the defeat of the ERA.

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

At any rate, then the Senate committee met on Friday and I believe that it was voted out by an 8 to 7 favorable majority. But you see, the House knew we were worse off in the Senate than we were in the House, they knew that. The Senate all year long, last year and this year has been, as H.L. Mencken used to say, "a Sahara." I mean that it has just been devoid of leadership, character, you know, the whole smear. They have been perfectly awful. The legislature hasn't been good, but the Senate has been dreadful. Also, we had worked on the Senators, we had worked on those committee members very hard to get a favorable vote. Because a bill that doesn't get a favorable vote is hardly ever voted on favorably and they would have used that for an out on ERA. We worked very hard on the committee. But, we had not lobbyed the Senators, we had spent, I don't know, five or six weeks or whatever the time period was, doing nothing but working on House members. Nothing. I mean, I could pull out my . . . that's what I had marked. We just went over and over them. I called people like Pat Taylor to call Hightower. I mean we used everybody, I mean, we've been doing it for years, we just haven't gotten credit for it. If I was to pull out my phone bill, you'd see . . . my phone bill one month was three hundred dollars. We raised money, fortunately, we raised money, so, I didn't have to pay for this one, although I've paid for plenty. I imagine that I called at least six hundred dollars worth. And see, we had she's a Republican woman, and he was assigned to her, and she reported back to here that Locke, no. See here, I marked on this, this one is signed yes. See, we sent out things and over fifty per cent of them were signed yes before they walked in the door. We know who signed and then who chickened, which is a kind word for it. At any rate, here they are, signed "yes", signed "yes", . . .
BELINDA RIGGSBEE:
Would you comment on Mike Mullins and Gordon Allen backing out at the last minute.
MARTHA C. McKAY:
O.K. Just let me finish this. So, we had done all that work, as you can see, and so we were fearful. However, we went to work on the Senate and we didn't have but about five days. And we worked like dogs and we had it. When they walked in there, we had it twenty-five, twenty-five. And they knew it.
BELINDA RIGGSBEE:
And you believe that you had it.
MARTHA C. McKAY:
We did have it. We had it in committments. We can't help it if they are liars. You know, they're not honorable men. Gordon Allen wrote a constituent and said, "I intend to vote, I haven't made up my mind all those times, but now I intend to vote, when it comes up, for ERA." And he wrote that the weekend before. On Saturday night before that vote, we had it. As a matter of fact, we had it twenty-seven on Saturday night. Well, two that had been kind of wavering, flaked out before Wednesday.
BELINDA RIGGSBEE:
Who were they.
MARTHA C. McKAY:
One of those that we thought we had a chance with was Barker. The Democrat Barker from Wake County. And he flaked out. We found out that morning, and somebody else that we thought we had flaked out.
BELINDA RIGGSBEE:
But, that still would have been twenty-five.
MARTHA C. McKAY:
When they walked in the door, it was twenty-five, twenty-five. Mullins had given his committment, and so had Gordon Allen. In writing. So, I had exactly . . . see, you understand that the issue of the Equal Rights Amendment had nothing to do with it. Gordon Allen did not want to make Jim Hunt a hero. Hunt had already announced that he was going to break the tie. Right.
BELINDA RIGGSBEE:
In favor of it.
MARTHA C. McKAY:
That's right. And by that time, Allen must have realized that every woman who had ever worked in politics, practically, was for the ERA. Every organization. The women who worked the system were for ERA. The ones who were against it, we never heard of them before or since. The woman who headed it up was a proud and avowed member of the John Birch Society. And they don't run politics in North Carolina. So, I think that it was very simple. Gordon Allen did not want to make Jimmy Hunt a hero. And again, he went over . . . I saw him go over to Deane, Charlie Deane and Kneel down and start talking to him on the floor. And then I saw Charlie put his head down and of course, what he was doing was telling him that he was going to change his vote. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE A] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
MARTHA C. McKAY:
. . . if I had been Charlie and I don't criticize Charlie, everybody has to operate in his or her own way. But I would have said, "Gordon, you gave me your word and I'm really going to ask you to keep it." That's part of the rules, too, you can do that. He hadn't released him. Of course, it's usual that people do release people, but with a twenty-five, twenty-five, I would have said, "Sorry Gordon, I've helped you on this bill and that bill and I want you to, I'm asking you, I will not release you." I figure myself, that Mullins would never have had the nerve to switch if Allen hadn't switched. He was a freshman and I may be wrong, but I figure that he wouldn't have.
BELINDA RIGGSBEE:
Well, was there any visible signs with Mullins, like you say the way that Gordon Allen went over and talked to Charlie Deane?
MARTHA C. McKAY:
No, because you see, Mullins is a Republican and I tell you the truth, I don't know who was keeping up with the Republicans. Taylor was with us, Charles Taylor. He was the minority leader. I guess he still is. See, I had him marked "o.k." At any rate, I don't know, I can't say. I feel myself that if Allen had not . . . and you see, I think that Alford is the first name and Allen is the second, he's second name called and I question whether or not Mullins would have gotten up there and been the one to cause the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment. But I think that Gordon's reasons are very, very simple. He has had an interest, so it is said, in running for governor. We all know that Jimmy Hunt is running for governor and it would have made Jimmy Hunt a hero.