Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, August 20 and 21, 1976. Interview A-0328-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Balancing opposition to racism with disapproval of civil rights protestors' tactics

During Sanford's campaign for governor in 1960, his opponent used racist accusations against him. Sanford had to defend his decision to allow civil rights demonstrations while also criticizing the methods and political strategies of the leaders, especially Floyd McKissick and James Farmer.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, August 20 and 21, 1976. Interview A-0328-2. 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

BRENT GLASS:
One other political decision within your administration, that on the race issue, which really hit a crucial point during your administration. Do you think there was any irony to that, the fact that the civil rights movement throughout the country was really reaching a climax during your administration when you had run a campaign in 1960 being somewhat on the defensive on race, feeling that you were somewhat fighting a racist campaign?
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, we had a racist campaign thrown against us, with the last minute. And as I think we pointed out the other day, with my experience in the Frank Graham campaign, I didn't have any question as to where I stood. I had the question of how to handle a delicate situation and keep it in balance, but I never did really consider how to make a decision on that. I always knew that we ought to do the decent thing and the question was how to translate the decent thing into action. There wasn't any question in my mind that we were going to let people conduct peaceful demonstrations. I didn't want to break that up, except under some unusual circumstances where I felt the law and order could be best preserved by a curfew or violence might be thwarted if we put a stop to it at a particular crucial point. But by and large, we let people demonstrate and the law enforcement officers in this state were trained not to break up demonstrations of young blacks, but to keep young blacks and their objectives apart and we pretty effectively did it. I didn't have to make a particular decision about that, I already knew that I wanted to do it. I didn't have to sit around and talk to anybody about whether I ought to do it or not.
BRENT GLASS:
So, this was not a conscious policy that came out of deliberation?
TERRY SANFORD:
No. I grew up, more or less, already having made that decision twenty-five years earlier. Now, the only decision that I finally did make was to have a television speech in which I said that the demonstrations had to stop, they were past the point of having any effective value in communicating what the problem is, so I wanted all these young blacks to meet with me. I brought Capus Waynick in and then later, we started the Good Neighbor Council. Well, all those were ideas of how to carry out an approach to fairness, but I didn't have to sit down and decide to be fair.
BRENT GLASS:
I was rereading that book that you gave me, North Carolina and the Negro and it seems like Chapel Hill was one of the major situations in which you . . . and I also read John Ehle's The Free Men, I don't know if you've had a chance to look at that recently . . .
TERRY SANFORD:
Oh, yes. Well John Ehle's book is a fair history of that. You ought not to overlook the fact that he reports rather casually that all of those people got out of jail and were rehabilitated, or put in a position where they sort of start without having this hanging over them. What was overlooked in John's book . . . I did all that, nobody else in the state had the power to do it but the governor. I cleaned all that up.
BRENT GLASS:
Commuting their sentences and . . .
TERRY SANFORD:
All of them. John helped place a great many of those people, but the only way that they could get out was with my judgement that they ought to be out. What bothered me about that was that all we had done was so vastly misunderstood by people who wanted to take advantage of it for their own benefit. Floyd McKissick was one of them and James Farmer was another one of them. Basically the good crusders but what they basically wanted to achieve was proper, but to come here in the middle of a hot campaign, where the old racist, Dr. Lake was running again and to deliberately plan to have a confrontation that couldn't help but elect Lake, or certainly defeat the more enlightened candidate. Certainly Moore was not unenlightened, but it had a great deal to do with defeating Preyer. At the same time, they were debating in the national Congress, with Sam Ervin leading the way, and Sam in his own time was a pretty good racist, too. He later reformed. At that time he was leading the fight against open accomodations laws. We were in the middle of a Democratic primary to elect a sucessor. I resented it, among other things. I also felt that I had been pushed around long enough and when Farmer and McKissick promised to shut down the government, I reminded them that they didn't have the power and I wasn't going to let them do it. I talked very tough to them and I should have talked tough to them. Lake's political comment in the campaign was that I was too slow in talking to them. That may or may not be true, but they stopped, of course. They didn't carry forward their threats and it's a damn good thing they didn't.
BRENT GLASS:
Had they provoked you in other ways?
TERRY SANFORD:
No. I had been very patient. I understood their problems and I understood their frustrations. I had been extremely patient with them and maybe, as Lake says, too patient. I don't think so. I think that you had to understand a century of being downtrodden and finally they were beginning to see some light and you could expect some excesses. We had to be careful that they didn't damage society and didn't damage someone else.