Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, November 8, 1990. Interview A-0347. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Recalling the power of race over politics

Talmadge and Egerton chat about the influence of public opinion on reform. Talmadge draws attention to the key role the courts assumed in taking the heat off southern politicians with court orders accomplishing what would be political suicide for a politician.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, November 8, 1990. Interview A-0347. 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

JOHN EGERTON:
Knowing what you know now about all that has happened since 1954 Brown decision and all the civil rights stuff and everything, do you think, if you had it to do over, you'd do anything any different than you did while you were governor? Particularly about your governor's time, I'm not thinking about the senator.
HERMAN TALMADGE:
I'm sure there would have been some particular things I would have done different. What are you referring to?
JOHN EGERTON:
Well, I'm thinking, for example, about the white primary?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
No, I wouldn't have been elected if I'd done different.
JOHN EGERTON:
You wouldn't have had a chance?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Not a snowball's chance in hell.
JOHN EGERTON:
Some people would have said the same thing about Arnall with respect to the poll tax, but he went ahead and took it on.
HERMAN TALMADGE:
No, that was not the issue of the white primary at all.
JOHN EGERTON:
Didn't have the emotional impact?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
In fact, my father supported repealing the poll tax.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did he?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the people were probably in favor of repealing the poll tax, but at that time probably 10-15% of the white people were in favor of repealing the Democrat white primary.
JOHN EGERTON:
So you had a solid 85% white mandate?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Not that many votes because people don't vote directly on issues, but the sentiment of the people was about 85%.
JOHN EGERTON:
That's pretty hard for a politician to ignore, isn't it, if he wants to stay in business?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Well, if you want to challenge it, just don't run for public office. Resort to the courts.