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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Sidney S. McMath, September 8, 1990. Interview A-0352. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The Dixiecrat Revolution and the Democratic Party's civil rights program in 1948

McMath discusses his successful bid for the governorship of Arkansas in 1948. Focusing on the nature of southern politics, McMath places his campaign within the context of the Dixiecrat revolt, led by Strom Thurmond and Fielding Wright. McMath describes his support of Harry S. Truman (and that of Arkansas voters) during this time, particularly of his civil rights program. Consequently, McMath explains that as governor, he sought to include African Americans in the Democratic Party and open up opportunities in higher education.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Sidney S. McMath, September 8, 1990. Interview A-0352. 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:
The visibility that you gained on that, and in '48 you ran for governor, and got elected in a run-off primary against a man who raised the race issue.
SID MCMATH:
That's right. As a matter of fact, we had several opponents. One of them was Jack Holt, and one was Uncle Mack McCrill. I forget who the others, several others.
JOHN EGERTON:
But it was Holt that made the run-off?
SID MCMATH:
Holt made the run-off. I got into the run-off by 12,000 votes. McCrill was eliminated, but McCrill had a very strong following. He was a radio preacher, had a little orphanage, and he would go out and give out flour and things. He had a strong following among rural people. In the last days of that election, which was in August, they raised the race issue. They told the people I was going to hire black policemen and so forth and so forth. It was catching fire. As a matter of fact, our lead was cut down because of that.
JOHN EGERTON:
Well, if you put that in the context of what was going on, that was Dixiecrat summer.
SID MCMATH:
Oh sure.
JOHN EGERTON:
Even the governor of Arkansas at that time, Ben Laney, had effectively left the Democratic Party to help run a campaign for Thurmond and . . .
SID MCMATH:
They walked out of the convention with Strom Thurmond and Fielding Wright. Strom Thurmond was running for president, Fielding Wright for vice president, on the Dixiecrat ticket.
JOHN EGERTON:
Which was a racist thing?
SID MCMATH:
A racist thing. That's right.
JOHN EGERTON:
That's clear and simple, what it was.
SID MCMATH:
That's right. And they were against Truman because of his attitude toward race and fair employment and these other things that finally became a matter of course later on, this social legislation. Of course, Ben Laney joined them as--he was governor. When the primary was over, the gubernatorial primary, that was tantamount to election, in August, 1946. Well, I started campaigning for Truman, and he carried Arkansas by a large plurality. As a matter of fact, I think he got a better percentage vote, I know, than any state in the South, because I don't think he carried any states, maybe Arkansas and Texas. I'm not sure he carried Texas.
JOHN EGERTON:
I don't believe he did.
SID MCMATH:
Anyway, he carried Arkansas by a large plurality vote, and he never forgot it. Truman came back to Arkansas. He came to Arkansas three times during his presidency. People were very helpful to us in our water development program and extending our rural electrification program and so forth. I got to know him quite well, and he was a great president.
JOHN EGERTON:
Right, he was. What concessions did you feel you had to make in that primary campaign to this notion that all the charges . . .
SID MCMATH:
I didn't make any concession. I didn't even deal with the issue.
JOHN EGERTON:
Well, I mean, like on the question of the Truman civil rights and that kind of thing?
SID MCMATH:
Oh, oh, I see. Well, I supported it. I didn't make any concessions. I supported it. Of course, one thing I was for was, you know, this tidlands oil thing was an issue, see. The Texans wanted the tidlands oil, and California wanted the tidlands oil and so forth. I took the position that Truman had taken that the tidlands oil belonged to the federal government and should go for national educational programs, you see, as well as giving to the states. That was one thing. Of course, on the civil rights issue and the fair employment and so forth, I supported the Truman civil rights program.
JOHN EGERTON:
You did?
SID MCMATH:
Yeah. 'Course, I opposed the poll tax. I tried to abolish the poll tax which was one of his plans.
JOHN EGERTON:
Federal antilynching law?
SID MCMATH:
Yeah, and I introduced an antilynching law. 'Course, we, in the state Democratic convention in November of 1946, changed the rules so that the blacks could be members of the Democratic Party. You know, the Democratic Party was an all white party, see, and that was tantamount to disenfranchising black people. Because at that time you had no Republican Party, no viable Republican Party, and a Democratic nomination was tantamount to election. So they really didn't have anybody to vote for. So we took them into the Democratic Party. We got money to build the [black] A&M College at Pine Bluff and get it accredited. We had a black student go to med school, and a black student enter the law school.