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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Daniel Duke, August 22, 1990. Interview A-0366. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Contested Georgian governorship in the mid-1940s

Duke offers his account of the Georgia gubernatorial election in the mid-1940s in which the state legislature temporarily awarded the governorship to Herman Eugene Talmadge, after the death of his father. According to Duke, Talmadge's people arranged for votes (which were likely illegitimate) and he describes how they sought to wrangle control of the capital from outgoing Governor Ellis Arnall. His recollections offer an intriguing anecdotal description of a tumultuous period in Georgia politics.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Daniel Duke, August 22, 1990. Interview A-0366. 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:
When you were assistant attorney general and Arnall was still the governor but it was towards the end of his term when all that trouble, you know, when Herman was going to run . . .
DANIEL DUKE:
Well, he didn't run. His daddy won the race and died in Jacksonville before he could take office.
JOHN EGERTON:
That's right. Then Herman decided that he was the heir attorney.
DANIEL DUKE:
See, they knew old man Gene was in dying condition. They called Telfair County where he lived and they had a bunch of votes for Herman on the ballot. That was the wedge that they could get this thing before the legislature to elect him.
JOHN EGERTON:
In other words, they created a candidacy for him.
DANIEL DUKE:
They had it. They claimed he got six or seven hundred votes, write-in votes for governor. On that basis, they said that since his daddy was dead he would be the governor. Well, of course, the lieutenant governor thing, that was the first election they had. The constitution had been changed for the lieutenant governor to take over because of the governor's disability. But it didn't say anything about what happened if the governor died between the time he was elected and time he took office. So they got in between that hoping that they could say that Talmadge had the votes and therefore his son . . . Well, the legislature went along with that and they put him in - the legislature - said that Herman was the Governor. They came down there and took the doors off the governor's office and they were sitting back there.
JOHN EGERTON:
Ellis was still official.
DANIEL DUKE:
Oh, yes, he was the governor then.
JOHN EGERTON:
Until the inauguration, that's right. I remember that day because I was somewhere at Emory University for something and that night Mrs. Fellows, who was secretary for the governor, said, "we want you to be over here. The governor is in his office and he is not going to leave and we think there is going to be trouble. These people are coming in from all over the state, what we call the wool hat boys. They are out in the halls cussing and raising Cain." Ellis had told them he wasn't going to give it over. He turned the governorship over to Thompson. She said, "we want you, we've called several people. We would like to have you over here to be around." So I left and came and I remember as I came up the steps and came into the rotunda of the capitol there were a bunch of these fellows. Some of them said, "there's that Duke son of a bitch." I went on in the governor's office. The word came down from the legislature that they had elected Herman. The way it was, they framed this thing was, the highest two people would have to run it out in the legislature. So the way they got Herman in before the thing was to say he got these few votes in Telfair County. They later said that a lot of names were taken off of people that had been buried. Anyway, the legislature on that basis elected him. They came down to claim the office. I remember Roy Harris was Speaker of the House. I was in the front office. They had a tree that they had cut down and they were all holding it to knock the door down if they had too. They were throwing liquor bottles against the walls. I was in there along with a lot of other people.
JOHN EGERTON:
This would have been in 1945 if I'm not mistaken.
DANIEL DUKE:
That's probably right.
JOHN EGERTON:
What time of year would it have been?
DANIEL DUKE:
It was January. I would not be an assistant attorney general I knew after that day. I was in there and they came in there and they had this battering ram but they didn't do it. Somebody knew how to take the things off the hinges. They knocked that door down and they poured in there. They went in there and they didn't assault Ellis Arnall but they moved him out of his desk and put Herman in. Ellis went out in the rotunda and said he would preside as governor there and that he had the duty to stay on as governor until Thompson took the oath or the court said for him to move out. So Herman went in and moved into the Governor's Mansion and stayed in there about ninety days. Of course, the case was already framed, they knew what to do.