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Title: Oral History Interview with J. Carlton Fleming, [date unknown]. Interview B-0068. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Fleming, J. Carlton, interviewee
Interview conducted by Moye, Bill
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Mike Millner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2006
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Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
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2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
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Title of sound recording: Oral History Interview with J. Carlton Fleming, [date unknown]. Interview B-0068. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series B. Individual Biographies. Southern Oral History Program Collection (B-0068)
Author: Bill Moye
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with J. Carlton Fleming, [date unknown]. Interview B-0068. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series B. Individual Biographies. Southern Oral History Program Collection (B-0068)
Author: J. Carlton Fleming
Description: 73.6 Mb
Description: 20 p.
Note: Interview conducted on [date unknown], by Bill Moye; recorded in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Unknown.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series B. Individual Biographies, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with J. Carlton Fleming, [date unknown].
Interview B-0068. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Fleming, J. Carlton, interviewee

Interview Participants

    J. CARLTON FLEMING, interviewee
    BILL MOYE, interviewer


Page 1
Let me say since we've got the machine on that I'm Bill Moye, and I'm talking with Mr. J. Carlton Fleming in his office in Charlotte on the 18th of August 1975. I appreciate your allowing me the time. Let me say just a bit about what I'm doing. I am writing a dissertation in History for Chapel Hill sort of on Charlotte politics. Economics, too, to some extent. Culminating primarily with the consolidation attempt there in 1971. I have read some of both the Observer and the News, and I've talked to a few other people. So, I have sort of an idea. There are still sort of some questions that I have. You, I believe, were involved in that 1963 or 1964 committee of the Chamber of Commerce to study the feasibility of some form of. . .
That's right. There was a Chamber committee at that time. I guess that was not the first. There was probably some antecedent history before that, Bill. That particular committee looked at other efforts in other places around the country. Durham was one, for example, which had had an abortive attempt at consolidation. Dr. Rankin, whom you may know over in the political science at Duke, was very heavily involved in that effort. I may be a little confused on chronology here, but it seems to me we looked at efforts in other places that, at that point, perhaps, had been unsuccessful but later became successful.
Yeah. We've been in and out of this question at different

Page 2
points in the last ten or twelve years. As I remember, as we locked at it roughly around the '63 or '64 period, we gave some consideration to what the status of the effort was in both Jacksonville and Nashville as well as the results that had been somewhat disheartening up in Durham. I guess our conclusion there was, and you'll probably find this documented over in the Chamber files, was that consolidation was a worthwhile goal. That there were two ways of considering it. One was functional consolidation. Another was political consolidation. That the community seemed to have a good start on functional consolidation as it was. That probably the most important thing to consolidate politically or functionally was the school system which had already been consolidated here for some years. and Some other things were on the verge of consolidation or were already consolidated, like the city-county tax office, for example. Some other functions that were subject to relatively easy merger. Therefore, there was really no tremendous impetus to attempt right at that time, '63 and '64 if that's when it was, I have no independent recollection of the years . . .Perhaps the better wisdom dictated the continuing efforts to functionally consolidate. One morning you'd wake up, and you'd be so close to it that to take the final steps would be relatively easy for everybody to accept. I guess that really is sort of the thesis of that particular study.
Then, I guess in about '67 or '68, the Chamber makes consolidation

Page 3
part of its program of work. Then, there's a Martin committee and the Griffith committee. Then, lagislation and the Charter Commission. Why did it happen to come up at that time? Was there . . . There had been some functional consolidation in the meantime with the health department and some attempt at cooperation in the police. The water-sewer situation was sort of coming to a head at that time. Was there a particular stimulus that, or was it as you said, maybe you were sort of in the process of waking up and deciding that this was the logical . . .
I don't know that there was any particular impetus to put it at that time rather than earlier or later except that that was just a time when the [unknown] individuals who were particularly interested in the subject seemed to coalese, I suppose you'd say, and say, "Well, let's get on with it. This is the thing we ought to do. Let's move forward with it." I think it was really more a result of specific persons who had specific ideas deciding that they'd like to have those ideas implemented. It's just the fact that those people seemed to come together and arrive at that conclusion at that time. I don't think there was any particular magic to having tried it at that time rather than some earlier or later time.
Who were some of those individuals? Mr. Lowe? Mr. Brookshire?
Yeah. Lowe and Brookshire were, of course, very much involved. Stan Brookshire was the mayor at that time, and, I

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guess Charlie Lowe was chairman of the Board of County Commissioners at that time. He's been a chairman, been a commissioner, I was not sure whether he was chairman at that time. I guess he was. They were moving forces in it. One of the . . . I guess really, one of the strongest personalities involved was sort of a quiet, behind-the-scenes personality was Charlie Crawford at the Chamber of Commerce. I'd say that he probably had more to do with the notion that it ought to be done and the result that this became a prime Chamber project, possibly, than anybody else. In other words, I think he had a great deal to do with the persuasion of people like Brookshire and Lowe and others.
I'm wondering, now . . . From what I've read, the Chamber was very important in establishing committees and getting the legislation passed and bringing the effort up. When, however, Brookshire and Lowe actually came to appointing members of the commission, it seems that, maybe . . . There are sort of two ways you can do this thing. You can get sort of a house committee, a small committee of businessmen. Or, you can go and get representatives from all segments of the community. They chose to get representatives from all segments of the community. I'M having a little bit of trouble understanding why that choice was made. It seems that maybe if they really wanted to get it passed, then, the more practical thing politically to do was to have the small committee.

Page 5
Well, I guess there are two ways to look at that. One is that, if you get broad representation, maybe you get a lot of ultimate support because almost any element in the community can say, "Well, Joe Smith is on the Charter Commission, and he would represent my views. If he thinks it's alright, it's probably alright. It's probably too complicated for me to understand anyhow." The other side of that same proposition, I guess, is that if you have broad representation like that you do get some imput, that's unquestionably true, that you wouldn't get if you had a limited-in-number, establishment-oriented group to do it. Then, of course, in addition to the Charter Commission itself, there was that large group that was an advisory group that must have numbered what, you probably have the figure, fifty or sixty people. I was a member of that, incidently, and attended a number of meetings and read into the late hours many nights the many drafts that came out with the assistance of the Institute of Government. I think the result was not so much, the unfortunate result, if you want to characterize it as that, was not so much the product of the way in which the commission was put together as the drastic amount of change which the commission ultimately injected into the issue. A small, establishment-oriented committee might have come up with not quite so many changes, changes that were not quite so drastic. They might well have come up with enough changes that the electorate might not have accepted it. I sort of look at

Page 6
the final results and try to analyze what happened and why it happened. I really think that the reason the issue went down to defeat at the polls was . . . Like most election issues, there's usually no very simple answer. You just can't make a simplistic analysis. I don't want to over-simplify it. I'm sure there are a number of votes that went for many, many different reasons against the proposed consolidation. I think the one thing that really scuttled the whole effort was that there were just so many changes. Changes that were so drastic, and, in many instances, so little understood, that the typical voter said, "Well, that's just more than I can swallow. I could take a nibble, but they're just about to drown me in the complexity of the thing. Wpheaval of our entire governmental system. Going to the system of election of the legislative body for the combined city and county that's just too much of a change for me to take. I can't absorb it." A lot of blame has been placed, in the press particularly, to the effect that this was a vote against high taxes in the outlying districts. I'm sure, to a certain extent, that's true. I really think that's a subsidiary cause of what resulted. I think the overwhelming principal cause was that there were changes too many in number and too drastic in effect that the general electorate just would not accept. I think, for example, if we had . . . We had seven members of the City Council and five members of the County Commission. We had a mayor who didn't get a vote except in case of ties. I think

Page 7
if we had just combined those, if we had had a twelve-man, atlarge election . . . Basically speaking, that's no change at all. Only change you've made there is you have allowed people in the county to vote for the city councilmen. You haven't changed anything as far as the five seats formerly held by the county commissioners were involved. I think if we had gone to that type of legislative arrangement, this issue may well have passed. Particularly if there had been a satisfactory selling job on the special taxing districts that would have been set up under the charter. In other words, really what I'm trying to say is, Bill, I think if we had kept the issue simple and gone to the electorate and said, "Really, what we're doing is no great change except that we're trying to give you better government. More efficient government. Hopefully at somewhat less cost, although we can't guarantee tremendous savings. "We never did try to guarantee tremendous savings. They weren't there in the first place. Just to say to them, "Instead of having to go down, if you live in the city as, of course, the bulk of the population of the county does anyhow, and having to mark two sets of ballotts, one for the City Council and one for the County Commission and elect twelve people. Just elect all twelve on one ballot. In the process, this means we are going to combine the city and county police force. We are going to combine the animal shelters, and things like that. All that will do is make for more efficient, better operation." I think there's a good

Page 8
chance that the effort may have been successful.
How did it get so far? I mean . . . It seems possibly to have been sort of a lack of communications perhaps between some of those who were initially for it who probably may have supported exactly the type of suggestion that you have just made and the people who were working on the Charter Commission who roamed rather freely through the whole governmental structure. Were they working in a void? Did they not consider what the other people were telling them? Were the other people not saying anything?
I guess that's an essay on how committees work. Sometimes it's not very satisfactory. I saw the process you're talking about. A lot of the things you say in your question really accurately suggest what the answer ought to be. You had committees of people who were very well-meaning. I think there was a genuine and sincere effort either by virtually everybody or precisely everybody who was involved on the Charter Commission and on the other groups that were involved in this. What happens is, when you get so many people involved . . . That is, not just the Charter Commission but this large advisory group that was involved, also. You get consultants involved with various aspects of a possible charter that they themselves are responsible for. I think you get to a position where you get a division of labor, and this committee is responsible for the finances, and this committee is responsible for the makeup of the legislative body, and this committee is responsible for

Page 9
whether you're going to have a strong mayor or weak mayor or strong city manager or what. The first thing you know, everybody made a tremendous project out of their little section of the pie.
And nobody is really sitting there with a broad view where the whole. . .
I think there were people who saw it, but they were people who figured there was just not a whole lot they could do about it because they had assigned a guy, not a guy but a group of people part of the pie. That part of the pie just got bigger and bigger and bigger, and those people thought it was the most important thing in the charter. They'd build it up and build it up and build it up. It's sort of the way bureaucracy operates. The first thing you know, you've got people who are so tied in with what they themselves see as their function . . .Well, on a governmental level sometimes they add staff and they add projects and they ask for additional appropriations. As soon as they come in, you add staff and you add projects. The thing just has the inborr ability to pyramid. I think that's what happened here. We got over-complicated in the approach because we had so many people that we assigned jobs to. I don't know that there was particular lack of communication. I think there probably was pretty good communication. I don't think anybody really felt they had the ability to say, "Well, you fellows over there in Article Four, Section Three who are responsible

Page 10
for that . . .You've just gone haywire." I'm afraid that sort of the human result of all this was that the work of that particular segment was just sort of folded in with everything else. That not just added to it, it multiplied it, the complexity of the entire operation.
That does seem to be a very difficult sort of thing to control. It does look like it did get out of hand.
Well, our basic mistake was in trying to come up with a perfect charter in conjunction with consolidation. If we had consolidated first and then tried to come up with as close to a perfect charter or an improved charter as we could come up with gradually after we had a consolidated government, I think the effort would have had a good chance of success. But, we tried to get all the perfection at the same time we tried to merge, and the people didn't understand all those anxieties for perfection, and didn't think the proffered perfection was perfection.
I guess that's really, in a way, where I am right now. Everybody, the people that I've talked to . . .Sounds very much exactly as you've just said. The Chamber was very important in initiating it. Then, the Charter Commission was established, and they just sort of went overboard and got way beyond perhaps what the people initiating the action in the first place would like to have seen.
I think that's true, although the people initiating it may

Page 11
not necessarily have the best idea. The people that initiated it may have botched it, also. That really was the point I was trying to make in the very beginning, Bill. Even if the Chamber had kept control of this thing and had done it within the Chamber, for example. . .I think that would have been unwise. They might have even done it within the Chamber and come out with a bad plan that the people would not have accepted. It could have been, again, an overly complicated plan. It is clear that once it got into the structure that it got in that it was too far-reaching and too complicated and was just so involved that the typical voter couldn't absorb it. I don't think the average man on the street had any understanding at all of what he had read about the charter. It just had too many complications in it for him. I'll tell you quite frankly. I'll bet you could have sat down at that time with a lot of people who were on either the Charter Commission or that advisory group and have zeroed in on a specific section and have really asked tough questions about a specific section, you probably wouldn't have had many satisfactory answers out of some of the individuals directly involved.
Some of the people who were opposed said that very thing. They'd be in a meeting at some club perhaps debating somebody who was for the charter. . .On some very technical points. This might be some junior executive that was loaned more or less as in the United Appeal campaign, and he might be very much

Page 12
for consolidation, but when it came down to a specific point he just wasn't very clear exactly what effect this particular document would have . . .
One other thing in the interest of historical accuracy for the purpose of what you're doing. I think the electorate here was very concerned about the move from at-large elections to district elections or the ward system as it has been called. That seems like a rather bad connotation. I guess that's one of the things that concerned the electorate. We've had reasonably good government here in Charlotte in the time I've been here. I've been here since 1953. We've had generally honest, capable government. Decent sort of people on the city council and the County Commission. I think some people were concerned about what might happen in a ward situation, particularly in a black area or a low-income area where political influences purely and simply through the purchase of votes, to just put it right on the table, might have some very harsh consequences. That you might have substantial representation on a legislative body that would be composed of individuals who really wouldn't have either the good of the community or their district at heart but would be just more or less bought politicians, Bought by somebody else who could afford to buy them.
It seemed to have been one of the major issues . . .As far as ward politics, and inability to find qualified candidates in all the districts, and that sort of argument. That also seems

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to sort of tie in with the whole school busing controversy. An unwillingness or an unease about having more black representation. There seemed to have been . . .The question was brought up anyway that the vote be postponed because of the school busing controversy. All the emotions and the agitation over the thing. From the way it turned out, and maybe this is Monday-morning quarterbacking, it seems that if the vote had been later maybe some of this agitation and this racial feeling might have died down.
I really wonder if the school busing question had much of an impact on this thing, Bill. I would be inclined to doubt it. Not that that was a pleasant episode for this community. It was anything but. I really doubt that the busing situation would have had any impact on the consolidation proposal had the consolidation proposal been simple and had it not involved districts. If you had retained at-large elections and kept the number of representatives on the legislative body at about what it was, that is, twelve, give or take two or three, I really question that the busing situation would have had much to do with it. Again, I'm trying to put that in focus. When did we first have our busing order here?
The actual decision was, I believe, the 23rd of April of 1969. That was just when the mayor, or Brookshire and Lowe were appointing members of the commission. Between there and `671 were the various court devisions. I guess the fall of '70

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was the big . . .
When was the consolidation vote? What was the date of that?
March of '71. The schools had started with the busing in the fall of '70, and this was eight or almost at the end of that first school year. . .
I don't think the public here would have turned down consolidation per se because of what had gone on on that busing controversy. I may be wrong, and you're probably going to get some opposite opinions on that subject, but I just doubt that seriously. I really think it was inherent in the other things we talked about. I think if there had never been a school busing case here the results would have been virtually the same as we had. I don't think there was an impact.
You think, then, the crucial thing was just that it went so far and made such drastic changes in the whole . . .
Let me be more specific. I think we would have had difficulty had we done no more than change the method of representation from at-large to district. I think that would have been a difficult thing to sell in connection with consolidation. Because consolidation itself is one big hurdle. You've got to get the voter across that one. Then, when you get him across that one, and you say, "Now, Mr. Voter, here's hurdle number two. Instead of being able to vote for all the councilmen now, you now are able to vote for 20 per cent of the councilmen or 25 percent. Including one from your district." That's a second

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large hurdle. I think if we had not thrown any hurdle in the path of the voter other than pure consolidation and not injected any other issues into it, we could have passed it. I think once we got to the point of other issues . . .I think the most critical of other issues was the district representation and the large . . .This legislative body vacilated in size a good bit. I remember some of the discussions back at that time . . .There were proposals that it be in the thirties, for example. Then, it was proposed in the high teens or in the twenties. It bounced around a good bit. I don't think there was ever a proposal to make it any lower than twelve or thirteen. It ranged from twelve or thirteen anywhere up to the thirties. I think that's the principal thing. I think added to it was the fact that, as you phrase it, it just went so far and had so many different issues injected into it and so many complications that by the time you told the voter, "Alright, the first thing you're going to do is consolidate. The second thing you're going to do is change the way you elect your representatives. Now, incidently, here are forty-seven other things that are going to happen." Well, he just said, "I didn't like the first one much, and the second one I didn't like at all, and the forty-seven I'm not even going to try to find out what they are."
Maybe it's the tenor of the times. A lot of things have been happening on the national scene . . .A lot of people like to look for conspiracies, perhaps. There are, perhaps, some circumstances

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which might indicate that, perhaps, there were people who saw the sprawling out into the county and realized that the city was going to have to get a hold of these people one way or another. There was going to be consolidation, annexation, or whatever. They knew that consolidation was in the background, that some people wanted consolidation. Maybe they figured if they went to consolidation they would have to do something about expanding the representation. Maybe they figured, though, that expanding the representation would curtail their influence because there would be more people and there would be people from different social class and economic status from what they were. Maybe what they really wanted was annexation which would . . .You would still have your seven city councilmen, and it wouldn't change their influence that much. So, maybe they sort of felt like they had to get that consolidation issue out of the way.


"government, the book type, university academic type try for this consolidation. Now, we know that if we let them just do it they are going to fall flat on their face. Then, once they do that, we can just hammer home with the annexation, and we'll have essentially what we want in a limited extent in that we'll have a lot of these suburbs. We won't have to go through

Page 17
these changes in the political equation as far as influence.
That's an interesting thesis. I would doubt . . . Somebody may have thought of that. I doubt if anybody thought of that and acted on it in that way. I don't know that anybody in the early stages of this would have concluded that the Charter Commission was going to get as far ranging as it did get. If you really wanted to . . . The thesis that you state there, Bill, would really be the thesis of the guy on the City Council, for example, who would like to stay on the City Council and extend his power base which he figures would be in the affluent suburbs, particularly, and his sources of financial support for campaigns, and things of that nature. I don't really see. ..I would doubt seriously if anybody in that category really was motivated in that direction. Again, I could be wrong because I don't know everything in the minds of all the people involved in that particular effort. It seems to me that there could have been consolidation without the dilution of that individual's power base. Unless they had gone to district representation, presumably he'd be at least as strong as he was before. If you still had at-large elections and he was dependent upon sort of the establishment and the silk-stocking districts and things like that for his political base anyhow, he'd still have relatively just as much power or even more power than he had before. I doubt if anybody really went at it that way. I guess the appointment power lay primarily with Brookshire and Lowe. I'd be completely convinced

Page 18
that neither of then would have been motivated by a thesis like that. I think that they both genuinely felt that consolidation was a worthwhile goal and they both genuinely felt that if they had a diversification of interests and representation and input and influence in the Charter Commission that the final answer would probably come out better. I guess that both of them probably thought the final answer was pretty good. I don't know if they thought it was politically acceptable. I'd be interested to knew what they new say [unknown] they thought back then about the political acceptability of the charter as it eventually came out.
I guess that, in a way, is sort of what I'm hunting for. The question of political acceptability. Theoretically, this sounds very good. You're going to have sort of a community meeting. We're going to get all the problems out on the table. We're going to get the university professors and whatnot in here, and we're going to come up with solutions to the community's problems in more or less an ideal form. We'll modernize and rationalize and, if not out costs, at least try to keep the costs down a good deal. This question of political acceptability. Mr. Brookshire had won four elections as mayer. Mr. Lowe had been elected every time he ran and had served, by this time I guess, this was his second term. The Republicans had been in and out.
Both very popular figures from an election viewpoint and still very well regarded.

Page 19
I'm having trouble really figuring out how . . . It seems like somebody dropped the ball, or . . . Not necessarily one person. There definitely seems to be a slip there. I'm just wondering. This question of the political practicality of the thing. It seems to have been, from all I can find out, a very idealistic . . . It ended up anyway as a very idealistic sort of thing which politically speaking wasn't saleable to the public.
Well, you're exactly right. The ultimate package was just a package that the public was not going to buy. I think . . . Well, quite frankly, I knew that when the charter came out. Cliff Cameron, who's a great guy and a good friend of mine, was involved in the effort to pass the referendum, as you know. I told Cliff very early in the game that I thought consolidation was great. It was a tremendous goal for the community, and we ought to have it, but that we weren't going to get it with this charter. That the public was just not going to vote for what was in that package. It was just more than they were going to swallow. I hated to be I-told-you-so about it. I was convinced from the beginning that once the charter was in the form that it was going to go to the veters . . . I was completely convinced that it would never pass.
He seemed to be, perhaps, having doubts himself. He didn't exactly jump on the bandwagen right away and lead the charge. He must have had some doubts himself . . .
Well, if he didn't lead the charge initially, I doubt if it

Page 20
was because he had a lack of conviction. Cliff is a man with a lot of responsibilities and had a lot of responsibilities then in his business career. Although he was heavily involved with the Chamber, I imagine they had to do some pretty powerful persuading to get him to take that campaign on. I'm sure he was reluctant to take it on. Net from any lack of conviction in consolidation but just from the press of other things that had demands on his time.
Well, I thank you.
Yes. sir. I'll be interested in what your conclusions are. Is this going to be published, Bill? Is there any liklyhood that your conclusions . . . Net thinking, obviously in terms of interviews. But, are any of your conclusions likely to see the light of day?
I would hope so. Now, whether the printers of the books will think so, the publishers of the books will think so, I don't know. I will send you a copy of the interview.
Don't worry about it. That's a lot of trouble. Don't feel that you have to do that, in all seriousness, because it's a lot of trouble to transcribe these things. If you decide you just want to pick out parts that you want to make some use of, feel free to do that and don't worry about having to send me a copy of the transcript. That's an awful lot of trouble for you.