Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Charles M. Lowe, March 20, 1975. Interview B-0069. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Consolidation lost in Charlotte because of a lack of emotional investment

Democrats are more likely to favor city-county consolidation than Republicans, Lowe argues, because consolidation weakens the power of wealthy white voters. But neither side felt particularly strongly about the issue, Lowe thinks. It is not the kind of issue voters can decide on without careful study, so most people remain uninterested. The issue lost in Charlotte, Lowe thinks, because of this lack of emotional investment.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Charles M. Lowe, March 20, 1975. Interview B-0069. 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

MOYE:
The reason why I was asking about the party is…One thing I'm interested in as far as the consolidation effort …I'm wondering if there were partisan reasons, maybe, either for supporting or for opposing. Was one party more likely to support than the other?
LOWE:
Yes. The Democrats were more likely to be for consolidation than the Republicans. The Republicans did not want district representation. They did not want blacks. They wanted things to be at large, in the way of election. They wanted to feel that their party could get a majority. That the white, influential, well-educated would be a majority. Consequently, they were not for it. That's not really what defeated this. What defeated this was two things. One, school system had had quite a blow, and everybody was in a turmoil about this. The second thing, if you study consolidation over the country, I don't know anywhere it has succeeded the first time. Consolidation is something that you have got to study and understand and appreciate because, when it all boils down, it's two things. It's better planning, and, while the tax rate rises, it doesn't rise as rapidly. Most people want something more simple, more directly related to them. They want to see more of what they are going to get out of it. They want their notions in it more. This was a thing of reasoning. You don't have as many reasoning people as you do emotional people. This was the real problem. There was nobody really pushing it except a few enlightened people and a few people on the Chamber of Commerce. The blacks were for it but not too strongly. The rural people were against it. The affluent white didn't see where they were going to get anything out of it. The school board members were against it. The Republicans were against it. And, the Democrats were lukewarm. So we were lucky to get any vote at all. [Phone ringing]
MOYE:
If so many different groups were either opposed or lukewarm, what got the idea started in the first place? I mean, the idea had been kicking around for a number of years.
LOWE:
Well, the chamber had been pushing this idea since about 1962. It does make sense, consolidation. I mean, the buckpassing does stop. You do do better planning. There's no question about it, and there's no question but what, while the tax rate increases, it does not increase as fast. These are things that most people are not concerned about. Most people are concerned about their garbage, their sidewalks, their tax rates, where their kids go to school. These sort of things, what we call bread-and-butter or gut issues, and the high issues? That doesn't really concern them. Really, the chamber and the thinking people, which were in the minority, were pushing it. They got it on the ballot and got it going, but we just had too few of these, unfortunately.
MOYE:
Some people, in looking at consolidation, see it, to an extent, as sort of an urban or civic imperialism. The city seeking to control more area, to control more people. Could that…Would the chamber leaders have been interested in that? I mean, seeing a lot of white people moving out into the suburbs beyond the city limits, seeing their voting strength in city elections and rferenda declining because of that?
LOWE:
Not really. I think just the opposite is true. I think we could have sold consolidation had we gone about it the wrong way. I think if we had told the people "Look, if you don't have consolidation, you're going to have another Atlanta in Charlotte. It's going to be predominantly black. The whites are going to move out. You're going to have a decaying tax base, and you're really going to be in trouble. Consolidation is really the only answer how to get a handle on this thing, and have the whites where they want to be, and maybe where they should be, overall. In the driver's seat." But, we didn't choose to take that route. We tried to sell it on the democratic route of everybody getting fair representation, the whites, the blacks, the men, the women, the rural, and the city. Of doing it right. Well, they didn't buy this. I talked to one of the opponents afterwards, and he said, "Lord, if you had told me what you're now telling me, I would have voted for it." But, we just didn't want to sell it on that basis. We didn't think that was the proper approach.