A weak black coalition and lack of aggression causes Graham's 1950 senatorial defeat
Burgess assesses Frank Graham's 1950 Senate campaign. Accused of pro-black sentiments, Graham lost the election to Willis Smith. Burgess argues that the passivity of North Carolina blacks and of Graham crushed Graham's candidacy and the southern labor movement as a whole. These sentiments are repeated later in the transcript.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with David Burgess, September 25, 1974. Interview E-0001. 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
- BILL FINGER:
One thing that comes up in the '50 campaign that's . . . I don't think
has been as clear, is how much of a coalition between labor and blacks
and liberal whites actually was operative and represented any power,
places like Durham where the tobacco workers were active.
- DAVID BURGESS:
Yeah. Well, I would say the analysis goes something like this, at that
time: Since 1901, the Black Codes and, say late 1890's, the . . . you
never really had a militant black movement in this state, say the first
50 years of the 20th century. You had a much more virulent and strong
movement in South Carolina, in terms of . . . even voter registration or
any measurement. Therefore in 1950 we were dealing essentially with
little pockets of black power-a very weak black movement. I
think it was a coalition, but a coalition of leadership with somewhat a
precarious coalition base. Second, we had to fight the usual racial
appeals. In the textile industry the blacks were in the picker room, and
the less desirable jobs, sweeper jobs, they never really moved up into
the spinning or spooling jobs . . . actually the machine job of
spinning. Union members were racially divided but they would be
classified as red necks and bigots. I was quite unhappy that Frank
Graham never attacked Willis Smith, his rival, for the Senate seat.
Terry Sanford who later became Governor of North Carolina, of course,
was the campaign manager, and I remember going to see him a couple of
times, said, "Frank's gotta say something." We in the
CIO were putting out pamphlets attacking Smith's anti-labor
- BILL FINGER:
You were doing this in labor papers?
- DAVID BURGESS:
Yeah, and we were working very hard on registration, and of course we had
no real hold in eastern NOrth Carolina where the campaign was ultimately
decided. Willis Smith was terribly effective in the last few weeks of
the second go-around. But I remember I worked that night . . . primary
campaign, I was working in Rockingham, taking people to the polls
and all that sort of business. I came home to Rock
Hill and learned about the defeat. There was weeping and gnashing of
teeth. I always remember the story . . well, you've probably heard it
from other people . . . about Frank Graham's role in the Raleigh
headquarters the night of the defeat. He was going around hugging ladies
and encouraging the men and everybody was in tears except him.