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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with David Burgess, September 25, 1974. Interview E-0001. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Obstacles impeding Burgess's international labor work in Burma

The influence of McCarthyism and the desires of the State Department presented serious obstacles to Burgess's Burmese labor work. Georgia Senator Walter George played up Burgess's southern identity in order to help him receive ambassadorship to Burma. George's strategy also helped him receive the endorsement of the labor movement.

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

DAVID BURGESS:
...I went to the convention, I think at the end of '54 in Los Angeles, and had a long talk with Walter and Victor Reuther. I said, "I grew up in China, I tried to get to China during the war, with the Quaker Ambulance corps. I'm interested in international labor work. Do you have any suggestions?" And so they worked it out. I was about to be appointed labor attache to Burma, but then the key guy for India fell out. Then I left Atlanta in July of '55 and went to work for Victor Reuther, I thought, for a couple of weeks. But, strange things happened. The State Department didn't want me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why?
DAVID BURGESS:
Well . . . CIO, Walter Reuther recommendation, they wanted their own boys. They had another man's name for the post, at least on paper. But a queer thing happened. Jamie Mackey who was later a congressman and very prominent inent lawyer, told me to see his cousin Jack Carlton who was the Administrative Assistant to Senator Walter George of Georgia.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Walter George?
DAVID BURGESS:
So I was able to get to Walter George. And Walter George said to the State Department, "You can't do this to a Georgian named Burgess." He called the deputy (Max Bishop) of the State Department under Secretary Herbert Hoover, Jr. to his office on the Hill and gave them hell, said, "This damned Georgian is going to have that position." . . . But it was partly on the supposition that this Georgian was gonna have that position because the Senator thought that was the way of swinging CIO votes to George. The dressing down of Bishop was not here altogether altruistic. George eventually did not run against Herman Talmadge. I think he would have beaten him anyway. But I have to thank Walter Reuther and Walter George for getting me to India as this was the end of the McCarthy era. The Department spent ten months investigating my record. They went back to southeast Missouri and interviewed all the plantation owners. They examined everything about my college . . . peace petitions I'd signed in college, my association with Jack McMichael, my work as head of Student Christian Movement peace committee previous to '41. These were examined and gone over. I just barely squeaked through, and later I remember a CIA fellow in New Delhi said to me later, "Dave, I don't see how in the hell you ever got in this position." I went to New Delhi in December of 1955. Since then I haven't been South of Virginia until my present trip to Chapel Hill.