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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Gladys Avery Tillett, March 20, 1974. Interview G-0061. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Working on the Frank Porter Graham senatorial campaign in 1950

Tillett briefly explains the work she did in support of Frank Porter Graham's senatorial bid in 1950. Tillett resigned from her position in the national Democratic Party in 1950 in order to return to North Carolina to campaign for Graham, who was an old family friend. Tillett particularly focuses on the race issue in the campaign and describes some of the things Graham's opponents did to generate opposition to Graham because of his support of desegregation.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Gladys Avery Tillett, March 20, 1974. Interview G-0061. 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

GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
It was reported that the opposition had people meeting school busses telling the children "Go home and tell your parents Frank Graham is just going to bring the Negroes in."
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did Dr. Graham and his campaign staff decide to meet those smears?
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
Well, of course, I went and met with groups of women. They had meetings and I talked about the fact of human rights and talked about the fact of women and what he had meant in North Carolina for their children. What he meant to education. How he had…
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you just try to avoid the issue of school desegregation?
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
Of course not. 11 * Possibly you can read some of the material preserved in the UNC library on the campaign. You couldn't avoid it—any more than school desegregation can be avoided in Boston now. The radio played a big part in the campaign, and Smith used radio widely without ceasing.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you deal with it?
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
We talked about it … that if you were going to have black people and white people you ought to educate all of them and try to make good citizens out of them all. Frank Graham was a man to be trusted… and… I think I felt it was of great importance to go into it. And I felt that the more we met the issue the stronger we would be. And I found deep interest among women… women appreciate the greatness of character of Frank Graham and his great contribution as president of a great university… And he had done nothing but give everybody the right to be educated—black and white. And then you, of course, bore down on his contributions to North Carolina, which were indeed great, and… I found no difficulty with women's groups, in a sense, because they all … I had been over the state so much and I had personal contact with many groups. And having been at women's college I knew people really all over the state because that was really our only…
JACQUELYN HALL:
It would be interesting to know how the vote broke down along the lines of sex in that campaign. Have there been…
GLADYS AVERY TILLETT:
I think women to a great extent were for Frank, especially those who had sent their children to UNC at Chapel Hill… I've got some things that my husband wrote at the time. 12 * See my statements which appeared in the Raleigh News and Observer when I became campaign head of women. There were three candidates, the Supreme Court decision came between the first vote and the second primary and the opposition bore down heavily on this and made an effort to frighten people about the future. It was said at the time that money was sent into N.C. to defeat Dr. Graham, but I have no way of knowing what was true and I would not comment on this at all… Dr. Graham was always honest about what he stood for and … I spent much campaign time speaking at meetings supporting Graham. I raised money in North Carolina and in other states to pay for radio time, etc. 13 * See campaign materials. I spent much time in Eastern Carolina—driving myself in my own car… There was a big move to win the South. It was widely reported that the opposition forces met school busses and sent word to parents warning them of the racial problems if Graham was elected. 14 ** See News and Observer article Willis Smith was elected. It is difficult to pin the blame for vicious race attacks on any one. 15 *** Note the xerox copy of "White People Wake Up before it's too late", signed by "Know the Truth Committee" … Graham and I gave complete time to the most bitter racial campaign in the history of N.C. … I resigned from the Democratic National Committee in April 1950 to organize for Frank… I was not involved in the party, held no office in the party. 16 * See campaign materials. Later on I was asked to help at Mecklenburg Democratic Headquarters during the McGovern campaign and I worked through that campaign. Yeah. I aided in bringing in speakers, and planning meetings and raising funds—Liz Carpenter and Sissy Farrenhold came to Charlotte with a number of speakers. We held a very successful women's meeting with large attendance. And that was the only big meeting held. And of course you can't help but feel that if you could have done more it would have been… fine.