Presidents’ Day picks

Today, Monday, February 16, is Presidents’ Day (or “Washington’s Birthday,” in Virginia). Though most of America will be preoccupied with the Lincoln Bicentennial or stupefied by the great deals at their local auto dealerships, I would like to use this day to celebrate (or at least acknowledge) some Presidents who typically do not have bargains associated with them.

There are photos in the Morton Collection that depict Presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. I have selected four to share.

First, one that I scanned last fall, and stored away for this very holiday. It was found between some images of athletes standing outside, and women posing with flowers — you just never know where this guy will show up.

Richard and Pat Nixon, eating at unknown event, circa late 1950s-early 1960s
It’s a young, barely-jowled Richard Nixon in a tent, eating an unidentifiable platter of food in a most aggressive fashion. His wife, Pat, sits beside him and appears characteristically patient. Why is he here, and what is he doing (besides aggressively eating)? Pat Nixon appears in many other pictures that are probably from the annual Azalea Festival, and we know that the Nixons attended the 1958 Rhododendron Festival at Roan Mountain, TN. Perhaps one of these events explains why this young, earnest couple is featured in this picture.

Here is a picture of another President, this time fully vested in the title of Commander in Chief, and in a more Presidential pose.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower and southern governors, 1957

Yes, Dwight David Eisenhower, smiling grimly as the possibility of a national crisis looms: the 1957 desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High School and the subsequent unwillingness of Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus. That’s why Hugh Morton’s friend and NC Governor Luther Hodges is there — the President summoned a crack team of five Southern Governors to try and uphold the ruling of Brown vs. Board of Education in Arkansas while preventing riots.

Besides Eisenhower, Hodges, and a man that is most likely Faubus himself (second row, far right), the identities of the other men are unconfirmed. Who wants to help identify them?

President Jimmy Carter on the campaign trail, with NC Gov. Jim Hunt, Tanglewood Park, 1980

Here’s something more cheerful: a beaming President Jimmy Carter, on the 1980 re-election campaign trail in Winston-Salem’s Tanglewood Park hosted by the applauding Governor Jim Hunt. But all the good will couldn’t help Carter overcome the fuss over the Iran Hostage Crisis, a flagging economy, and a 28% approval rating . . .

Ronald Reagan and Debra Paget at the 1959 Azalea Festival, Wilmington, NC

. . . and Carter instead had to vacate his post in 1981 for this affable, handsome Californian. Ronald Reagan, seen here in April 1959 at the Azalea Festival with Love Me Tender actress and Azalea Queen Deborah Paget, was at the time on the payroll of General Electric, hired to make motivational pro-G.E. speeches at various venues.

These pictures, taken individually, provide explicit and implicit narratives, but as a whole, what do they say about the American Presidency and the people who held its office? It is easier, instead, to see the narrative they present regarding their photographer, Hugh Morton: that he had access available to few, and the photographic ability to make something of it.

13 thoughts on “Presidents’ Day picks

  1. A very well written post, David. I wish my writing skills were as good. If I may, let me comment on the Morton images you have selected.

    Image #1: This Nixon picture is from his time as Vice President. (Note his haircut). According to the “Greensboro Daily News” issue of June 22, 1958, Vice President and Mrs. Nixon attended the Roan Mountain Rhododendron Festival on June 21st. They arrived in Johnson City, Tennessee about noon and following a luncheon, Nixon made a speech at 1:30. Around 2:30 they drove to Banner Elk, NC where the Vice President and Mrs. Nixon attended a ground-breaking ceremony for Grace Hartley Memorial Hospital. Next they visited Bakersville, Spruce Pine, Linville and Blowing Rock, where they were guests at a reception given by Mr. & Mrs. J.E. Broyhill. Later they drove to Hickory and boarded a plane for Washington. So from this visit, I think we can assume the Nixons had two meals in the North Carolina-Tennessee area and Hugh could have snapped this image during that time.

    Image #3: President Jimmy Carter made a visit to Winston-Salem on October 9, 1980. He spoke at the Dixie Classic Fair and at Tanglewood Park. There is another Morton picture from this event on pages 276 and 277 of Hugh’s 1988 book, “Making A Difference in North Carolina.”

    Image #4: The April,1959 Azalea Festival image of Ronald Reagan and Debra Paget must have been a Morton favorite. There are two similar pictures in the 1988 book (pages 228 & 230), and one in Hugh’s 2003 book, “Hugh Morton’s North Carolina.” That picture is on page 100. The picture is also on page 53 of Susan Taylor Block’s 2004 book “Belles & Blooms: Cape Fear Garden Club and North Carolina Azalea Festival.”

    Now back to image #2. This one presents a real challenge.

    On Tuesday, October 1, 1957, President Eisenhower met with a select committee of southern governors concerning growing racial tensions in Little Rock, Arkansas. The President had sent in federal troops to maintain order and the southern governors were very concerned about that. According to North Carolina Governor Luther Hodges, in his 1962 book, “Businessman in the Statehouse,” (pages 110-117) the select committee consisted of: Gov. Luther Hodges, NC (Chairman), Gov. LeRoy Collins, Florida, Gov. Frank Clement, Tennessee, and Gov. Theodore McKeldin, Maryland. (Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin was also selected, but withdrew the day before the meeting). Also, attending the meeting, the Secretary of the National Governors’ Conference, Frank Bane, and the President had his assistant Howard Pyle,and his Chief White House Assistant, Sherman Adams. Eisenhower also wanted his Attorney General Herbert Brownell to be there, but the governors objected, saying this was not a legal issue. Hodges confirms that Brownell did not attend. So, we have 4 governors, The President, 2 members of the President’s staff, and the Secretary of the National Governors’ Conference…8 people.

    In image #2 there are ten people pictured. One of the “extra” people is Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus on the back row, far right, as you point out, David. But according Hodges, Faubus was not at the meeting, but was back in Little Rock. Hodges tells about the phone call he made to Faubus immediately following the meeting. Also,the gentleman in the back row, third from the left looks to me like Maine Governor Edmund Muskie. But Hodges doesn’t mention Muskie and what would Maine’s Governor have to do with the Southern Governors’ Conference anyway? And the gentleman in the back row, 2nd from the right looks a lot like Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr, who was not at the meeting.

    So, the only identifications I can make for image #2 are:: Back row, far left, Gov. Frank Clement, Tennessee. Back row, far right, Gov. Orval Faubus, Arkansas. Front row, 2nd from left, President Eisenhower. Front row, 3rd from left, Gov. Luther H. Hodges, North Carolina.

    As you may recall, David, Governor Hodges’ papers are part of the North Carolina Collection and there is an item called “Little Rock, Arkansas Material.” It’s in Series 5 (Collected Material), Subseries 5.3.

    http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/h/Hodges,Luther_Hartwell.html

    There is also another Morton picture from the Eisenhower meeting in Hugh’s 1988 book on page 152. And that image is also in the 1996 book, “Sixty Years with a Camera.” That one is on page 12 with the caption on page 11.,

  2. Hugh never met Ernie Pyle, but he admired him greatly
    The gentleman in the valentine being kissed by Alice White (Miss NC ) is then Lt. Gov. Stag Ballentine, I think.
    Jack Hilliard is right, the3 shot of Nixon with Pat was taken at Rhone Mt. Congressman Charlie Jonas hosted them.

  3. Those are some great facts, Jack and Julia. It is extremely satisfying to have the full context for that Richard Nixon photograph, it has been bothering me for about 4 months now.
    And Jack, I think my going upstairs and checking out the Luther Hodges papers is a good idea. I could probably learn a lot about these photographs.

  4. I forgot to say that Hugh didn’t care for then Vice-President Nixon so he made no attempt to flatter him. In fact, it looks to me as though he was very deliberate about making him look as unattractive as possible. He had a photo of Pres. Kennedy taken at a dinner table with his hands in a sort of praying position that you may have run across, that he liked. Remember, Hugh didn’t want the same old, same old picture ever and always went for the bit different shot.

  5. You have missed one of Hugh’s best photos of Presidents. Luther Hodges, Jr. has a copy of it if for some reason the negative isn’t available. As I recall it was also taken in a dinner situation. Gov. Hodges is between Pres. Johnson and – Good Heavens! I forget who the other President was. It’s a great picture, you should look it up.

  6. The picture of Ronald Reagan and Debora Paget was taken at Orton Plantation. Ms. Paget was so thrilled to be there when Ronald Reagan was there that he could hardly get away from her to eat lunch. Hugh liked to use it because it plugged Wilmington and Orton and the Festival all at once. KMenneth Sprunt, whose family owned Orton was a great friend. Gov. Hodges was at that Festival and Hugh took a picture of him with RR at the Cape Fear Country Club that night. Hugh always commented on the fact that RR was very interested in talking about the obligation of successful citizens to give back through public service and involvement in government.

  7. To follow up on Julia Morton’s post of March 4. The President (then Senator) Kennedy picture that Julia describes is in Hugh’s 1996 book, “Sixty Years with a Camera,” on page 12 with caption on page 13.

  8. You mention other pictures of Pat Nixon. She was never a guest at the Azalea Festival, to the best of my knowlege. But Sen. Broyhill’s wife was asked to decorate for one of the luncheons the Congressional wives hosted annually for the First Lady (in this instance Mrs. Nixon ) Mrs. Broyhill asked Hugh to supply NC mountain flowers for the occasion and he hauled a trailer full of plants to Washington for her – not for Mrs. Nixon, for Mrs. Broyhill, whom he liked a great deal. I imagine all the pictures you havr except the one taken at Roan Mt. were taken on that occasion.

  9. The other President was President Truman. The picture is of Johnson, Go. Hodges (we know he was in office at the times wearing a white carnation)and Truman. I don’t remember his having two Presidents in one frame any other time.

  10. To follow up on Julia Morton’s posts of March 4 and March 26, concerning Hugh’s picture of Hodges, Truman, and Johnson.

    Could the picture have been taken during the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, July 11-15, 1960?

    Governor Hodges, in his 1962 book “Businessman in the Statehouse,” says that he supported Johnson’s nomination for President at the 1960 convention (page 291). So we know that Johnson and Hodges were both there. Truman was an at large delegate from Missouri and supported Stuart Symington. And in Hugh’s 1988 book, “Making A Difference in North Carolina,” on page 317 there is a picture of Hodges and Charles Kuralt at the ’60 Convention plus on pages 174-175 there is another picture from the ’60 Convention, this one of Terry Sanford.

    So, all the players were in place in the Los Angeles Sports Arena in the summer of 1960, for a Hodges-Johnson-Truman photo by Hugh Morton.

  11. I agree with Jack. Ed Muskie of Maine is third from the left on the back row and Orval Faubus is on the far right. I don’t believe Frank Clement is in the picture. Second from the left on the back row could be Sen. Richard Russell from Georgia. Seated on the front row on the right looks like Labor Secretary James P. Mitchell but I am not sure.

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