As Asheville readies for a visit by Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, it seems fitting to recall another Romney’s visit to the Carolinas some 35 years ago. George Romney, Mitt’s father, was governor of Michigan when he toured South Carolina’s Williamsburg County on September 27, 1967. The senior Romney was several months shy of announcing his run for the Oval Office. In fact, according to an account of his visit in The Charlotte Observer, he denied a published report that he planned to seek the Republican nomination, telling reporters “I haven’t decided yet.” Observer reporter Jack Bass reported that Romney was seeking to understand why blacks were migrating north. “Everywhere the reply was–lack of jobs,” Bass wrote.
In Williamsburg County, at the time South Carolina’s poorest county, Romney visited with 84-year-old “sharecropper” Joe Chandler (pictured above) and his relatives. Five of Chandler’s seven children had followed a familiar route for blacks of Williamsburg County and had moved north to Rochester, N.Y.
Romney’s visit was captured on film by Don Sturkey, a 36-year-old photographer for the Observer. Sturkey shot eight rolls of film that day as he followed Romney on his tours of Florence-Darlington Technical Education Center, a renovated downtown shopping mall, Williamsburg Memorial Hospital and Baxter Laboratory, the county’s major employer. The images below are the cropped photo as it appeared in the Observer and the uncropped original.
Look at this map, and notice that deep, deep in the Republican South, there’s a thin blue band stretching from the Carolinas through Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. These are the counties that went for Obama in the last election….Why? Well, the best answer, says marine biologist Craig McClain, may be an old one, going back before the Civil War, before 1776, before Columbus, back more than 100 million years to the days when the Deep South was under water. Those counties, as he writes here, went for Obama because trillions and trillions and trillions of teeny sun-loving creatures died there. He’s talking about plankton. That’s why the Republicans can’t carry those counties. Blame plankton.
The lecture is sponsored by the North Carolina Collection, the Friends of the Library, the Center for the Study of the American South, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill College of Arts and Sciences, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of History, the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association, and the Historical Society of North Carolina.
About Dr. Gilmore
Gilmore (UNC Ph.D. ’92) is the Peter V. and C. Van Woodward Professor of History at Yale. Her books include Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919–1950 (W. W. Norton, 2008) and Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920 (University of North Carolina Press, 1996).
For more information, contact Liza Terll, Friends of the Library, (919) 548-1203.