On this day in 1955: Over statewide radio and television, Gov. Luther Hodges gives North Carolina’s response to the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
Hodges argues that the Supreme Court has outlawed only forced segregation of schools and asks that blacks now send their children to black schools voluntarily. If they don’t, he warns, the state might abandon public education altogether.
“As North Carolina Democrats go to the polls this Saturday to pick a candidate for United States Senate, the politicians here will be looking for the first clue to the political impact on the South of the Supreme Court’s ruling against public school segregation.”
— From “North Carolina Poll Will Be First Hint of South’s Reaction” in the Wall Street Journal (May 27, 1954)
That “first clue” to response to Brown vs. Board of Education turned out to be misleadingly positive: In the Democratic primary, incumbent Sen. Alton Lennon, a hardline segregationist, narrowly lost to moderate former Gov. Kerr Scott.
“The Southern bloc in Congress drew up a ‘Declaration of Constitutional Principles’ (otherwise known as the Southern Manifesto) voicing opposition to Brown [vs. Board of Education]….
“Two of the North Carolina congressmen who declined to sign the manifesto, Charles Deane and Thurmond Chatham, were defeated in the Democratic primary in May 1956…. The state’s third nonsigner, Harold Cooley, survived by campaigning against the court decision….
“The defeat of Deane and Chatham drew headlines across the country….The lessons were clear enough. Question segregation, and you would be severely punished by the voters.”
— From “The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics” by Rob Christensen (2008)
“Weeks after the Brown [vs. Board of Education decision in 1954], the press hailed the latest poster boy for the ‘soft Southern approach’…. Samuel J. Ervin, a Harvard-educated state Supreme Court justice, arrived in Washington ready to lend his legal expertise and ‘country lawyer’ charm to the segregationist cause.
“Governor William Umstead tapped Ervin to complete the term of Clyde Hoey, who died in his office…. Ervin privately boasted that he was as ‘unrepentant and unreconstructed’ as Hoey, a Confederate captain’s son….
“Leaders of the Southern opposition saw in Ervin a fresh face that could elevate the segregationist defense above the white supremacist rhetoric of their fathers’ generation.”
— From “Defending White Democracy: The Making of a Segregationist Movement and the Remaking of Racial Politics, 1936-1965” by Jason Morgan Ward (2011)