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The Political Career of W. Kerr Scott

The Political Career of W. Kerr Scott: The Squire from Haw River

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    The Political Career of W. Kerr Scott
    Book Description:

    When W. Kerr Scott (1896--1958) began his campaign for the North Carolina gubernatorial seat in 1948, his opponents derided his candidacy as a farce. However, the plainspoken dairy farmer quickly gathered loyal supporters and mobilized a grassroots attack on the entrenched interests that had long controlled the state government, winning the race in a historic upset.

    In this meticulously researched book, Julian M. Pleasants traces Scott's productive and controversial political career, from his years as North Carolina commissioner of agriculture, through his governorship (1949--1953), to his brief tenure as a U.S. senator (1954--1958). Scott was elected at a time when southern liberals were on the rise in post--World War II America. McCarthyism and civil rights agitation soon overwhelmed progressivism, but the trend lasted long enough for the straight-talking "Squire from Haw River" to enact major reforms and establish a reputation as one of the more interesting and influential southern politicians of the twentieth century.

    Scott introduced groundbreaking legislation that placed the Tar Heel State at the forefront of the southern economy, improving roads, schools, and medical facilities while widening access to electric and phone service. Scott was also relatively socially progressive and made significant appointments of women, African Americans, and liberals to positions of influence and power. This long-overdue look at his political career illuminates the spirit that transformed an introspective, segregated society dependent on tobacco and textiles into a vibrant, diversified economy at the center of the industrial, banking, and information revolution in the South.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4679-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    William Kerr Scott was the most controversial, polarizing, and successful North Carolina politician of his age. When Simmons Fentress, a writer and astute observer of North Carolina politics, evaluated Scott at the end of his four-year term as governor, he referred to him as “the century’s most cussed governor”: “Columnists and commentators attacked him as a political accident, a notorious spender of other people’s money, a dangerous liberal tied to Harry Truman’s coattail, a governor of only half of the people.” The man who changed the face of the state was, according to Fentress, “as plain as a plow point,...

  4. 1 The Early Years
    (pp. 11-16)

    William Kerr Scott began his journey to the statehouse in Raleigh on April 17, 1896. Born in a farmhouse in Haw River, Alamance County, North Carolina, Kerr was the eighth of the fourteen children of Robert Walter Scott (July 24, 1861–May 16, 1929), a prosperous Hawfields community farmer, and Elizabeth Hughes, a former teacher and a pious daughter of a pioneer Orange County family. The Scott family first arrived before the Civil War, traveling among the adventurous Scots-Irish families who made their way to North Carolina via the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania. These pioneers carved out small family...

  5. 2 The Election of 1948: The First Primary
    (pp. 17-54)

    Why did Kerr Scott, a dairy farmer with limited statewide name recognition, no real political organization, and a dearth of wealthy supporters, suddenly, in early 1948, decide to run for governor against the entrenched Gardner machine? O. Max Gardner, a resourceful textile executive from Shelby, North Carolina, had been elected governor in 1928 and quickly constructed a powerful political organization. He combined the remnants of the old Furnifold Simmons machine with the leaders of the business community in the Piedmont. The leading bankers, utility and tobacco company executives, and textile mill owners were aided by effective courthouse organizations around the...

  6. 3 The Second Primary, 1948
    (pp. 55-70)

    Both sides began the renewed battle very quietly with organizational meetings and fund-raising while publicity managers prepared new copy and flyers. As theBurlington Daily Times Newsdescribed it: “The first week of the second campaign was the time for preparing the fields, overhauling machinery, etc. The second week … is planting time.” The next weeks would see the “peak of cultivation activities followed by a brief ripening period, culminating in the harvest of votes June 26.”

    Thomas J. Pearsall, Johnson’s campaign manager, claimed that he was pleased with the first primary results and predicted an intensified campaign in the...

  7. 4 Roads and Schools, 1949
    (pp. 71-110)

    Governor-Elect Scott returned from a two-week vacation in Coral Gables, Florida, rested and ready for work. While he vacationed in Florida, he missed meetings of the Advisory Budget Commission, gathered to sort out the budget for the upcoming legislative session. The Advisory Budget Committee, now defunct, was an important body in 1949 as it counseled the governor on the preparation and administration of the budget. Until 1971, the governor’s budgetary powers were legislative in origin, not constitutional, and could be snatched away from him at any time. Since Scott faced an adversarial legislature that could overturn his budget, he needed...

  8. 5 The Referendum
    (pp. 111-138)

    Although Scott painted a bleak picture of North Carolina’s rural roads, the state had a history of being the “Good Roads” state. As far back as 1915, the legislature established a state highway commission and, in 1921, went into the road-building business. North Carolina constructed and maintained a highway system of fifty-five hundred miles of hard-surfaced roads running through towns and cities of more than three thousand people that connected all the county seats. Interestingly, in 1921 the roads were financed by issuing a $50 million bond issue secured by a one-cent per gallon tax on gasoline and automobile license...

  9. 6 Crucible of Liberalism: Frank Graham and the 1950 Senate Race
    (pp. 139-162)

    Governor Scott knew early on that Graham might face a difficult challenge in his desire for a full term in the Senate but hoped that his personal popularity would enable him to avoid a major opponent in the Democratic primary. Much depended on his political acumen and his interest in an early and effective campaign organization. Thomas Turner, a Graham partisan, warned that the senator had to make early preparations if he expected to win. Turner told Jonathan Daniels that tough opposition to the senator would coalesce if Dr. Frank ignored his political duties and did not “awake to the...

  10. 7 The Second Primary
    (pp. 163-194)

    North Carolina law provided that if the highest vote getter did not get an absolute majority of all votes cast in the first primary, the second-place finisher was entitled, but not required, to call for a runoff election to be held in four weeks. Amid all sorts of press speculation, Willis Smith agonized over whether to call for a second primary.

    The prognosis for a Smith entry into a second contest depended on how experts viewed the first primary. Impressed with the size of Graham’s lead, theCharlotte Observerthought the victory was a testament to the popularity of both...

  11. 8 Trials and Tribulation: The Last Two Years, 1951–1953
    (pp. 195-236)

    From day one of the 1951 legislative session, Governor Scott knew that he would face a contentious and conservative legislature determined to thwart as much of his agenda as possible. Scott understood, as previously noted, that he was a lame duck and would have less influence and control over legislative matters than in 1949, when he enjoyed a public mandate for change. Unable to succeed himself, with no veto power and most of his appointments already made, he was limited in influence and at the mercy of a hostile legislature. In addition, his prestige had been battered by the defeat...

  12. 9 The Third Primary, 1954
    (pp. 237-272)

    For the first six months after leaving office, Scott the private citizen worked on his dairy farm and tried to catch up on farm work that had been delayed while he presided over the state’s business. He generally stayed out of the public eye except for one press conference on January 24, 1953. Clad in overalls, a work shirt, and brogans, the ex-governor talked mainly about racial issues. He considered broadened racial representation on state boards as part of his mandate when elected in 1948 and thought his appointment of Dr. Harold Trigg and his selection of Negroes to serve...

  13. 10 The Senate Years, 1954–1958
    (pp. 273-308)

    W. Kerr Scott’s tenure as a member of the US Senate began on an auspicious note as more than one thousand Tar Heels journeyed to Washington on November 29, 1954, to see Scott and Senator Sam Ervin take the oath of office. Included in the official party were Governor Luther Hodges and other state dignitaries. When the Senate formally convened shortly after noon, Ervin and Scott walked down the aisle accompanied by Minority Leader Lyndon Johnson. The oath was then administered to both men. Scott and Ervin signed the Senate register to a thunderous round of applause from the spectators...

  14. 11 Legacy
    (pp. 309-322)

    The greatest contribution Kerr Scott made to his state came during his term as governor. His time in the US Senate was limited owing to his untimely death, and, as a junior senator, he never had the influence and power to promote significant legislation. A doer and a mover, he had been frustrated at the slowness and complexity of the congressional legislative process and frequently complained that it was difficult to get anything done. He devoted most of his time and energy in the Senate to his committee responsibilities.

    His goals in the Senate never wavered: the protection of agricultural...

  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 323-324)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 325-374)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 375-390)
  18. Index
    (pp. 391-406)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 407-408)