Eugene Talmadge

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Talmadge was elected again as governor in 1940 and returned to the governor's office in 1941, emerging as the leader of racist and segregationist elements in Georgia. [36] Responding to reports that Walter Cocking, a dean at the University of Georgia, had advocated bringing black and white students together in the classroom, Talmadge launched an attack on the university, charging elitism, and called for the regents to remove Cocking and purge the university of communists, "foreigners" (non-Georgians), and subscribers to racial equality. The university board of regents at first refused Talmadge's demands, but after the governor restructured the board, the university dismissed numerous staff.

This intervention into academic affairs caused the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to remove accreditation from the Georgia state universities. It also contributed to Talmadge's defeat by Ellis Arnall in 1942. [37]

In 1940–1941, Talmadge took a strongly isolationist line and was opposed to Roosevelt's policy of having America be the "arsenal of democracy". He said that money spent in aiding Britain, China and the Soviet Union would have been better spent on helping the poor farmers of Georgia. [38] The fact that Talmadge had an admiration for Hitler and voiced such strong support for Japan's war against China that the Japanese government invited him to visit Japan on all-expenses paid vacation (an offer he declined) led to allegations that he was an Axis-sympathizer. [38] Some commentators felt that Talmadge was merely naive, a man who knew nothing about the affairs of Europe and Asia, while others charged that his authoritarian style of leadership made him naturally sympathetic towards fascist regimes. [38] About the charge that he acting like a dictator, Talmadge replied: "I'm what you call a minor dictator. But did you ever see anybody that was much good who didn't have a little dictator in him?" [38] Talmadge's biographer, William Anderson, wrote that Talmadge's admiration for Nazi Germany, his tendency to surround himself with paramilitary followers, and his frequent calls for martial law gave "an eerie backing" for his words. [38]

At the same time, the Cocking Affair had badly damaged Talmadge's reputation. [39] Arnall was a supporter of segregation, whose views on race were essentially the same as Talmadge's, but he presented himself as a supporter of better education for Georgians. [39] Arnall noted that nobody could beat Talmadge in what he cynically called the "nigger-hating contest", and argued that the issue in the "Cocking Affair" was not white supremacy, as Talmadge claimed, but education. [40] Arnall charged that Georgia's universities losing their accreditation, which Talmadge presented as an achievement on his part, put at risk the futures of all the students attending the universities. [39]  At a time when most Georgians were living in poverty and few attended higher education, the possibility that those young people who were lucky enough to attend university or might be would lose their chances to escape lives of poverty was widely regarded as unacceptable. [39] Those Georgians whose children were attending the university were outraged that the futures of their children had been at risk, and those whose children were not attending university had hopes that someday they might. [39]

The students at Georgia's universities and colleges championed vigorously against Talmadge, putting on skits that mocked the governor as a power-crazed buffoon just before football games. They were disproportionately over-represented as volunteers in the Arnall campaign. [39] When Talmadge held campaign rallies, students showed up to chant "To Hell with Talmadge!" [39] At one Talmadge campaign rally on 2 July 1942, a Talmadge supporter threw a canister of tear gas at the students, an incident that attracted much negative comment and led to demands that Talmadge discipline his "hoodlums" who always patrolled his rallies. [39] Talmadge was so unpopular with students that his campaign workers in the university town of Athens urged him not to hold a campaign rally there, predicting that more people would come out to boo him than cheer him. [41]

Realizing that Arnall had cast himself as stronger on the education issue, Talmadge changed tactics and announced simply that the loss of accreditation to Georgia's universities did not matter, saying at one rally in a rural area: "They talk about education. It ain't never taught a man how to plant cotton. It ain't made a garden bloom. It ain't never taught the experience necessary to raise cows and chickens. You gotta git out and do them things, and no school education is going to help ya". [42] This message was intended to appeal to the white farmers who traditionally supported Talmadge, but may have inadvertently hurt him as even many of Talmadge's rural supporters knew that a better education represented their children's best hope of escaping poverty, and did not appreciate the implied message that the best thing that could happen to their children would be to follow their parents in lives of drudgery and poverty.

As was always the case, Talmadge presented himself as an aggressive defender of white supremacy, arguing keeping the black people disfranchised and segregated was far more important than education, a message that appealed to his core supporters, but to nobody else. [43] At one campaign rally, Talmadge stated: "We in the South love the Negro in his place-but his place is at the back door". [43] The fact that Arnall had also declared himself a supporter of segregation, albeit not in quite the same crude terms as Talmadge had, meant that for many white Georgians there was no difference between the candidates on "the Negro question", and therefore neutralized Talmadge's advantage as an defender of white supremacy. [41] Furthermore, men were more likely to vote for Talmadge than women, and in 1942, many Georgian men were serving in the military, thus leading to women being over-represented in the Democratic primary. [44] In the primary, Arnall won 174,575 votes to Talmadge's 128,394. [45] Even the "county unit system", which worked to Talmadge's advantage in the past, failed to save him in 1942. Arnall won 242 unit votes to Talmadge's 149. [46]  

In retirement

Just after Talmadge left office in January 1943, it emerged that since 1940 that he had been receiving food grown on the state prison farms for free, an allegation that he admitted to, saying he was saving the state of Georgia money by not paying for his food. [47] Shortly afterwards, it emerged that he attended a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan, which he again admitted to, saying that "everyone had a good time" at the Klan banquet. [47]  In his retirement, Talmadge grew increasingly bitter and became consumed with a violent hatred for Roosevelt. [48] The isolationist Talmadge also deplored the United States fighting in World War II, all the more so as the social changes caused by the war were threatening Talmadge's vision of what an ideal America should be. [48] In particular, the first tentative gains made by the Civil rights movement in the war years enraged Talmadge, who predicated that even the modest gains being made by black Americans during the war would eventually lead to the end of white supremacy in the South. [48]

Talmadge convinced himself that Roosevelt had deliberately engineered the United States's entry into World War II because he wanted to create the social changes that would end white supremacy, causing him to engage in long tirades against Roosevelt, the New Deal, World War II and black Americans. [48] Talmadge's newspaper, The Statesmen printed editorials written by himself claiming that Roosevelt was compromising American sovereignty, making the allegation that the British prime minister Winston Churchill was being allowed to "meddle" in the affairs of Congress with Roosevelt's support. [48] In the 1944 election, The Statesmen ran a headline reading "Election of Roosevelt Means Promoting Negroes in Georgia". [48]  Anderson wrote during the war Talmadge became a "total cultural isolationist", a man who saw the world outside of the United States as a dangerous, menacing place and believed increasing American involvement with the world beyond would destroy everything that he held sacred. [48] At the same time, Talmadge, always a heavy drinker, started to drink on a scale that began to seriously damage his health. [49]

Anderson described Talmadge as "a ghost's voice hellbent on halting the future. But it was a frightened voice, scared that the wave of history had at last washed over the impenetrable culture of his fathers. So easily had his people succumbed to the siren call of change that Gene found himself with one hoary root left, one last undeniable link to yesterday-the black. He alone anchored the old consciousness, the tenacious culture, the old consciousness. Gene Talmadge knew if this one tie was uprooted, his world would be gone forever." [49] When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1944 Smith v. Allwright decision that white-only primaries were illegal and ordered Southern states to hold color-blind primaries, Talmadge was enraged and based his entire effort on a political comeback on a virulently racist platform of upholding white supremacy.

Last election

During Arnall's term, the state legislature lengthened his term to four years and prohibited him from seeking re-election in 1946. Talmadge ran for governor and used the Smith v. Allwright decision, ruling that the closed white primary was unconstitutional, as his main red flag issue. Talmadge promised that if he were to be elected, he would restore the "Equal Primary". Talmadge's family and advisers sought to persuade him not to run, warning that due to his failing health that a grueling campaign might kill him, but he refused to step aside in favor of his son Herman who had been groomed as his heir, saying "Naw, I'm the only goddamn son of a bitch who can win". [50] Talmadge's campaign was noted for its violent racist rhetoric as he boasted about assaulting and flogging the black sharecroppers who worked for his family as a young man and he claimed to have chased a black man down the street with an ax because he sat next to a white woman. [50]

In June 2007, previously sealed FBI files revealed that Talmadge was investigated by the FBI over suspicions he sanctioned the Moore's Ford lynching. [51] Through Talmadge was unpopular in the more populous urban areas, his relative popularity in rural areas gave him a fighting chance of still winning the Democratic nomination under the "county unit votes" system in which (essentially) the candidate who won the most counties, not the most popular votes, would receive the nomination. [51] Even then, Talmadge's opponent, James V. Carmichael, still polled well in rural counties, though not as well as in urban counties. Several witnesses stated that they overheard Talmadge speaking to George Hester, the brother of a white man stabbed by a black man named Roger Malcolm, outside of the courthouse in Monroe, Georgia, promising he would "take care of the Negro" in exchange for the Hester family using their influence to help win Walton County. [51] On July 25, 1946, the car carrying Malcolm, who had been bailed out of jail, was stopped by a group of about 30 white men at Moore's Ford. Malcolm, his wife Dorothy, and the other black couple riding in the car, George and Mae Murray Dorsey, were marched out of the car, lined up and shot. [51] The FBI agent investigating the lynching called the allegation that Talmadge led the lynch mob "unbelievable", but he forwarded the allegation to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover "as it may be of some possible future interest." [51] Talmadge's grandson, Herman Talmadge Jr, told the press: "I don't think my grandfather's involved in any lynching. If y'all are that far off, I feel sorry for you." [51] About the allegations that it was Talmadge who led the lynch mob at Moore's Ford, the historian Robert Pratt stated: "I'm not surprised ... historians over the years have concluded the violently racist tone of his 1946 campaign may have been indirectly responsible for the violence that came at Moore's Ford. It's fair to say he's one of the most virulently racist governors the state has ever had." [51] In 1946, Talmadge won Walton County by only 200 votes. [51]

Talmadge lost the popular vote in the Democratic primary to James V. Carmichael but won a majority of the "county unit votes". He died in December 1946, before he could be sworn in for his fourth term. The cause of death was hepatitis complicated with the effects of liver cirrhosis caused by his heavy drinking. [52] Talmadge's coffin, while lying in state at the Georgia capital, was decorated with a wreath reading KKKK (Knights of the Ku Klux Klan), an organization that Talmadge had at least been friendly with. [52] His 1946 death right before his inauguration precipitated the 1947 "Three Governors Controversy" among Arnall, Melvin E. Thompson, and Talmadge's son Herman. [53] While the general assembly elected his son, Herman Talmadge to take his father's place, the newly elected lieutenant governor Melvin E. Thompson claimed his right to the governor's office, and also the outgoing governor Ellis Arnall refused to leave office. Following the court's decision, Herman Talmadge ceded the office of governor to Thompson, ending the controversy. This controversy damaged Georgia's national reputation. [54]

Awards and legacy

Statue of Eugene Talmadge on the grounds of the Georgia State Capitol Eugene Talmadge statue (cropped).jpg
Statue of Eugene Talmadge on the grounds of the Georgia State Capitol

See also

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General sources

Further reading

Eugene Talmadge
Eugene Talmadge, Georgia Governor.jpg
Newspaper photo of Talmadge during 1938 U.S. Senate campaign
67th Governor of Georgia
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia
1932, 1934
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Eurith D. Rivers
Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Ellis Arnall
Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
Preceded by Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by