With the soft voice and deliberate mannerisms peculiar to Southern politicians, Terry Sanford blends a mild demeanor with the high-powered drive that made his administration the symbol of a progressive movement in the South.
When the voters of North Carolina elected him governor in 1960, they believed they were choosing a moderate along the lines of outgoing Governor Luther H. Hodges over a segregationist, I. Beverly Lake. Appealing to urban voters, organized labor, Negroes, bankers, and manufacturers, Sanford soft-pedaled the race issue and emphasized his proposals to increase expenditures in education and to attract new industry into the state. His victory was built upon a doubly unfavorable platform of increasing taxes and facing race relations with "massive intelligence, not massive resistance."
But once elected, Sanford's programs quickly outran his image as a moderate. He initiated legislation which far surpassed the most progressive of previous efforts in the South. By the end of his first two years, teachers' salaries were increased by 22 per cent, public school budgets by 50 per cent, and university and college budgets by 70 per cent. Vocational rehabilitation programs, industrial education centers, and junior colleges were established.
Not afraid to experiment, Sanford helped set up trial schools for gifted children, and during his administration the North Carolina Fund started as the first anti-poverty program in the country. Under Sanford, North Carolina, without demonstrations or court orders, abolished segregated state parks and segregated rest rooms in government buildings. The state's general assembly repealed the color ban of the National Guard and struck out provisions requiring segregated rest rooms in industrial plants. Sanford enrolled his own children in the one integrated school in Raleigh.
Education was the key to Sanford's state government. "Not at all satisfied that state government was effective," he said, "we set out to redefine universal education; sectors of society were being left out by the education system." Born and raised in Laurinburg, North Carolina, where his father was a hardware merchant and his mother taught school for 40 years, Sanford experienced first-hand the difficulties of small-town education. He describes himself as "one who never had private education, except one semester of Bible at Presbyterian Junior College."
Conscious of others' education and their use of it, Sanford worries "that some of our best educated people, the medical profession for example, could have no concern for the common good." Though he sees no essential difference in the goals of public and private education, he tends to view private institutions as sometimes "too inbred, too self-satisfied."
Following an idea of Dr. James B. Conant, Sanford helped organize an Interstate Compact on Education, planned as a partnership between the educational and political leadership among the states to make policy suggestions. Supporters of the proposal hope to reach a broad audience the way Conant did, avoiding the inflexibility of a central authority.
In his education program for the state, in the Compact, and in the study group which he is now conducting at Duke University, the overriding question for Sanford is how to make the state government more effective. "A lot of people think the state is on the way out," he says, "for it has been an historical, not a constitutional, feeling since the Roosevelt days that the state is not effective in education; the attitude for years has been that all the wisdom lies in one place."
In the same way that Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New York furnished models for some New Deal programs, Sanford hopes that the states will "regain the innovator role" and become the "new home of the liberal." He always has a ready supply of examples from his own administration to demonstrate that states should not be sold short for their achievements in areas such as mental health, prison reform, courts, and highways.
But Sanford is careful to point out that the states should not attempt to drain power from the federal government. The federal system, he says, should reach more people and yet provide room for the states to determine local needs.
Despite his leadership in the area of race relations, Sanford carefully avoids being identified as a civil rights stalwart. Ask him how long it will be before the Negro is accepted, and he will answer, "at least two generations." He advocates restraint and indirect charges as the most effective means of promoting race relations. For him, extremists on both sides merely affirm false notions about the South and the North and endanger the good will among moderates, liberals, and Negroes.
Sanford is instinctively very much a Southerner. When he speaks of cotton fields, he also mentions Northern ghettos; he refers to the summer of 1964 to show that the problem is national, not regional. He agrees that Southerners now bear the main burden, but he also believes that acceptance will come first in the South, "where the Negro is known as an individual, rather than in the North, where, as a comparative stranger, he is often feared."
Sanford, probably as a result of his farming-town background, sympathizes with the white man as well as with the Negro. "The people down there are a decent lot," he said. "They didn't believe their attitudes were prejudiced until the Negro demonstrations alerted the white man of the Negro's feelings of oppression." The Negro demonstrations, so important at first, have reached the point of diminishing returns, according to Sanford. "At times, civil rights workers have been detrimental to the whole process; but without them, where would we be?"
Now 48-years old, Sanford will be re-eligible for the governorship of North Carolina in 1968, but it is highly unlikely that he will want to return to a state level. He will definitely not run against incumbent Everett Jordan for the senate this year, but he may have his eye on Senator Sam Irving's seat two years hence. Sanford's present studies on state government could be put to valuable use in the senate, and by 1968 he will have completed his second book on government.