Commentary

Remembering Terry Sanford in today’s NC

Terry Sanford and family in 1960. (Associated Press)

Given North Carolina’s current political environment, writer Howard E. Covington Jr.’s recent remembrance of former Gov. Terry Sanford on the centennial of his birth is worth a read this week.

Covington is the co-author with Marion A. Ellis of 1999’s  Terry Sanford: Politics, Progress, and Outrageous AmbitionIn his recent piece, published in Greensboro’s News & Record, Covington lamented that many North Carolinians now know next to nothing about Sanford.

From the piece:

But you need to think about Sanford when you hear people talking about putting their political careers on the line for education and the future of young people in this state. He learned in his mother Betsy’s classroom that education was the universal economic bootstrap. As governor, just a few months in office, he convinced a legislature that expanding the sales tax was necessary to get North Carolina’s schools in shape for future generations of students. One of the last public appearances he made as governor was before a room full of students at a public school.

Think about Sanford when you hear that, when the South was coming apart in the 1960s, with bombings in Birmingham and violence from St. Augustine to Selma, North Carolina had a governor who was talking about breaking down racial barriers and making sure all people had jobs and opportunity. He held off a segregationist opponent in the Democratic primaries in 1960 largely by parsing words. But when George Wallace declared “Segregation Forever,” Sanford and one of his cabinet members, Greensboro’s Hargrove “Skipper” Bowles, were desegregating the public facilities in North Carolina’s state parks, a transition that went smoothly without anyone suffering a scratch.

Think about Sanford when you hear that another graduate of the N.C. School of the Arts has won an Emmy, or an Oscar, or composed a captivating piece of music. Sanford embraced new ideas as if they were old friends. When things got slack around the governor’s office, he brought in big thinkers like Buckminster Fuller to stimulate the conversation. Not many people believed that a Southern state could produce any art worth the price of admission. That is, no one did until Terry’s “toe-dancing” bill passed the General Assembly in 1963 and created the NCSA.

Offended by poverty in a deep and profound way, Sanford saw to it that North Carolina was years ahead of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. Sanford combined the resources of the Ford Foundation with those of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and created the North Carolina Fund. During its four creative years, the fund became the nation’s proving ground for anti-poverty programs that later were incorporated into federal initiatives.

Read the whole thing here.

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