The 1946 Gubernatorial race for Georgia’s Governorship is legendary for those who are well read in the history of the state. Many people overlook the race as a return of an old grumpy “racist” demagogue trying to recapture the old ways. The race offers insight to the changes taking place post World war 2 in the South and how Southerners fought back.
Eugene Talmadge was one of the few men to fully grasp the importance of the White Only Primary. Talmadge feared the growing threat of federal intervention on behalf of spreading radical egalitarian “democracy”. Talmadge realized in spring of 1946 that he must win no matter what the cost. The Wild Man was growing old and in poor health, but he would ignore this and even personal feuds to save the white primary. The Prime example being when he came to see his old friend now turned bitter rival, Tom Linder.
“Shortly after supper one evening, his reading was disturbed by a knock at the door; Linder was startled to see gene Talmadge standing alone in the night. His manner was strangely reticent; he seemed inwardly worried and very serious. There followed an awkward exchange, with Gene expressing his regrets over splitting up and over the way he had treated Linder. Gene said he had heard his old friend was running for governor on the race issue. Linder said it was true, but that it was the last thing he wanted to do. He said he was so “damn scared” about the negroes entering white society though the court ruling that he was desperate to do something to stop them. Gene agreed and said white supremacy was the one thing that could elect a governor and save the state . Talmadge said he was convinced that no other issue could defeat the Arnall forces. (Anderson 221)
On this the two agreed that only one could run or else face splitting the conservative vote and losing to the compromising liberals. Talmadge told Linder that if he was determined to run then he would swallow his pride and drop out. Talmadge realized the fate of Georgia was too important to risk for his ego. However, Linder agreed that man to run was Talmadge and dropped out of the race. With this Talmadge was sure he had a fighting chance to defeat the leftist. This show of character dispels the notion that Gene was a power-hungry dictator who just rode the “race issue” to get elected.
Talmadge was almost ready to officially run but was begged by his wife “Miss Mitt’ and friends not to run. Talmadge stomach was sick from drinking and lack of eating due to frequent skipping of meals (due to campaigning). Gene was 61 years old and looked it. To Talmadge suffering a little pain was his way of life. His ancestors had suffered from back breaking work and wars. Anyhow it was all worth it to Gene if it meant stopping the rising tide of false equality. He recalled the days after reconstruction when the South was put under negro-carpetbagger rule. Talmadge swore he would never let this befall his people again.
On April 3, 1946 Talmadge officially announced his campaign to save Georgia. Talmadge would out right refer to the race “the most important one since the carpet bagger days” and that the Democratic primary would be preserved (Anderson 22). Talmadge had become wise and more tactical than in his former races and let his son, Herman, just recently back from the War, form his platform. Talmadge’s 1946 platform can be seen a precursor to the populist reforms taken up by George Wallace later on in the 60’s. Herman and Eugene had worked to create a well-rounded platform no longer weighed down with more neo conservative principles yet didn’t compromise race.
“The platform included raising teacher’s salaries pay to 50 percent, providing a million dollars a year for rural medical facilities, paving every road over which a mail truck traveled, and giving a lifetime drivers license and a five-year ad valorem exemption to veterans” (Anderson 222)
Talmadge was proof in contradiction of the narrative of the “backwards southern hillbilly demagogue” spread by the foreign press. Talmadge realized that yes, in some areas the South was lacking but this didn’t mean that we must also give up our traditions like proclaimed by the leftist self-proclaimed “progressives”. Talmadge had reconnected with the populist reforms put forth by the Antebellum Fire-eaters (like William Yancey) before the Civil War and the populist who rose after the war (think Tom Watson and Ben Tillman). This was home grown Southern reform not foreign reform with the Marxist strings attached and federal blackmail included.
King Maker & Carmichael
Meanwhile a battle for a seat in Richmond County was brewing between the forces of Roy Harris and a new ultra-liberal faction. Rep.Harris’s candidate loss the race thus destroying Roy’s hopes of carrying his home county in the governor election. Harris dropped out of the race after this embarrassing loss in his own backyard. He decided he’d still decide who won the Governorship, he too wanted segregation thus he choose Talmadge.
A new liberal candidate was on the scene a young business man named James V Carmichael. Carmichael had gotten a major push from The Atlanta Constitution and Governor Arnall. Carmichael was no doubt the sort of “man” who would sell the color-line in return for factories to come to Georgia. He was the Nathan Deal of the 1940s. A spineless cur who cared only for “muh economy”, thus the reason for his push among the treasonous liberal Atlanta business class. Meanwhile, Gene and Herman were ready to go campaigning after he paid his registering fee that May.
Talmadge could feel that America was going down a bad path in 1946. He saw the changes taking place. Gene looking gloom while reading the paper was asked by his wife what was wrong, Gene replied “I’m really worried, Mitt. Things are going wrong in this country. Things are breaking down. I don’t know what’s going to happen to us” (Anderson 224). Gene was right about this. Things had changed since the war. America had grown fearful of being called “racist” this was shown by Gene’s opponent Carmichael who blamed Gene for the Klan’s reemergence. Ironic when one considers Carmichael came out against race mixing. Racial awareness now had a negative stigma. The press which for years had been demonizing Germany had created that stigma, that wasn’t a accident. The “American Identity” was slowly being changed by the press. The new American identity was no longer fighting Indians or conquering land for manifest destiny. Now it was going off to fight for “freedom and democracy and equality”. Against “haters” and people who “lack tolerance”. While arguably the idea had been planted since the War of Northern Aggression the seed of radical seed of egalitarian globalism really began to sprout after World War 2. One could say it was watered by the (((press)).
Talmadge hit the campaign trail on May 18th in Lyons Georgia in front of a crowd of 6,000. There he explained his new platform and his mission to save the white only primary. Gene would warn the massive crowd “The influences that are controlling the Negro this year are far removed from Georgia” and “they emanate from Moscow, Harlem, New York and Chicago”. Talmadge roam the countryside’s of Georgia telling the white ruralites of the dangers of handing out universal suffrage and the chaos that would befall them if the White Primary was defiled. He was met by enormous crowds of Georgians who were sick and tired of the Federal subversion. He had become a living legend to many Young Georgians who had grown up with him in the 20’s and early 30’s, he was seen as wise sage and leader by the Georgia’s people.Talmadge’s Lyon speech should his understanding of what would happen if power was handed out to the blacks. Gene called out the pandering for black votes as a “sad mistake” hitting the nail on the head when he said “They [blacks] are being used as tools by alien influences that care nothing about them”. The ads were running in the pro Talmadge press headlines like “This year is the Last Stand against Carpet Bagger and Negro Rule in Georgia. ALL WHITE MEN AND WOMEN COMBINE ON THIS IMPORTANT ISSUE.KEEP GEORGIA WHITE.” Talmadge was proven right when FBI agents were sent to Georgia to try to prop up the black voting bloc. They were in fact driving all over Georgia sticking their noses around where they didn’t belong trying to stir up trouble and find Talmadge of wrong doings.
The press had thrown itself into a hell-bent fury outdoing even the medias attacks on Trump in modern times. Talmadge was attacked daily by the leading newspapers especially The Atlanta Constitution. Many of these papers really began even trashing his supporters, who they claimed were barbaric poor white trash. Their most damaging attack came when Gene was speaking at UGA. Some of the rift raft students still despised Talmadge since his attempted to try to purge the universities of their beloved leftist professors in 1941. Apparently, an effigy of Gene was hung outside only to be quickly torn down, Gene actually never saw it. Gene said that the students inside were respectful and kind audience, yet the Constitution ran with the events that occurred outside falsely proclaiming Talmadge had been ran off stage by the students. This was a typical underhanded attempt to project their own cowardice onto Gene. Gene was enraged by the lies and exclaimed to a press conference that The Atlanta Constitution had “sold out” and were “scalawags”. The events of the summer of 1946 became very dark and serious. Talmadge and the press were both serious and ready to fight. Whispers of violence crossed the state, blacks of course pushed on by the Northern papers began causing trouble which caused a few of them to receive a bloody nose at the hands of angry Georgians. Their plan was to subvert the Democratic Party but White Georgians weren’t standing for it and kept many of them from the polls. Many blacks had indeed rushed to the polls when the corrupt federal courts sided with them, citing the gunpoint Amendments passed during Reconstruction. Talmadge recognized this and openly compared the 1946 election to the 1872 elections in Georgia which threw out the carpetbagger. The press now feared Talmadge and were no longer laughing about what a “fool and clown” Gene was. Talmadge was no weakling and thus constantly fired back over the radio waves and from The Statesmen. He went out exposing the Yankees and Rosenwalds who had been trying to stir the blacks up. The NAACP had been given support by rich Yankees and other left-wingers and has used that money to file suits in the courts to over turn the Southern laws, Talmadge was fully aware and even felt that Ohio’s Governor was involved. He openly called out the Communist Party and their influence in the American Government. He was ready to do anything, even defy the overpower courts who had come to bitterly hate. He was openly willing to ignore the rulings and ban the blacks from the Primary if he was made Governor, he wasn’t afraid to say so either as he made it clear he would in his speeches. His supporters around the state used Redshirt tactics to make keep the black bloc vote from undermining the state’s election. They had much success in this.
On June 17th it was voting time for the Democratic Primary. The popular vote had gone to Carmichael but in the County Unit System (think basically electoral college for Georgia) Talmadge had claimed 242 votes to Carmichaels 146 and Rivers 22. Eugene Talmadge, The Wild Man from Sugar Creek, had won the primary for the 4th time in his career. He had defeated the rising tide of liberalism and compromise. He had beaten back the Atlanta press and shocked his enemies nationwide. Pompous self-righteous egotistical Yankees around the North coughed and joked on their own ego’s and coffee when they saw Talmadge’s victory. A victory that they had put their money and FBI agents to stop. Georgia had showed its resolve to fight against the tide of egalitarianism brought forth by the press.