The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, October 06, 2003

Jim Crow era Arkansas governor kaput - Sid McMath victim of schools desegregation suit?

That's not one of those tricky, sleazy journo-type questions that promise a bucketful of innuendo and half-truth - I'd genuinely like to know.

And who is Sid McMath? I'd never heard of him before reading this AP piece (October 6) telling of the man's death at the ripe old age of 91. Sidney Sanders McMath served two terms as governor (1949-1953) [1], being succeeded by Francis Adams Cherry (one term), who was followed by Orval Faubus (of Little Rock High School fame - 1955-1967).

Another AP piece (October 5) says
In 1954, McMath made an unsuccessful attempt to oust Sen. John McClellan, a Democrat. In 1962, McMath ran again for gubernatorial nomination, but lost to then-Gov. Orval Faubus.

McMath's political demise occurred in 1952 (I'm assuming at the Democratic primary - so far as I can tell, Winthrop Rockefeller was the first Republican governor of Arkansas - 1967-71) - the obits blame
a highway spending scandal that he insisted was politically motivated.

From all accounts, McMath was a reforming governor - thus putting him in the same class with Earl Long (Louisiana), James E Folsom ('Big 'Jim' Folsom to his friends) and (believe it or not) Strom Thurmond and George Wallace [2]. There was a strange post-war bubble of Southern progressivism (not a million miles away from the Southern Populist Movement of the 1890s - associated with Tom Watson), in which a number of pols of McMath's generation set aside the nigger-baiting of the likes of Theodore Bilbo and focused on economic and social issues (a 1998 Atlantic Monthly piece majoring on Faubus still seems to be the best thing online dealing with this now unsung phenomenon - it puts the Civil Rights Industry's set-in-stone chronology right out!)

Desegregation was no part of their agenda: but they believed the obsession with race was keeping Southern whites in their backward condition.

The school case - started in Clarendon County, SC (December 7 2002) - was, I believe, the critical wedge which enabled conservative forces to reassert control in the South, and force reforming governors to change or go - Folsom's second term as Alabama Governor was in the post-Brown mould, I think.

Now, although the media reports put down McMath's failure in 1952 to corruption allegations [3], I would hypothesise that schools desegregation might have had something to do with it. (Objecting to corruption in Arkansas would be like Hillary Clinton complaining about her spouse's infidelity, surely?)

An Arkansas Times piece of December 31 1999 entitled Arkansans of the Century has the following par on McMath:
A real progressive by 1949 standards, McMath built more highways than any other governor, expanded the medical school, allowed blacks to vote in primaries and improved the black segregated schools.

That's the only online reference I can trace to McMath and Negro education [4]: a hypothesis worth investigating - but, in default of useful information, to say more would just be connecting the dots.

  1. Arkansas then having two-year terms, but - unlike Alabama, say - no eunuch rule preventing a governor from succeeding himself.

  2. My piece of December 8 2002 namechecks them in the context of the white primaries decision in Smith v Allwright - this one of a good many December 2002 pieces on the period triggered by the Trent Lott/Dixiecrat caper.

  3. A piece dated March 16 2002 on the death of Judge Henry Woods (involved in the Whitewater scandal, it seems) has some further information:
    He was an aide to a midcentury governor and was the target of a legislative audit of a multimillion-dollar highway bond issue and a subsequent grand jury investigation. Mr. Johnson, then a state senator, was a sponsor of the legislative audit, which concluded that businessmen seeking state contracts were required to contribute to a slush fund supervised by Mr. Woods.

    Both Mr. Woods and the governor, Sid McMath, a Democrat, denied the accusations. The grand jury concluded its investigation unexpectedly, declining to return indictments and the presiding judge retired with an enhanced state pension. The governor lost a bid for re-election and Mr. Woods retired to a private law practice. He became a mentor of the Clintons...

  4. He is present in the form of material in various boxes over at Arkansas U - which is not much use for those of us not within easy reach of Fayetteville!

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