Talmadge, Herman Eugene 1913-2002
TALMADGE, Herman Eugene 1913-2002
PERSONAL: Born August 9, 1913, in McRae, GA; died March 22, 2002, in Hampton, GA; son of Eugene (a politician) and Mattie Thurmond (Peterson) Talmadge; married Leila Elizabeth Shingler, December 24, 1941 (divorced 1977); married Lynda Cowert; children: two sons, one stepson; Education: University of Georgia, LL.B., 1936; attended Midshipman's School, Northwestern University, 1942. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Baptist.
CAREER: Politician and attorney. Practiced law with father in Atlanta, GA, 1936-41, 1945-48; governor of Georgia, 1948-55; in general law practice, Atlanta, 1955-57; U.S. Senator from Georgia, 1957-81. Military service: U.S. Navy, 1941-45.
AWARDS, HONORS: Man of the Year, Morris Brown College, 1975.
You and Segregation, Vulcan Press (Birmingham, AL), 1955.
(With Mark Royden Winchell) Talmadge: A Politician's Life, Peachtree Publishers (Atlanta, GA), 1987.
SIDELIGHTS: Herman Eugene Talmadge was twice elected governor of Georgia, and served as a senator from that state from 1957 to 1981. His interest in politics was fueled by the career of his father, Eugene Talmadge, who served as governor of Georgia three times.
Talmadge was born in 1913 and grew up on a farm in rural Georgia. He graduated from the University of Georgia in 1936, and served in the U.S. Navy from 1941 to 1945. In 1947 Talmadge served as Georgia governor for sixty-seven days, taking the place of his father, who had died after being re-elected to office but before being sworn in to office. Talmadge, who had been his father's campaign manager, found a loophole in the laws that allowed him to produce several hundred write-in votes for himself, and persuaded the Georgia legislature to vote for him as replacement governor. Later, it was noted that many of the write-in votes were spurious, and the Georgia Supreme Court eventually ruled that he had not legally been governor during that time.
At the time Talmadge claimed to be governor, two other men also made claim to the office: Ellis Arnall, the outgoing governor, who refused to leave, and M. E. Thompson, who had been elected lieutenant governor and who claimed he was Eugene Talmadge's rightful successor. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed with Thompson's claim and declared him governor until 1948, when a special election was held. Talmadge won that election. He also won a full four-year term as governor in 1950.
As governor, Talmadge was noted for his support of racial segregation. In 1948, according to Bill Shipp in Georgia Trend, Talmadge stood up before a crowd of people and shouted, "The greatest challenge facing Georgia today is preserving our way of life!" He was referring to preserving the practice of racial segregation, which legally enforced whites-only restaurants, public waiting rooms, rest rooms, water fountains, and schools. However, as Shipp noted, support for this position was so common at the time that Talmadge "wasn't even considered the worst racist around, not by a long shot."
When the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in 1954, Talmadge direly predicted that "blood will run" in Atlanta's streets, according to Shipp. Adam Clymer noted in the New York Times that Talmadge also said, "There aren't enough troops in the whole United States to make white people of this state send their children to school with colored children." In 1956, according to Clymer, Talmadge said, "God advocates segregation." Paradoxically, however, he ensured that African-American teachers' salaries were equal to those of white teachers, a move that garnered no political support at the time.
In 1957 Talmadge became a U.S. senator representing Georgia. As a senator, he was noted for his insistence on starting committee meetings on time, and for his unfailing devotion to his constituents: every letter from a Georgia voter had to be answered within twenty-four hours of its receipt. According to Clymer, Talmadge reprimanded a colleague who did not want to spend time writing back to constituents who seemed mentally unbalanced, saying "Every constituent, including those you think of as nuts, expects and deserves a response from his United States Senator." And, he said, "Just remember, nuts vote. And if you lose the vote, you'll lose the election."
In 1972 Talmadge pushed the Rural Development Act through the U.S. Senate. The Act promoted jobs and infrastructure in rural areas. He also helped to expand the food stamp and school lunch programs. Talmadge was also a member of the committee that investigated the Watergate scandal during the presidency of Richard M. Nixon.
As the years passed, Talmadge gradually gave up his opposition to segregation and his support for racist views, and in 1975 was named Man of the Year by Morris Brown College, a predominantly African-American institution. However, as Shipp pointed out, Talmadge was a savvy politician who was aware that he needed votes from most of his constituency in order to remain in office. Since African Americans had gained more political power as voters over the years and were a sizable part of his constituency, he needed their votes in order to stay in office. "Still," Shipp noted, when Talmadge died, "perhaps a fourth of the mourners at [his] funeral were black."
Talmadge ran into personal and political troubles in the late 1970s: after he and his wife divorced, his alcoholism became public, and he was investigated by a senate ethics committee, which found him guilty of misusing campaign funds. Although he ran for reelection in 1980, he was defeated by Mack Mattingly. Talmadge died on March 22, 2002, in Hampton, Georgia.
In Talmadge: A Political Legacy, a Politician's Life, Talmadge presents a memoir of his political past. Called "feisty" by a Kirkus Reviews writer, and "sharpwitted and patient" by Jerry Elijah Brown in South Carolina Review, the book discusses the Talmadge family's history in politics, Talmadge's brief usurpation of the governorship, and his role in the Watergate investigation, as well as a selected account of his personal life. In the Journal of Southern History, James F. Cook praised Talmadge's "remarkable candor" and "direct, conversational style."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Journal of Southern History, November, 1989, James F. Cook, review of Talmadge, p. 744.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1987, review of Talmadge, p. 1225.
South Carolina Review, fall, 1988, Jerry Elijah Brown, review of Talmadge, p. 69.
Georgia Trend, May, 2002, p. 138.
New York Times, March 22, 2002, p. B9.*