Monday, November 17, 2014

A Tribute: Carl Sanders (1921-2014)

The staff of the Russell Library would like to pay respects to former Georgia Governor Carl Sanders who passed away on Sunday in Atlanta. Below is a short biography of Sanders, highlighting his political career, followed by a few clips drawn from the Russell Library audiovisual and oral history collections. For more information on the Carl Sanders Papers, visit the Russell Library website.

Sanders and his supporters celebrating his election
as governor of Georgia, 1962.
Carl Sanders was born in Augusta, Georgia on May 15, 1921. He accepted a football scholarship to the University of Georgia, but in 1943 enlisted in the Air Force and trained as a B-17 pilot. After serving during World War II, he returned to UGA where he completed law school in 1947. In that same year he married Betty Foy of Statesboro, Georgia.

Sanders entered private practice in Augusta and eventually started the law firm of Sanders, Thurmond, Hester and Jolles. In 1954, he made a successful bid for the Georgia House of Representatives. Two years later, in 1956, he won a seat in the Georgia Senate. At the time, the seat rotated between Richmond, Glascock and Jefferson counties. Sanders was subsequently elected to the same seat by both Jefferson and Glascock counties due to his overwhelming popularity, becoming the only man to serve three consecutive terms in a multi-county district. In 1959, Governor Ernest Vandiver named Sanders as Senate Floor Leader. He went on to serve as president pro tempore of the Senate from 1960 to 1962.

Clifford H. Baldowski cartoon commenting
on the campaign strategies of Sanders and
Griffin in the 1962 gubernatorial election.
Sanders took the next step in his political career by running for governor in 1962 against Marvin Griffin. Shortly after his announcement, federal courts ruled that Georgia's county unit system was unconstitutional. The state would elect its officials by popular vote, giving the urban candidate, Sanders, a greater change at victory.

As a moderate on racial issues, he faced an outspoken opponent of integration in former Governor Marvin Griffin. While agreeing that Georgia should keep its tradition of segregation, Sanders believed it was imperative that the state avoid violence and obey the laws of the country. Unlike Griffin, his campaign issues were not built around race. Instead, Sanders focused on the elimination of corruption in state government and pushed for overall progress for the state. He also wanted to improve education and bring industry to Georgia. With his positive message, Sanders emerged victorious, becoming the youngest governor in the country at the time. He was 37.

Upon his election, Sanders set about following through on his campaign promises. In order to revitalize Georgia's educational system, the new governor created the Governor's Commission to Improve Education in 1963. Based on the commission's findings and with the approval of the General Assembly, the state raised teach salaries, added more teaching positions, and reorganized the Department of Education. The program also built new school buildings, established more junior colleges and vocational schools, and created the Governor's Honors Program. Sanders also appointed the Governor's Commission for Efficiency and Improvement which helped to reform many government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture and the Highway Department, as well as the prison and state merit systems.

In May 1963, Sanders sought to draft a new state constitution. With the appointment of the Constitutional Revision Commission, he hoped to condense and clarify Georgia's Constitution. While the General Assembly approved the new constitution, it was never put on the general ballot. The momentum was lost when federal courts declared that the General Assembly was incorrectly apportioned and the constitution was, therefore, invalid. Sanders would later play an integral part in the passage of the reapportionment of congressional districts, but would never succeed in revising the constitution.

Unable to succeed himself as governor, Sanders returned to private life in 1967. Instead of returning to Augusta, he and his family remained in Atlanta where he started a new law firm. On April 25, 1970, Sanders announced his campaign for governor. He ultimately lost this final campaign to Jimmy Carter. Though this was his last attempt at public office, he continued to work for other Democratic candidates such as Zell Miller, Andrew Young, and Sam Nunn. He also went on to serve as Finance Chairman for the Democratic Party of Georgia during George Busbee's term as governor.

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