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Interview with Tom Watson Brown, August 8, 2006

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:10 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: Good morning, I'm Bill Shipp.

Segment Synopsis: Bill Shipp introduces Tom Watson Brown and mentions the setting of the interview at Brown's Toby Grove Estate in Atlanta.

00:00:42 - Family's political life

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Partial Transcript: So let's jump right into the interview.

Segment Synopsis: Brown discusses the involvement of his grandfathers on both sides of his family within the Populist Party. He mentions his maternal grandfather's run on the vice-presidential ticket for Populist Party in the 1896 election, as well as his paternal grandfather's post as Commissioner of Agriculture in Georgia. Brown also mentions his father's success in the journalism, radio, and television industries and his press relations work for the Roosevelt Administration during World War II.

Keywords: Pearl Harbor; Populist Party; Southern Populism; Walter J. Brown; World War II; family legacy

00:10:40 - Early education and influence of interactions with political figures

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Partial Transcript: Let me ask you, did your dad's association with Byrnes and his work with Byrnes, how did that shape your politics, and how did that shape your feelings about the South and about the nation?

Segment Synopsis: Brown briefly describes the life of lawyer James F. Byrnes and discusses his close relationship with him. He recounts childhood visits to his father's job at the White House, his boarding school experience, and its effect on shaping his childhood personality.

Keywords: James Byrnes; boarding school; education

00:17:24 - Political context of Strom Thurmond's write-in campaign

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Partial Transcript: You wound up working for Strom Thurmond in what I think is one of the most memorable and unique campaigns in American history.

Segment Synopsis: Brown recounts getting involved in the Strom Thurmond campaign while waiting to be drafted. He discusses the political climate in South Carolina that led to Thurmond's decision to run as an opposition candidate and the political advice and support that James Byrnes provided to Thurmond's campaign.

Keywords: James Byrnes; South Carolina; Strom Thurmond; political backing; senatorial campaign; write-in ballot

00:22:53 - Working on Thurmond's senatorial campaign in South Carolina

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Partial Transcript: The campaign--His staff consisted of his young wife, Jean.

Segment Synopsis: Brown comments on the structure and the central message of Thurmond's campaign as well as James Byrne's political and personal contributions. Brown recounts his general duties in the campaign, which included running a bank of Robotypers. Brown also comments on the mechanics of a write-in campaign, the political feud between President Truman and Thurmond, and the resulting controversy from a derogatory comment made by one of Truman's staff members. He also mentions the female public relations firm Hamby and Graham, which handled Thurmond's campaign.

Keywords: Hamby and Graham; Harry Truman; James Byrnes; Robotypers; campaign contributions; public relations firm; write-in campaign

00:34:44 - Military experience / Choosing between universities

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Partial Transcript: I did not go to Washington with Thurmond because my draft number was finally coming up, so I went to Fort Jackson instead.

Segment Synopsis: Brown discusses his general experience in the army and the advice that James Byrnes' gave him about which university to attend on the GI Bill. Brown recounts being drafted to the Army Counter Intelligence Corp at the end of the Thurmond campaign.

Keywords: Counter Intelligence Corps; GI Bill; Harvard University Law School

00:41:28 - Practicing law in Atlanta / Work with MARTA transit

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Partial Transcript: You came to Atlanta to practice law. Tell us about that decision and what happened then.

Segment Synopsis: Brown discusses his decision to move to Atlanta, his work as a lawyer in the city, and his working relationships with notable lawyers, including Charles Weltner. He reflects on the racially-conscientious decision through which he was elected as board chairman of the Atlanta Transit Company, which eventually became MARTA.

Keywords: Atlanta Transit Company; Charles Weltner; Jesse Hill; MARTA; chairman; law practice; mass transit; transportation

00:46:52 - Controversy over Leo Frank trial

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Partial Transcript: But yet, in Populist history, when you mention Tom Watson's case, you think of the Leo Frank case and the Mary Phagan murder.

Segment Synopsis: Brown recounts the events of the Leo Frank murder trial and appeal process and offers his view about the verdict in the case. He also discusses his grandfather's journalistic involvement in the controversy over the appeal process and reflects on the historic misportrayal of his grandfather and the Leo Frank case.

Keywords: Leo Frank trial; Mary Phagan; antisemitism; case appeal; conflict of interest

00:56:51 - Watson-Brown Foundation / Gallant Pelham Club at Harvard

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Partial Transcript: 1970, your dad started the Watson-Brown Foundation, and you have been President and now Chairman.

Segment Synopsis: Brown discusses the work the family foundation has done in education and historic preservation. He reflects on his involvement in founding the Gallant Pelham Club at Harvard Law School and the history behind its name. Brown also mentions his interests in history and Civil War preservation.

Keywords: Civil War preservation; Gallant Pelham Club; Harvard Law School; Watson-Brown Foundation; building restoration

01:07:28 - Home library / Perception of reading and literacy

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Partial Transcript: Tell us about your library.

Segment Synopsis: Brown describes the extent and organization of his home library, and the beginnings of his book collecting as a child. He discusses his perception of the current state of academic scholarship, reading, literacy and the educational system as compared to the past. Brown also comments on the role of television in what he perceives as a growing trend of homogenization.

Keywords: Napoleon; book collecting; home library; homogenization; influence of technology; information access; literacy; regionalism; television influence

01:14:19 - Work with family company / Funding Atlanta Falcons and political candidates

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Partial Transcript: Let's qualify you as a critic of the TV age. Tell me about Spartan Communications and your role with that.

Segment Synopsis: Brown discusses working for his family-owned television company, attending elaborate network sponsored meetings, and eventually selling the company after his father's death. Brown also reflects on investing as an minority shareholder in the Atlanta Falcons, his warm welcome by the Rankin family who owned the team, his experiences of travelling with the team, as well as the new ownership of team. Brown also mentions his criteria in contributing to political candidates.

Keywords: Atlanta Falcons; CBS affiliate; Rankin family; Spartan Communications; campaign contributions; television ownership

01:22:50 - Life reflections and perception of the future / Conclusion

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Partial Transcript: Beginning to wrap things up, what do you see as the legacy of Watson-Brown, the foundation and the family?

Segment Synopsis: Brown reflects on the legacy of his family, his accomplishments, and the changes he has perceived over his life. He elaborates on the loss of family and local life as a result of homogenization and reflects on the decline in newspaper readership. Brown also offers his view on the future of the United States within a global context.

Keywords: cultural homogenization; culture of television; loss of family ties; newspaper decline; scientific competition