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Interview with Forrest Burson, June 16, 2010

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:18 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: I'm Bob Short, and this is Reflections on Georgia Politics, sponsored by the Richard B. Russell Library at the University of Georgia and Young Harris College.

Segment Synopsis: Interviewer Bob Short introduces interviewee Forrest Burson and summarizes briefly the career of Forrest's father, the late Bill Burson.

00:01:10 - Bill Burson's early life

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Partial Transcript: Georgia Governor Zell Miller once described your father as one of the architects of the Georgia we know today.

Segment Synopsis: Burson describes his father's upbringing as a child prodigy in a small, poor mill town.

Keywords: Child prodigy; Columnist; Editorials; Journalism; Low-income family; Malnutrition; Manual labor; Mildred Pitts Burson; Mill town; Newspaper delivery; Poverty; Robert E. Lee High School; Scholastic achievement; Scrapbooks; Segregation; Thomaston Times; Thomaston, Georgia; UGA; University of Georgia; Valedictorian; World War II

00:05:44 - Journalism education at UGA

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Partial Transcript: He went from, uh, Robert E. Lee and his graduation there to the University of Georgia and decided he wanted to become a journalist.

Segment Synopsis: Burson summarizes his father's extreme studiousness and suggests he struggled with having fun and relaxing.

Keywords: Ambition; Athletics; Atlanta Falcons; Football; Georgia Bulldogs; Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication; History; Literature; Magna Cum Laude; Music; Phi Beta Kappa; Pianist; Spectator sports; Swimming; Type A personality; Westbrook Pegler

00:09:04 - Bill Burson's early career in PR and journalism / Military service

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Partial Transcript: Forrest, in addition to his achievements as a student in the School of Journalism, he also held full-time jobs there.

Segment Synopsis: Burson tells of his father's early work in journalism in Atlanta, where he met his future wife, and being drafted into the military as a war correspondent.

Keywords: Atlanta, Georgia; Authority figure; Baptist Radio Commission; Baptist Student Center; Bowling; Congenital hernia; Jimmy Jones; Korean War; Military draft; Moral compass; News correspondent; North Korean; Novels; Public relations; Public transportation; Tokyo, Japan; Trolleys; UPI; United Press International; Veterans

00:14:34 - Bill Burson's resistance to authority

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned the Jeep story.

Segment Synopsis: Burson tells of an incident in which his father stole a Lieutenant's Jeep in order to get to the front lines as a correspondent and suggests that he always felt an obligation to the common man in both his military and political career

Keywords: Centrist; Churches; Class struggle; Community organizations; Community service; Front lines; G.I.s; Liberal; Lieutenant; Local authorities; Local officials; Military personnel; Motor pool; Officer corps; Populism; Populist; Soldiers

00:18:06 - Early political career

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Partial Transcript: So he comes back from Korea, he marries your mother, you're born.

Segment Synopsis: Burson describes his early memories of living in Jackson and Atlanta, where his father continued to work as a journalist until being hired by then-governor Talmadge.

Keywords: Alexandria, Virginia; Attorney General; B. Brooks; Baseball; Bermuda; Buckhead, Atlanta; Church secretary; Comptroller General; Darlington Apartments; Gene Cook; Herman Talmadge; High-rise apartment; Honeymoon; Jackson, Mississippi; Jimmy Bentley; Piedmont Hospital; Press secretary; Thomaston First Baptist Church; Walter Brooks; Washington, D.C.

00:23:00 - Life in Washington, D.C.

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Partial Transcript: He, he left here, and y'all went to Washington, and he worked for Talmadge.

Segment Synopsis: Burson describes the stress of his father's job in Washington, D.C. and its effect on the family, which ultimately led to their decision to return to Georgia; he also recalls being babysat by Betty Talmadge.

Keywords: Betty Talmadge; Bleeding ulcer; Chevrolet Bel Air; Cuban Missile Crisis; Fidel Castro; First-generation college students; John F. Kennedy; Johnny Weissmuller Jr.; Kennedy family; Marital tension; Nikita Khrushchev; Nuclear War; Premature birth; Smokey Mountains; Tarzan

00:27:20 - Return to Georgia

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Partial Transcript: We were coming back to Georgia.

Segment Synopsis: Burson tells of the family's move back to Georgia over Talmadge's protests, and Short recalls commuting to Atlanta with Bill Burson.

Keywords: Carl Sanders; Democratic party; Director of Probation; Fiat; James L. Bentley; Jimmy Bentley; Political advisor; Speech writer; Zell Miller

00:30:05 - Segregation in Georgia / Work with Carl Sanders

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Partial Transcript: Okay, basically, where we were was Dad starting with Carl Sanders.

Segment Synopsis: Burson recollects his father's reaction to encountering segregated restrooms during family trips and describes Bill Burson's good working relationship with Sanders, whom he described as receptive to Bill Burson's relatively progressive political ideology.

Keywords: Agriculture; Buford Highway; Civil War; Civil rights; County commissioner; Cultural revolution; Culture shock; DeKalb County, Georgia; Desegregation; Farming; Legislature; New South; Old South; Progressive; Public school system; Racism; Rest areas; Sandersville, Georgia; Segregation; Sparta, Georgia; Thompson, Georgia; Upson County, Georgia; Washington County, Georgia

00:35:30 - Work in state government under Maddox

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Partial Transcript: So then he goes to the probation department.

Segment Synopsis: Burson and Short describe some of the appointments Bill Burson held in Georgia under Maddox, for whom he and Short had written an inauguration address, despite differences over segregationist policy.

Keywords: Bureaucracy; Businessman; County Welfare Boards; Department of Corrections; Department of Family and Children Services; Department of Industry and Trade; Government official; Inauguration address; Integration; J.B. Stoner; John F. Kennedy; Lester Maddox; Liberal; Pickrick Restaurant; Post office; ZIP codes

00:42:08 - War on hunger

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Partial Transcript: Uh, war on hunger.

Segment Synopsis: Burson tells of his father's campaign to promote an integrated food stamp and food surplus program in Georgia, despite protests from some counties.

Keywords: African-Americans; Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Baldy editorial; Clifford H. Baldowski; Computerization; County-unit system; Egalitarian; Food stamps; Glascock County, Georgia; Government social work; Gray, Georgia; Hunger; Illiteracy; John Haynes; Low income families; Malnutrition; Oration; Orator; Public outreach; Public speaking; Rhetoric; State treasurer; State troopers; Surplus commodities program; Tom Mann; Volunteer work; Whistlestop

00:50:31 - Election to State Treasurer

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Partial Transcript: So after, uh, after he was successful with his war on hunger, he decided to seek public office.

Segment Synopsis: Burson recalls his father's successful campaign for Georgia State Treasurer and his controversial tenure due to his commitment to investing in small banks, which resulted in Governor Carter abolishing the position altogether.

Keywords: Alcohol abuse; Alcoholism; Burson Bucks; Campaign platforms; Ford Country Squire; Georgia Supreme Court; Jimmy Carter; Lawsuit; Middle-income family; National Bank of Georgia; Referendum; Savings and loans; Small Banks Administration; State capitol; State tax revenues; State treasurer; U.S. Senator

00:57:01 - Work as small business lobbyist / Conflict at home

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Partial Transcript: Um, now I thought that this was when he was offered the job with Industry and Trade.

Segment Synopsis: Burson speaks about his father's work as a small business lobbyist but indicates he was not close to his father during this period due to personal and political differences.

Keywords: Anti-capitalism; Anti-establishment; Anti-war; Case worker; Church; Free enterprise; Georgia State University; Gilbert Delaney; Hippie; Liberal arts degree; Lobbyist; Motorcycles; National Federation of Small Businessmen; Rock and roll music; Unemployed; Unemployment

01:01:26 - Run for U.S. Senate

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Partial Transcript: Where were you in 1972 when he ran for United States Senate?

Segment Synopsis: Burson speculates that his father's run for Senate was unsuccessful due to a lack of media coverage and his unwillingness to compromise his ethics or pander to political or business interests.

Keywords: Campaign materials; Cox Broadcasting; Ethical relative; Negotiation; Rabun Gap, Georgia; Richard B. Russell; Speaking engagements; Tybee Island, Georgia

01:04:36 - Work with Zell Miller / Professional disappointment

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Partial Transcript: Then along came Zell Miller.

Segment Synopsis: Burson describes his father's work as Miller's right-hand man but suggests that he felt great disappointment that his career as an elected official did not progress farther.

Keywords: Backroom Boys; Campaign manager; Department of Human Resources; General adviser; Lieutenant governor; Marriott Hotel; Office manager

01:08:46 - Life after political retirement

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Partial Transcript: He retired after Miller left the lieutenant governor's office; what was life like for Bill Burson after retirement?

Segment Synopsis: Burson discusses some of the positions his father held after leaving government, ranging from working in higher education to handing out samples in a grocery store, and indicates that his father was unhappy in retirement.

Keywords: Bennington Towers; Bitterness; Georgia Institute of Technology; Georgia Tech; Publix Supermarket

01:11:33 - Bill Burson's political views

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Partial Transcript: Before we get into your own political and professional career, is there anything we left out that we should say about Bill Burson?

Segment Synopsis: Burson suggests that his father's political philosophy as a Democratic stressed empowering lower-income individuals to become engaged in capitalism and suggests that today's Democrats perpetuate dependence on government.

Keywords: Alienation; Conservative; Estrangement; Fishing; Government dependency; Jupiter, Florida; Liberalism; Republican; Self-empowerment; Yellow Dog Democrat

01:14:33 - Forrest Burson's work with various state welfare agencies

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Partial Transcript: Tell us about your career with the Department of Family and Children Services.

Segment Synopsis: Burson reviews his career as a public servant in Georgia and expresses frustration at the administration DFACS, though commends its work and employees.

Keywords: 24-hour emergency services; AFDC; Adoption records; Adult adoption reunion registry; Aid to Families with Dependent Children; Child Protective Services; Child abuse; Child support office; Counseling agencies; Division of Mental Health; Douglas County, Georgia; Drug addiction; Emergency intake; Emergency personnel; Foster care; Gainesville, Georgia; Grady Hospital; Hookers; Juvenile courts; Mary-Margaret Oliver; Methamphetamine; Narcs; Office of Adoptions; Pierre Howard; Police department; Prostitutes; Rape crisis; Sexual abuse; Tommy Olmstead; UGA School of Social Work

01:22:28 - Conclusion

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Partial Transcript: Well Forrest, this has been a very, very interesting conversation, and I'm sure we could go on and on and on about your father.

Segment Synopsis: Short and Burson conclude the interview.