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Interview with S. Jarvin Levison, January 22, 2018

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:50 - Early life and education

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Partial Transcript: Just to begin with, tell me a little bit about your childhood, your upbringing, how you got to Atlanta.

Segment Synopsis: Levison discusses his early life growing up in Atlanta during the Great Depression, particularly how the support his family showed for Franklin Roosevelt shaped his early political views. He elaborates on his decision to go to college through a program with the U.S. Navy's Air Corps, taking him to University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Georgia Tech, and Emory University.

Keywords: Bristol, Virginia; Durham, North Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; Macon, Georgia; accounting

00:10:57 - Getting involved in politics

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Partial Transcript: Now in 1948, there was a relatively historic presidential election.

Segment Synopsis: Levison tells of his political alignment to the Republican Party forming out of observing the friendliness of southern Democratic politicians toward the Ku Klux Klan, racism, and antisemitism more broadly. He cites a rally for Eugene Talmadge's 1946 gubernatorial campaign as the main catalyst for his turn.

Keywords: 1952 presidential election; Adlai Stevenson; Dwight D. Eisenhower; Emory University School of Law; Harry Truman; Jimmy Carmichael; Thomas Dewey; anti-Talmadge faction; corruption; cronyism

00:15:58 - Legal career

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Partial Transcript: I finished law school in January of '51.

Segment Synopsis: Levison summarizes his legal career, bouncing between several law firms specializing in tax law and working briefly at the Internal Revenue Service's office in New York City. Levison notes that during this time, he was was expected to be called to serve in the Korean War but was notified that he was considered having "completed" his military service, therefore allowing him to focus on his legal career.

Keywords: 1948 presidential election; Arnall & Gregory; Charles Weltner; Ellis Arnall; Harry Truman; Herbert Haas; United States Air Force; federal spending

00:22:43 - Ellis Arnall and Robert Lipshutz

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Partial Transcript: So when did you make your way back from New York to Atlanta?

Segment Synopsis: Levison talks about being employed at a law firm Ellis Arnall was a partner of and discussing politics with the former governor. Levison also remembers discussions with Robert Lipshutz, the White House counsel in the Jimmy Carter administration.

Keywords: Arnall Golden Gregory; Haas, Holland, & Blackshear; general practice

00:27:23 - Formation of the Georgia Republican Party

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so we're back in 1956, the second Eisenhower administration.

Segment Synopsis: Levison describes how the organization of the Georgia Republican Party began to form in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He credits the African-American community for the election of Republicans Rodney Cook and Richard Freeman to the Atlanta city council in 1961.

Keywords: 1956 election; Atlanta Constitution; Alex Bealer; Emory University; Gene Patterson; June Smith; Mack Johnston; Mike Eagan; Randolph Thrower; Young Republicans; newsletters

00:35:14 - 1962 Fifth Congressional district race

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Partial Transcript: And in '62, before the collapse of the county unit system, we'd gotten Jim O'Callaghan- L.J. O'Callaghan to agree to run for the Fifth district.

Segment Synopsis: Levison recalls Jim O'Callaghan's campaign for the 5th district House seat against Charles Weltner. Levison explains how he and other Republicans made a deal with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Carl Sanders that Sanders would not endorse Weltner in the congressional race if Republicans supported Sanders in his primary race against Marvin Griffin, following the untimely death of the Republican nominee for governor, Ed Smith.

Keywords: Atlanta Negro Voters League; Dwight D. Eisenhower; John Calhoun; Q.V. Williamson; Randolph Thrower; T.M. Alexander, Jr.; fundraising

00:44:27 - 1964 Republican presidential nominee

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Partial Transcript: So in the lead-up to the '64 presidential election, there had been some rumblings that Barry Goldwater was going to run in 1964 or at least have a challenge on the floor at the convention.

Segment Synopsis: Levison recalls the tension within the Republican Party that flared in the 1964 presidential election when the party gave the nomination to Barry Goldwater over more moderate candidates. Levison then elaborates how, despite the inner-party turmoil, he got elevated from being the vice chairman of the Fulton County Republican Party to the Fifth Congressional district chairman.

Keywords: "Draft Goldwater" movement; 1964 Civil Rights Act; African-Americans; American Indians; Bob Snodgrass; DeKalb County, Georgia; Don Whittemore; Jim O'Callaghan; Nelson Rockefeller; Randolph Thrower; Richard Nixon; Roscoe Pickett; antisemitism

00:51:24 - The Loose Group

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Partial Transcript: Now there were some others- Bill Dowda, Dr. Dowda, who was-

Segment Synopsis: Levison lists the members affiliated with the "Loose Group", a faction of the Georgia Republican Party in the 1960s and 1970s that supported conservative candidates. He notes that many of these people had been in the party before 1964 and did not identify themselves as ideologically conservative; rather, they supported conservative Republicans over moderate Republicans because they had the potential of winning elections.

Keywords: Alex Smityh; Bob Redfearn; Charlie West; Dan Shephard; Ed Noble; Gene Milner; Henry A. Alexander; Julian LeCraw; Ring Radio; Thornton Kennedy; Wesley Moran; William J. Alexander; candidate recruitment; racism; southern Democrats

00:56:38 - Party leadership in the mid-1960s

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Partial Transcript: There was something of a showdown at the Fulton County Republican Convention in '64.

Segment Synopsis: Levison explains how the ideological shift of the Republican Party led to an overhaul of the party leadership after the state party convention in 1964. Levison also discusses how the ideological divides in the Republican Party could be seen in the Georgia state senate after the election of several Republicans in 1962.

Keywords: Alex Bealer; Barry Goldwater; Bill Dowda; Bob Snodgrass; Dan McIntyre; Ed Noble; Joe Tribble; John Calhoun; Mike Egan; Randolph Thrower; Rockefeller Republicans; Rodney Cook; Roscoe Pickett; Whitney O'Keefe; William Armstrong Smith; national committeeman; state party chairman

01:06:09 - 1964 Republican National Convention

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Partial Transcript: When the Goldwater supporters carried the county convention and the state convention, what was your reaction?

Segment Synopsis: Levison remembers the 1964 national Reublican Convention in San Francisco which ultimately nominated Barry Goldwater as the presidential nominee. Levisons talks about the mental barriers he had, as a pledged delegate, to casting his vote for Barry Goldwater, whom he believed to not be the best candidate, and how he ultimately voted for William Scranton.

Keywords: "extremism" speech; Bo Callaway; Dot Addison; John Grenier; Julian LeCraw; Lyndon B. Johnson; Q. V. Williamson; Tom Addison; bigotry; local campaigning

01:11:56 - Effects of Goldwater's candidacy

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Partial Transcript: So you come back to Georgia and there's a campaign on.

Segment Synopsis: Levison analyzes the effects that Goldwater's presidential run had on the Republican Party nationally since 1964, particularly its effect on pushing away the black vote from Republicans. Levison then speaks more specifically on the effects of Goldwater's candidacy in Georgia, including the elections of Fletcher Thompson and Ben Blackburn to Congress in 1966.

Keywords: 1964 Civil Rights Act; African-American vote; Charles Weltner; Fifth congressional district committee; Julian Bond; Lester Maddox; Macon, Georgia; Oliver Bateman; Paul Jones; Rodney Cook; Vietnam War; Whitney O'Keefe; economic development; state party committee

01:18:56 - 1966 gubernatorial race / 1968 presidential primary

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Partial Transcript: What do you think it would have meant, organizationally and morale-wise, had Bo Callaway been able to- he won the popular vote, but as we know, that didn't really matter at the time- what would it have meant to the party had Bo Callaway won?

Segment Synopsis: Levison recalls the 1966 gubernatorial race in Georgia, admitting that he believed the only reason Bo Callaway came close to winning was because his family had close ties to and support from Atlanta's business community. Levison then tells of the 1968 presidential nomination process and why he supported Nelson Rockefeller over the more conservative candidates, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Keywords: 1968 presidential election; Bob Woodruff; Ellis Arnall; George Murphy; Jack Barnett; John Sibley; Lester Maddox; Strom Thurmond

01:26:33 - 1969 Atlanta mayoral race

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Partial Transcript: So did you remain as active in party politics after its shift to the right?

Segment Synopsis: Levison remembers the 1969 Atlanta mayoral race between Rodney Cook, whom Levison fundraised for, and Sam Massell, observing that former mayor Ivan Allen's endorsement came too late to meaningfully help Cook. Levison also briefly describes his stint on the state's elections board and his short-lived consideration to run for state party chairman.

Keywords: Atlanta business community; Ben Fortson; Columbus, Georgia; Dalton, Georgia; Macon, Georgia; Miles Lane; Paul Coverdell; Paul Jones; Wiley Wasden; campaign chairman; state senate

01:33:33 - Paul Coverdell

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Partial Transcript: Well, you were talking about Paul Coverdell earlier.

Segment Synopsis: Levison comments on Paul Coverdell's role in shaping the Georgia Republican Party in the 1970s until the 1990s. Levison makes sure to highlight Coverdell's work ethic, with his simultaneously running campaigns, being a state senator, and running an insurance business, Coverdell & Company.

Keywords: "citizen-legislator"; Atlanta, Georgia; George H.W. Bush; Michael Levison; Peace Corps; Ronald Reagan; Roy Barnes; Watergate scandal; business community; organization; political activism; public service; public speaking

01:43:03 - Republican governance in Georgia

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Partial Transcript: Zooming out a bit, you got involved back- 1960 or so- 1946, if you want to count heckling Gene Talmadge during his campaign.

Segment Synopsis: Levison states that the Republicans have not governed much differently than their Democratic predecessors did, especially after the latter moderated after the fall of the county unit system. Levison then comments on the increased polarization in both parties in recent elections, blaming racialized gerrymandering for allowing more radical candidates to run and win elections.

Keywords: 1963 Georgia Constituonal Revision Commission; 1966 gubernatorial election; African American community; Bo Callaway; Carl Sanders; George Busbee; Georgia Constitution; Georgia Republican Party; Joe Frank Harris; Nathan Deal; Randolph Thrower; Roy Barnes; Sonny Perdue; State Bar of Georgia; Supreme Court of the United States; Zell Miller; campaign funding; rural Georgia; two-party competition

01:50:50 - Evolution of the Republican Party

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Partial Transcript: How do you think the Republican Party has evolved since you became-

Segment Synopsis: Levison chronicles the changes he has witnessed in the Republican Party both nationwide and in Georgia since joining in the 1950s. Levison also elaborates how he believes Donald Trump got elected in the 2016 presidential election and what his effect will be on the Republican Party in the future.

Keywords: 2008 election; 2012 election; 2016 Republican presidential primary; 2017 Sixth Congressional district special election; 2020 election; Andrew Cuomo; Barack Obama; Barry Goldwater; Bernie Sanders; Chuck Schumer; Eisenhower Republican; Elizabeth Warren; George H.W. Bush; George W. Bush; Gerald Ford; Hillary Clinton; NATO; Nancy Pelosi; Oprah Winfrey; Richard Nixon; Ronald Reagan; Twitter; bipartisanship; civil rights legislation; economic conservatism; economic policy; foreign policy; free trade; ideology; immigration policy; moderate Republicans; party philosophy; party polarization; populism; retrogression; social conservatism; southern Democrats; suburban growth