News your connection to The Boston Globe

S. Ernest Vandiver; presided over peaceful integration

ATLANTA -- Former governor S. Ernest Vandiver, who won office vowing that ''no, not one" black child would integrate a Georgia classroom, but went on to preside over peaceful desegregation, has died at age 86.

He died Monday, the family said through Governor Sonny Perdue's office.

Governor from 1959 to 1963, Mr. Vandiver had been elected on an antiintegration platform but at a critical moment persuaded lawmakers to repeal a law requiring schools to be closed rather than desegregated.

His stand was credited with sparing the state the turbulence that swept much of the rest of the South in that period, but at the time it cost him political support. He left office in 1963 when his four-year term ended and said later that keeping the schools open was ''my political suicide."

His ''no, not one" phrase had been devised by Mr. Vandiver's strategists to counter criticism from prosegregation voters after he had said integration of Georgia's schools should evolve.

Mr. Vandiver quickly found himself facing a series of federal court rulings that forced the integration first of Atlanta public schools and then of the University of Georgia.

On the books was a 1955 statute that required state funds to be cut off to any segregated college or school that admitted a black student.

Mr. Vandiver appointed Atlanta banker John Sibley to head a commission that eventually recommended that voters in each district be allowed to determine whether their schools would remain open.

Days after the courts ordered the desegregation of the University of Georgia in 1961, Mr. Vandiver called a special nighttime session of the Legislature and persuaded lawmakers to repeal the 1955 antidesegregation law and adopt the Sibley Commission's recommendation.

The commission had had the intended effect of providing a cooling-off period. Former governor Roy Barnes said Vandiver's actions made him one of the state's unsung heroes.

''His decision in the early 1960s to keep the University of Georgia open -- when overwhelming public sentiment was to close it because of integration -- was an act of courage. And it set the stage for Georgia's reputation as a progressive state," Barnes said yesterday.

Mr. Vandiver ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1972, and he blamed his defeat on the ''no, not one" statement of 14 years earlier.

''When I ran for governor, I made some intemperate remarks," Mr. Vandiver said in 2001 at a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the University of Georgia's integration. ''They shouldn't have been made."

Mr. Vandiver also was governor when the federal courts ordered the state to abandon its ''county unit" system of voting, which had enabled rural politicians to control the state for decades. Under the system, votes for governor and other statewide officers were cast based on who had won a majority in each county, much as the Electoral College selects the US presidents.

After leaving the governor's office, Mr. Vandiver served as chairman of a Lavonia bank and farmed cattle.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives