Ex-Georgia Gov. Carl Sanders, Racial Moderate In A Split South, Dies

November 19, 2014

Carl E. Sanders, who served as governor of Georgia from 1963 to 1967 and is credited with bringing about more racial integration to the state, died in Atlanta on Sunday. He was 89.

Sanders was considered to be a Southern moderate, and fought to create a “New South.” His politics set him apart from lawmakers who tried to keep public schools and facilities segregated.

In his inaugural address in January 1963, Sanders said:

“We are faced with both the greatest challenge and the brightest promise of our history. … We shall apply as the test of our progress not whether we add to those who have much, but whether we provide larger opportunities for those who have little.”

That said, even Sanders acknowledged that he was hardly a racial progressive in all matters, according to the New York Times:

“In July 1963, he told a United States Senate committee shaping what became the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that the federal government had ‘no authority, constitutional or otherwise’ to ban discrimination in privately owned public accommodations. He said Georgia had made progress on civil rights voluntarily.

When asked about how he viewed the modern Georgia in 2006, Sanders said in an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution: “In some ways, it’s better; in other ways, it’s not. It’s certainly bigger.”

He helped make it that way. Two sports teams — the Braves and the Falcons — came to Atlanta during his tenure, he dramatically increased the number of schools and teachers in the state, and he left office with a $140 million budget surplus, the Journal Constitution reports.

Sanders was born on May 15, 1925 in Augusta; his father was a salesman for a meat-packing company and his mother worked in a dime store. In high school, Sanders was a star athlete, landing himself a football scholarship with the University of Georgia, which he would eventually leave to fight in World War II with the Army Air Forces. (He learned to fly bomber planes, and would name his “Georgia Peach.”)

Sanders had a colorful personal life, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

“He dated a Hollywood starlet. He became a lawyer, then a lawmaker, then a governor — all by the age of 37 — then went on to become a leading business figure.”

He’s survived by his wife, two children and grandchildren.

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