Political Spheres of Influence Throughout the State


Women Enter the Political Arena

While events on the literary plane were attracting attention, in other spheres activity continued apace. Politicians never ceased forming strategies to interest the electorate nor overlooked a subject with popular appeal. Since ballot boxes were brought out every two years, there was never time to rest on one's laurels. Women were now making their presence known in the public service arena, and by 1921 one of them, Harriet Morehead Berry of Hillsborough, was regarded as "the best woman politician in the state." An 1897 graduate of the State Normal and Industrial School (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro), she became secretary of the North Carolina Geological and Economic Survey, headed by Joseph Hyde Pratt with offices in Chapel Hill. This agency, which was concerned with the conservation of natural resources and the construction of better roads, provided valuable assistance to the North Carolina Good Roads Association.

When Pratt left for military service in 1917, Harriet Berry became acting head of the survey. In this capacity she played an effective role in planning and securing legislation for a road building program. News releases, letters, petitions, circulars, and a great variety of publications blanketed the state, publicizing the plan and laying the groundwork for legislative support. The idea was to have an extensive network of all-weather roads connecting every county seat town with its neighboring county seats; all state institutions not in a county seat would also be included in this great spiderweb-like design.


For more information about Heriot Clarkson and Harriet Morehead Berry, follow this link.
A "mere woman" alone, of course, could not attain such an ambitious goal without the assistance of professional politicians who were anxious to attract persona, attention and to make a name for themselves. As had happened so many times in the past and as would often be the case again, North Carolina was fortunate to have the right people in positions of authority at the critical time. One such person was Cameron Morrison, a native of Richmond County and governor from 1921 to 1925. As a very young man he had followed his father's lead into the Republican party, but soon changed his registration to Democrat and a few years later participated in the Red Shirt movement. He became mayor of Rockingham and at the turn of the century was a member of the state senate. Remaining active in state politics, in 1920 he became his party's candidate for governor, having defeated the incumbent lieutenant governor, O. Max Gardner, for that honor. Although Morrison was a colorful public figure, described as "bluff and hearty in his bearing and manner," no one expected more than "unimaginative, routine leadership from him." Much to the surprise of his friends, his administration was one of the most progressive the state had known.


A Change in Leadership for the Old North State

Morrison took his first forward step a few months after he was inaugurated. Between the election and that date he had been busy lining up support for the program of good roads that would make him long remembered. He became the first of several to claim to be the "Good Roads Governor." With the help of his longtime friends in the General Assembly, committee chairmen were carefully selected. Those who might have opposed his program were placated and their vanity carefully stroked. Men of influence and ability were placed in positions where these qualities would be useful. As a result, the legislature in 1921 created a powerful state highway commission and committed North Carolina to the construction of a thoroughly modern system of highways 5,500 miles in extent. To accomplish this a $50 million bond issue was authorized and two years later an additional $15 million was approved.


Beginning of a Movement

Harriet Berry was not forgotten in the political maneuvering that made this possible. She came to be recognized as the "Mother of Good Roads in North Carolina," and was often commended for her foresight and ability. Having achieved this victory, she joined the staff of the Greensboro Daily News as editor of the Department of Industries and Resources to campaign for better schools and to publicize North Carolina's attractions for industry, tourists, and new residents, all of which would contribute to the orderly development of the state's resources.

Governor Morrison enjoyed equal success with other programs. Under his leadership the legislature funded a six year, $20 million program to expand the overcrowded state institutions of higher education and to improve the state insane asylums, reformatories, sanatoriums, and schools for the deaf, dumb, and blind.

Routine operating funds for the State Board of Health were also increased, and greater appropriations were made for the public schools. A loan fund for the construction of new school buildings was increased from $I million to $10 million, and the laws regulating county support for schools were altered to compel more generous appropriations.

In general Morrison's views of relations between the races were no different than those of the vast majority of his constituents. Nevertheless, in 1921 he called a meeting of prominent black and white citizens to discuss ways to improve race relations. Out of this came the North Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation. He also was an ardent opponent of lynching, and, because of his policy of calling out state troops at the slightest hint of impending violence, there were no lynchings in the state during the last three and a half years of his administration.


These four men occupied the governor's office from 1921-1941 with the exception of one term. [Left to right: J.C.B. Ehringhaus, O. Max Gardner, Clyde R. Hoey and Cameron Morrison.] Follow this link for more information.


Far-Reaching Thinkers

Morrison's successes far outranked his failures; even his programs that were rejected suggest that he was a man of vision. In 1923, for example, he proposed that a State Department of Commerce and Industry be created and that a bond issue of $8.5 million be approved for the construction of state owned port terminal facilities. Both plans were turned down.

The policies inaugurated up to 1925 were continued until the end of the decade. In the public school system many new buildings were erected; libraries, laboratories, and cafeterias were added; and the term of instruction was extended to at least six months but even longer in most city systems. A particularly significant accomplishment in 1925, early in the administration of Governor Angus W. McLean, Morrison's successor, was the creation of the State Budget Bureau with the governor as ex officio head. It then became the duty of the governor to prepare a balanced budget for submission to the General Assembly. At the same time an Advisory Budget Commission was established to consist of the chairmen of the appropriations and finance committees of the house and the senate as well as two other persons to be named by the governor.

Almost as if in anticipation of the hard times that lay ahead, some state government agencies were consolidated. The number of state employees was reduced and a commission created to establish salaries and wages. As Governor Morrison had proposed, a Department of Conservation and Development was created. Two years later the General Assembly made provisions for the establishment of a tax commission to gather and classify data on taxation; an advisory commission to improve and simplify many operations of county government; and a State Board of Equalization in connection with the taxation of property to support county schools.


Endnotes

A little more than a quarter of a century after the "Dawn of a New Day" the state showed many signs of progress. Except in the area of race relations, North Carolina and most of the other southern states were not very different from most states in other parts of the country. The losses suffered by many families during the Civil War and the heavy hand of Reconstruction were seldom mentioned. Few had any recollection of those years, and most people looked optimistically to the future.