Ernest Vandiver Jr. (1918-2005)
As governor of Georgia from 1959 to 1963, Ernest Vandiver proved successful in fulfilling his campaign promise to remove the blight on Georgia,
Family and Political Career
Samuel Ernest Vandiver Jr. was born on July 3, 1918, in Canon, in Franklin County. He was the only child of Vanna Bowers and Samuel Ernest Vandiver Sr.
Elected mayor of Lavonia in 1946 at the age of twenty-seven, Vandiver backed Democrat Eugene Talmadge's successful gubernatorial candidacy that year. Following the death of Governor-elect Talmadge, Vandiver supported the successful effort of Herman Talmadge to be elected governor by the state legislature in 1947. Governor Talmadge appointed him state adjutant general, the youngest in the nation. Elected lieutenant governor during the administration of Marvin Griffin in 1954, Vandiver was elected governor four years later by one of the largest margins in the state's history. The leading candidate in the 1966 gubernatorial race, Vandiver withdrew for health reasons. In 1972 he unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate.
Vandiver ran for governor in 1958 by promising to restore the state's image, which had been tarnished by scandals associated with the administration of Marvin Griffin.
In his campaign Vandiver promised to maintain segregation in the public schools and to preserve the malapportioned county unit system of nominating statewide officeholders. He failed to do either. The U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 decision of Brown v. Board of Education held that segregation in state public schools was unconstitutional. In response the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation in the Griffin administration cutting off state funds to any public school that was integrated. Vandiver promised in his gubernatorial campaign to carry out the legislature's mandate if desegregation occurred in the state's schools. Soon after he took office black plaintiffs filed suit to desegregate the Atlanta public school system. In response the legislature created the Sibley Commission, headed by Atlanta banker and civic leader John A. Sibley, to hold hearings throughout the state. In these meetings citizens could express their opinions on the fate of their public schools. The commission ultimately recommended that the voters in each school district be allowed to determine whether their schools would remain open. Before the impending showdown occurred in Atlanta, however, a federal district court ordered the admission of two black students, Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter, to the University of Georgia. Despite strong opposition from many of the state's top leaders who favored closing the school instead of integrating it, Governor Vandiver refused to defy the federal court, and the university was desegregated. The governor then successfully urged the legislature to repeal the state's antidesegregation legislation. Vandiver concluded that the closing of the state's schools would be detrimental to the young people of Georgia and to the state's economic development. Several months later the Atlanta public schools were peaceably desegregated.
A suit had also been brought in federal court against Georgia's county unit system, which dated back to the turn of the century.
After leaving the governorship, Vandiver practiced law in Atlanta but eventually moved his business to his hometown of Lavonia. Also a farmer, he served as president of the Georgia Seed Company. From 1976 to 1977 he was president of the Independent Bankers of Georgia.
Vandiver died at his home in Lavonia on February 21, 2005.
James F. Cook, The Governors of Georgia, 1754-2004, 3d ed. (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2005).
Harold Paulk Henderson, Ernest Vandiver, Governor of Georgia (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000).
Charles Pyles, "S. Ernest Vandiver and the Politics of Change" in Georgia Governors in an Age of Change: From Ellis Arnall to George Busbee, ed. Harold P. Henderson and Gary L. Roberts (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988).
Harold Paulk Henderson, Abraham Baldwin College
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