Border States Home Page Border States: Journal of the Kentucky-Tennessee American Studies Association, No. 10 (1995)


ALBERT GORE, SR., AND HIS PAPERS: THE SENATE COLLECTION

Tara Michele Mitchell
Middle Tennessee State University

Albert Gore was born in Jackson County, Tennessee, on December 26, 1907. He taught school, fiddled at barn dances, and pitched for a local baseball team to put himself through college. In 1932, this young man from Carthage, Tennessee, graduated from State Teachers College in Murfreesboro, and was appointed to his first political position, Superintendent of Schools in Smith County. While Superintendent, Gore also attended night school at the YMCA law school in Nashville, where he met a Vanderbilt Law Student, Pauline LaFon of Jackson, Tennessee, whom he married in 1937. That same year, Governor Gordon Browning appointed Gore as Tennessee's first Commissioner of Labor. In 1939, he and his wife moved from their Tennessee home to Washington, D.C., to begin the life of a Congressman's family. It was thirty years before they packed up for good to leave Washington. After fourteen years in the House, Gore successfully challenged incumbent Senator K.D. McKellar in 1952, beginning his eighteen-year Senate career in 1953.

Gore served during several particularly trying periods in American history. He as the first Congressman to have a weekly radio program, broadcast locally on WSM radio. His was quite possibly the first official voice Tennesseeans heard after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He enlisted shortly after war began, but President Roosevelt kept him in Washington, and in Congress. Later, as a Senator, Gore was one of the few southern moderates throughout the period known as the "Second Reconstruction," a difficult position to take in an increasingly volatile South. Gore was also one of the leading "doves" during the Vietnam War. He opposed American involvement in the war, but at the same time strongly supported American troops, including his own son, who fought in t his war in which he did not believe.

The contributions Albert Gore made to Tennessee and the United States are numerous. A great supporter of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Gore was one of the Senators responsible for exposing the Dixon-Yates controversy, thus preventing the sale of TVA to private investors. Albert Gore authored the first Medicare bill, and led in the passage of progressive tax reforms, undone as he says, by President Reagan. Gore was the father of the Interstate Highway System, authoring the bill, overseeing its passage, and keeping a close watch on its implementation.

A highly successful Senator, Albert Gore would be the first to admit that he had hoped to be nominated for vice-president in 1956, and had presidential aspirations for the 1960 election. It is certain that the Senator took great pride in campaigning for his son Al in the 1988 and 1992 elections, and is delighted in watching him fulfill his duties as vice-president.

Albert Gore is perhaps best-remembered by Tennesseeans for his stand on Civil Rights. His refusal to sign the Southern Manifesto and his support of almost all the Civil Rights acts during his tenure angered and alienated many Tennesseeans and Southerners in this period of massive resistance. Gore was a self-styled southern moderate, not a radical or liberal; however, as Gore admits, "this hot and rancid political stuff was an open invitation to extremism, which made moderation a hazardous political course."1 While Gore voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he supported every other piece of Civil Rights legislation from 1953 to 1970. His "no" vote came only after his amendment opposing cut-off of federal funds to schools and hospitals failed. As a former teacher and school superintendent, Gore felt he could not support legislation that would penalize children and the sick for bureaucratic failure to comply.

Because of his very vocal opposition to the administration's policies in Vietnam, Albert Gore became the primary target in the Nixon-Agnew "Southern Strategy." Using Gore's stand on Vietnam, Civil Rights, and Senator Dirksen's amendment on prayer in public schools, Republican Bill Brock and a well-financed campaign against Gore succeeded in unseating the incumbent Senator. As Gore remembers, he was "promoted to private life by a marginal error on the part of the people of Tennessee."2 Senator Gore went on to become Chairman of the Board of Occidental Petroleum, although he has since retired from that post as well.

Upon leaving the Senate, Senator Gore sent his papers, official correspondence, and other memorabilia from his Washington career to his good friend, Norman Parks, then professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University, Gore's alma mater. The papers began arriving in 1971. Unfortunately, for lack of facilities, the Gore Papers sat in filing cabinets, boxes, and mailbags in a room in Todd Library, inaccessible except to the bravest of researchers.

In 1978, a Vanderbilt Ph.D. candidate, James Gardner, was researching his dissertation, a comparative study of Frank Clement, Albert Gore, and Estes Kefauver. In doing so, he relied heavily on the papers of these three men. Most of Clement's papers are in Nashville, at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, and Kefauver's papers are at the University of Tennessee. In 1978, when the dissertation was completed, Gardner complained of the difficulty in working with Albert Gore papers, that t hey were "housed in the library in the haphazard fashion in which they were shipped originally, not as they were filed in the Senator's office. There is no guide and has been no attempt at putting the collection in a more systematic arrangement that would make the papers more usable."3 While his complaint was legitimate, much has changed in the years since Gardner wrote his dissertation.

In 1986, Professor James Neal in the History Department at MTSU, along with a graduate student, began the arduous task of putting some order to the jumble of papers. Luckily, the papers and correspondence were in their original folders, and Senator Gore and his staff had neatly labeled almost every folder. Once the information on the labels was put into the computer, a filing system emerged, giving some order to the papers, and some idea to the historical value they held. For the past two years, Neal, and his graduate assistants, and volunteers have been working to make the papers physically conform to the computer-generated list, to produce a finding aid to the various collections, and to make the collections more accessible to the general researcher.

Twenty-four series make up the Albert Gore Senate Collection. There are over fifteen thousand folders in the Senate collection alone, to say nothing of the papers from the Tennessee Commissioner of Labor and later U.S. Congressmen. More people have been shown these papers in the past year (1993-94) than in their first twenty at MTSU. They have been used by many professionals, by biographers of Lyndon Johnson and Armand Hammer, by authors of books and articles on everything from reciprocal trade to juke-box legislation, and by graduate students and professors from Tennessee and Kentucky to Colorado and England. Gore Research Center staff is particularly proud that over six hundred MTSU undergraduates have been exposed to the Gore papers.

Through a unique program developed by Neal and other professors in the MTSU History Department, undergraduates have the opportunity to use primary documents to supplement their research for term papers. Most students are given packets containing constituent correspondence concerning an aspect of recent American history (usually Civil Rights or Vietnam), and asked to write a short essay on the issue involved, and discuss the arguments on both sides of the issue, ascertain Senator Gore's position on the issue, and give a brief personal opinion on both the issue and the assignment. Other professors have required their classes to attend an orientation session in the Gore Research Center where the students view various types of materials before researching topics for new term papers. The response from students and professors alike has been overwhelmingly favorable.

While some of the students are history majors who will go on to work in other archives and manuscript repositories, the vast majority are students taking American history because it is required. For the majority of these students it is their first and last trip of this nature, although there have been some repeat visitors. For instance, last fall a student in American history wrote his term paper on nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s in his home town of Oak Ridge. His findings were rather surprising, and have paralleled many items in the news as of late. He returned this semester, although he has already received his grade, to talk about his paper and the chance to do further research now that many more things concerning Oak Ridge have been revealed.

It is projects like this that the staff members at the Albert Gore Center are trying to cultivate, although all researchers are welcome. There are grants available to researchers, and plans are under consideration for an Albert and Pauline Gore lecture series at Middle Tennessee State University. Most recently, Democrats 200 supplied the center with sixteen videotapes used in the making of a presentation of their Lifetime Achievement Award to the Senator. These videotapes include interviews with James Sasser, Edward Kennedy, Carl Rowan, and other notable figures who have worked with Senator Gore, as well as interviews with Albert and Pauline Gore.

Since Senator Gore's tenure in Washington lasted from 1939 to 1970, many twentieth century issues concerning Tennessee, the Southeast, and the United States are covered in his papers. The Gore Research Center welcomes inquiries as to the availability of Center materials for research. We at Middle Tennessee State University feel very privileged to provide a home to these very interesting and valuable papers, and hope that they will be used to their fullest extent.

NOTES

1Albert Gore, Let the Glory Out: My South and Its Politics (New York: Viking, 1972), 85.

2As quoted in Suma Clark, "Family Ties," Middle Tennessee State University Magazine, 1 (March 1993), 4.

3James R. Gardner, "Political Leadership in a Period of Transition: Frank G. Clement, Albert Gore, Estes Kefauver, and Tennessee Politics, 1948-1956," (Ph.D. dissertation, Vanderbilt University, 1978), 708-709.


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