Senator Sam Ervin: Just a Country Lawyer

Senator Sam Ervin: Just a Country Lawyer

Sam Ervin is most often remembered as the affable, Bible-quoting, old country lawyer who chaired the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973. The senator’s moonshiner stories from “down home” in NC, his quaint verses ranging from Shakespeare to “Aesop’s Fables,” and his earnest lectures in defense of constitutional government and individual rights during the Watergate scandal endeared him to many Americans and contributed to the downfall of President Richard Nixon. For most of his twenty years in the Senate, however, Ervin applied these same rhetorical devices to a quite different purpose. Between 1954 and 1974, NC’s famous country lawyer served as Jim Crow’s most talented legal defender. His reputation as the Senate’s leading constitutional authority rested primarily on his performance as the South’s constitutional expert during the congressional debates on civil rights. Dr. Karl Campbell addresses the central paradox of the senator’s career: How could such a champion of constitutional rights for all Americans be such a consistent opponent of civil rights for African Americans? Campbell also discusses the senator’s contributions to contemporary political debates such as school prayer, national security, and civil liberties.

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