Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center
Ninety Days Inside The Empire: A Novel by William Appleman Williams

Glimpses of An Election

Page 78

An election campaign is rather like a jig-saw puzzle inside a kaleidoscope. Children and adults alike are enthralled by the infinite variety of images formed by the tumbling hundreds - sometimes it seems as if there are thousands-of pieces of colored plastic, glass and metal inside the tube. But citizens are more apt to be perplexed if not frustrated by trying to fit a far fewer number of pictures, speeches, hearsay, slogans, conversations, arguments and memories into a coherent pattern of the minds, moralities, styles and policies of candidates for public office.

Caught alone over a drink at the end of an eighteen- or twenty-hour day, even the advisers and other dedicated supporters of this or that candidate are known to admit doubts about who and what they are so avidly supporting.


The special Democratic primary contest between Charles Burton and Barry Clay was no exception. Burton and his key backers like Crown had not anticipated any significant opposition. Their strategy was to fill the kaleidoscope with a few selected images of Burton and meanwhile invest their energy on deciding how to exploit their victory. Even when it became apparent that Clay was going to rustle up as many votes as he could, they did not fret. They simply ignored him.

They were surprised but not particularly disturbed when the public was awakened to learn that there were two candidates. That happened when Marsh called in an old poker tab from the city editor and got a front page, Monday-morning story with pictures about Clay and Burton being invited to speak to an open meeting of the NAACP. Wendell Rogers had established the tradition of inviting selected leaders to offer their views before that forum. That could not be ignored, but Burton was sure he could finesse it.

Marsh's coup did pose a bit of a problem for the NAACP about taking a vote for endorsing a candidate, but the parliamentarian assured Rogers and Griff that he could handle any difficulties. The only remaining question-whether or not to open the balcony-was decided by Griff who held firm for a full ground floor with maybe standing room only.

His political savvy was verified by seven-thirty when the church began to fill ever more rapidly. There were many whites who never came to a service on Sunday and who never thought of joining the NAACP. It was an event. There were people sitting in all three aisles when Griff offered his prayer.

"He that loveth not his brother abideth in death...Whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the Love of God in him?...This is his commandment, that thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself."

Few of those present had anticipated that kind of welcome. The Reverend's communion sermon was apparently no abbreviation. Marsh relieved the tension by smiling broadly as he came to the lectern that had been placed in the well. He was happy about the prayer and his own success. Marsh could be a pasha when it came time to call in a tab, and this one was large and long overdue. But he always did it with great style that somehow left the debtor grateful that he was not naked in public.

"Ladies and Gentlemen. Our moderator tonight is Larry Gillmor, the wise and fearless city editor of the Gulf Sentinel."

They were long-time, friendly rivals, even something of cronies, and

Gillmor came forward from a front pew reserved for the participants laughing and waving back to the crowd.

"The Judge here don't hand down many rulings, but when he does you learn quick enough to abide by them."

They embraced, and the evening began easy and relaxed.

Gillmor saved most of his public words for where he got paid.

"Thanks to Mr. Rogers and Reverend Jones," he lifted his hand to them, "this forum is one of the city's most interesting and useful assemblies. And it always provides me with a good story for the next morning's edition."