Terry Sanford

Politics, Progress, and Outrageous Ambitions

Terry Sanford

Book Pages: 608 Illustrations: 87 b&w photographs Published: September 1999

General Interest > Biography, Letters, Memoirs, NC and Regional U.S., History > U.S. History

Terry Sanford (1917–1998) was one of the most important public figures of the postwar South. First as North Carolina’s governor and later as president of Duke University, he demonstrated a dynamic style of progressive leadership marked by compassion and creativity. This book tells the story of Sanford’s beginnings, his political aspirations, his experiences in office, and, of course, his numerous accomplishments in the context of a period of revolutionary change in the South.
After defeating a segregationist campaign in 1960 to win the governorship, Sanford used his years in office to boost public education and advance race relations. A decade later, at the height of tumult on American campuses, Sanford assumed the presidency of Duke University and led it to its position as one of the top universities in the nation. During his more than fifty years as a public servant he was associated with presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter. Sanford was a presidential candidate himself in 1972 and 1976, and he won election to the United States Senate in 1986 where his international commission produced an economic recovery plan for Central America. As one of the last New Deal Democrats in the Senate, he remained passionate about the opportunity for leaders to use government to improve people’s lives.
Terry Sanford draws on Sanford’s considerable private and public archive as well as on the recollections of Sanford himself and his family, colleagues, and friends. This biography offers a unique perspective on North Carolina life, politics, political personalities, and the shifting public allegiances of the second half of the twentieth century that transformed life both in North Carolina and throughout the American South.


Terry Sanford is a valuable addition to the literature of Southern politics. Sanford was too important a figure to be ignored for so long by serious biographers. This book . . . fills that literary gap nicely. The result is a double treat for the reader: a compelling tale of a remarkable individual and a valuable history of the North Carolina political scene in the 20th century.” — Durham Herald-Sun

“[A] lively, eminently readable biography of Sanford.” — Julian M. Pleasants , Georgia Historical Quarterly

“[E]ven . . . a staunch Jesse Helms supporter . . . would have enjoyed this 559-page book. . . . [W]ell written and well researched, with plenty of detail about the life of Terry Sanford. . . . If teachers let their students read works as well written as this one, the kids would be really fired up on the subject. A plus.” — , Richmond County Daily Journal (Rockingham NC)

“[F]illed with valuable new information about Sanford and North Carolina politics. . . . [A] valuable resource and a good read.” — Karl E. Campbell, The Historian

“[T]his is a book rich with drama. . . . Covington and Ellis are at their best describing . . . [the] accomplishments of Sanford’s years as governor, as well as the long road in state politics that led to his election. Their accounts of the civil rights challenges he faced are particularly compelling, with examples of the many small steps Sanford took to keep North Carolina moving away from segregation. . . . [R]eaders of this biography will gain new insights into the history of the South in the mid-twentieth century and into the life of an important figure in that history.” — Ann Pelham , Duke Magazine

“[This] book is a trip to town. In other words, it’s a good read, something special. Terry Sanford . . . is like three books in one. Want to know who the ‘Branch-head boys’ were? This book is a political history of North Carolina in the second half of the 20th century, and it will tell you about Scott’s rural support network, which also supported Sanford. Want an inside picture of how North Carolina emerged from the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s with a reputation for moderation and workable approaches? This book chronicles the period and the subject matter and Sanford’s pivotal role in it. Want to get to know Terry Sanford—paratrooper, small-town lawyer, FBI agent, legislator, governor, U.S. senator and Duke University president? This is the only place to go, and consider yourself fortunate to be able to do so.” — News & Record

“[This] is far more than a biography of Sanford: it is an insightful analysis of North Carolina politics for a good part of the 20th century. The authors know the state well . . . they tell [the story] with a sure feel for the material and with narrative skill.” — , Independent Weekly

“Covington and Ellis recreate Sanford’s life in such brilliant context that through the narrative the reader sees a Sanford-centric portrait of North Carolina, rather than a picture of Sanford, an incidental Tar Heel.” — , Pilot (Southern Pines NC)

“In the early ’60s, when many southern political races were won by the candidate who defended segregation most vociferously, Sanford beat a segregationist and spent his term as North Carolina’s governor emphasizing fairness and better educational opportunities for all. . . . [This] thorough biography is likely to interest readers who remember this unusual politician.” — , Booklist

“The most comprehensive work now available on this major Southern political leader.” — , Library Journal

“The most important . . . legacy of Terry Sanford’s exalted life. . . , besides education, was his quality of leadership: a mystical combination of intelligence, judgement, determination, and, certainly, warmth and charm that inspired a generation of brilliant North Carolinians to public service. It takes a special person to do that.” — Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“The sheer breadth of Sanford’s career is stunning—political strategist in the 1950s, cutting-edge governor in the 1960s, dynamic university president in the 1970s, U.S. senator in the 1980s, and elder statesman in the 1990s. Yet the authors, both veteran North Carolina writers and former newspaper reporters, rise to the challenge. They thoroughly chart Sanford’s career while skillfully putting it into the context of times that span the Great Depression, World War II, the Red Scare, the civil rights movement, the war on poverty, the Vietnam War, campus unrest, and the rise of Republicanism. One of the book’s rewards is the thumbnail sketches of such Tar Heel politicos as Clyde Hooey, Sam B. Ervin, Jesse Helms, and Bert Bennett.” — News & Observer

“Everyone who was fortunate enough to know Terry holds him in the highest regard, not only for his views and actions in the political arena, but also for his determination to uphold and strengthen the goodness of human kind. He was a man of tremendous honor, courage and strength. This tribute to Terry’s integrity, innovation, and moral upstanding exemplifies the impact that he had, and will forever continue to have, on our society.” — The Honorable James B. Hunt, Jr., Governor of North Carolina (1977–1985 and 1993–2001)

“Terry Sanford could be aptly described as North Carolina’s Renaissance governor. The links between our families span three generations and were marked by a shared vision for a better North Carolina. As his first biographers show, Terry’s contributions to the state were substantial and vital and his legacy is enduring.”— — The Honorable Robert W. Scott, Governor of North Carolina (1969–1973)

“Terry Sanford was a creative and visionary leader who knew how to hammer dreams into results. Covington and Ellis brilliantly explain this remarkable man’s ambition in Terry Sanford: Politics, Progress, and Outrageous Ambition.ˆ” — Charlie Rose

“Terry Sanford was the visionary, compassionate leader of our generation. He defined public service as the high calling of life and sought with all his might and succeeded in elevating the human spirit and sense of hope of thousands of disadvantaged fellow citizens. He will be remembered as our exemplary apostle of education and the constructive builder of a vibrant, progressive North Carolina. He gave his very best. He made a difference.” — William Friday, President Emeritus of the University of North Carolina

“This eagerly awaited biography is a tribute to Terry Sanford’s life of great purpose and shows the unique and courageous ways in which he dreamed fantastic dreams for North Carolina and made them come true.”— — Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans

“What truly distinguished Terry Sanford . . . was not just the number of posts he held, rather it was the unquenchable spirit that he brought to every one of them. In his soul he believed that people could shape their own futures, that men and women weren’t just flotsam and jetsam floating on the tides of history but rather could choose their own destiny.” — David Gergen, from the foreword


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Price: $49.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Howard E. Covington Jr. is a writer and former journalist. During his years as a reporter for the Charlotte Observer, his work won many honors including the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1981. His previous books include Belk: A Century of Retail Leadership ,Linville: A Mountain Home for 100 Years, and Uncommon Giving: A. J. Fletcher and A North Carolina Legacy.

Marion A. Ellis is a freelance writer who was also a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team at the Charlotte Observer. He is the author of a number of books, including Working Together: The Sheltons of North Carolina and The Meaning of Honor: The Life of Frank H. Kenan. In addition, Covington and Ellis are coauthors of NationsBank: Changing the Face of Retail Banking.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword / David Gergen


1. Double Moons over Laurinburg

2. Runnin’ on Rims

3. The “Promised Land”

4. Albert’s Boys

5. The Battling Buzzards

6. The Third Primary

7. The Branch-Head Boys

8. A Dangerous Dream

9. Breaking in Line

10. “Puddles of Poison"

11. A New Day

12. A Shore Still Dimly Seen

13. But What About the People?

14. New Horizons

15. A Tar Heel Blue Devil

16. “Outrageous Ambitions”

17. Never Look Back

18. A North Carolina Regular

Epilogue: The Eternal Boy Scout




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Additional InformationBack to Top
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2356-3
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