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Carl Sanders: Early Career

Georgia's first New South governor, progressive leader during the turbulent 1960s, and tireless champion for educational reform

Early Life and Career

Early Life

May 15, 1925 - born in Augusta on May 15, 1925 to Roberta Alley and Carl T. Sanders, the eldest of two boys.

1942 - graduated from the Academy of Richmond County, voted the MVP of the football team; in the fall enters the University of Georgia on a football scholarship and pledges Chi Phi fraternity.

1943 - enlists in the U.S. Army Air Forces, sent to Mississippi, Texas, and California for his aviation training; Only nineteen years old, he receives his wings and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant. Assigned as a first pilot on a B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber. His training continued in Nebraska and Tennessee.

Sept. 15, 1945 - discharged from the Army Air Forces and immediately returns to UGA. He continued to play football but was not the star he had hoped to be but football taught him valuable lessons. "In football—as in the Game of Life—one must keep mentally alert, physically fit, and spiritually inspired. This I vowed to do." (Cook, p. 24). Also a member of Phi Kappa literary society and inducted into the Sphinx Club and Omicron Delta Kappa.

1947 - passed the Georgia Bar exam. Sanders began law school in winter quarter 1946 and completed three years of law school in two years. He did not actually finish law school until December 1947 and took the exam in June because he thought it would be good practice. He was as surprised as anyone that he passed.

Sept. 6, 1947 - marries Betty Bird Foy of Statesboro.

1948 - begins practicing law in Augusta. Working with Judge Henry Hammond as a junior partner in the firm Hammond, Kennedy and Sanders, he didn't make much money but gained valuable experience and developed useful contacts. To make extra money he taught corporation law and insurance at Augusta Law School, which operated primarily for veterans returning to school on the G.I. Bill.

1952 - established his own law firm which eventually became Sanders, Thurmond, Hester & Jolles.

Early Political Career

1954 - wins a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives. From his first foray into politics Sanders was already focusing on education. Thorough experience and observation he knew that Georgia's system of public education needed significant improvement. (Cook, p. 45).

His most significant accomplishment during that time was securing a college for Augusta. The federal government was going to abandon the Augusta Arsenal. Sanders thought this was a great opportunity to acquire the 72 acre property and develop a college. He made numerous speeches and wrote articles to build public support for the project. He pointed out the educational, economic, and cultural advantages a college would provide and that the state could acquire the property at very little expense. In 1957 The Richmond County Board of Education received a deed to 38 acres of the property, along with 40 buildings. The Augusta Junior College was moved to the property and became Augusta College in 1958. The school was made a four-year institution in 1963 and renamed Augusta State University in 1996.

1955 - named "Young Man of the Year" by the Augusta Junior Chamber of Commerce, largely for his work in securing the Augusta Arsenal property.

1956 - one of the founders of United States Guaranty Life Insurance Company of Augusta

1956 - becomes state senator from Richmond County, running unopposed. He was soon appointed chair of the Defense and Veterans Affairs Committee.

Sanders led an investigation into the death of a National Guard pilot who crashed his old F-80 fighter. He gained state and national attention when he accused Washington of considering "Georgia boys more expendable" than regular air force personnel. The Defense Department's failure to provide the Guard with safe aircraft made it impossible for the pilots to carry our their mission. "[R]ight now we'd be sitting ducks in case of enemy attack." (Cook p. 48). The Georgia Air National Guard received a fleet of fifty new F84F Thunderstreak jets in 1957.

1958 - chairs a Senate committee investigating the Rural Road Authority. The report delivered by the committee revealed shocking irregularities in the Authority, funds had been distributed indiscriminately and construction costs were excessive. Sanders was now an outspoken and visible opponent of Governor Marvin Griffin and his corrupt and mismanaged administration.

1959 - appointed floor leader of the Senate by new governor Ernest Vandiver. The floor leader is the designated spokesman for the administration. It's his responsibility to establish the order of business for each legislative day.

1960-62 - served as president pro tempore of the Senate. Sanders rise in the leadership hierarchy would be considered phenomenal. He earned the second most powerful post in the Senate in only his third legislative session.

1960 -  named one of the five Outstanding Young Men of Georgia for 1960 by the Georgia Junior Chamber of Commerce.

1962 - runs for governor. In his campaign platform he called for a "New Georgia" and stated: "It shall be my purpose to unify our people for economic growth and progress--not to divide them in stagnation." (Campaign Platform, Carl E. Sanders Papers (UGA), Box 6).

The Sanders campaign, "is one which looks to the future. It's one of moving ahead." Margaret Spears Lyons,"Comparison of Carl Sanders' Gubernatorial Campaigns: 1962 and 1970" (M.A. thesis, University of Georgia, 1971), p. 73. Sanders massively swept the urban and suburban counties to win the election. He captured 494,978 votes to 332,746 for former Governor Marvin Griffin of Bainbridge, an arch-segregationist. He became the first man from a city to be elected governor of Georgia since the 1920s, and at thirty-seven he was the youngest governor in the country at the time. The election was something of a referendum on the "New Georgia," and for the first time since the early twentieth century a gubernatorial primary was decided by popular rather than county unit votes.

In his inaugural address Sanders announced: "This is a new Georgia. This is a new day. This is a new era. A Georgia on the threshold of new greatness." Inaugural Address, Sanders Papers, Box 7. He called his platform "a program of progress" and education became his top priority.

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