James Terry Sanford

59th Governor of the State of North Carolina - 1961 to 1965

Date Born: August 20, 1917

Date Died: April 18, 1998

Place Born: Laurinburg, NC

Place Buried: Duke University Chapel in Durham, NC

Residence: Durham, NC

Occupation: FBI Agent, 1st Lieutenant in US Army


James Terry Sanford (August 20, 1917 – April 18, 1998) was a Democratic politician from the Southern United States. A native of North Carolina, he was a North Carolina state senator from 1953 to 1961, governor of North Carolina from 1961 to 1965, and United States Senator from 1986 to 1993. Sanford was noted for his progressive leadership in the fields of civil rights and education.

Sanford was born in Laurinburg, NC to Cecil and Elizabeth Sanford. Sanford became an Eagle Scout in Laurinburg's Troop 20 of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). The BSA recognized him with their Distinguished Eagle Scout Award as an adult. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Sanford served as a special agent in the FBI for two years. During World War II, he enlisted as a private in the US Army as a paratrooper, parachuted into France in combat with the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was awarded the Bronze Star, attained the rank of first lieutenant, and was discharged in 1946. He married Margaret Rose Knight on 4 July 1942, and had two children with her, a son, Terry Jr. and a daughter, Elizabeth.

Sanford was elected to the governorship of North Carolina in 1960 and served to 1965. Driven by his belief that a person could accomplish anything with a good education, Sanford nearly doubled North Carolina's expenditures on public schools during his term. He consolidated the University of North Carolina school system to ensure its solvency and strength. He conceived the idea for the state's Governor's Schools for talented children. He established the North Carolina School of the Arts to keep creative children in their home state. And he fought for racial desegregation - even sent his son to a desegregated public school at a time when such a position was politically unpopular and possibly dangerous. He also established the North Carolina Fund under the leadership of George Esser; it was meant to fight poverty and promote racial equality across the state.

Tax increases to finance these educational programs diminished Sanford's popularity and were energetically exploited by his political opponents.

Governor Sanford was a close political ally of President John F. Kennedy, a fact which disturbed some North Carolina Democrats who were unhappy with Attorney General Robert Kennedy's efforts to push for civil rights. In a phone conversation with Sanford, RFK suggested that for the Governor's own political well-being, perhaps he should publicly distance himself from the Attorney General. Kennedy then joked, "Maybe you should just deny that you've ever met me." Nevertheless, Sanford remained a staunch supporter of the Kennedy Administration.

In a 1968 book, President Kennedy's secretary Evelyn Lincoln wrote that Kennedy had stated he intended to replace Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson with Terry Sanford on the Democratic ticket for the re-election campaign in 1964.

Additionally, Sanford used his leverage at the White House to blaze the trail for Research Triangle Park (RTP) which sparked an economic surge in the state, eventually luring IBM to the Triangle area.

During his tenure as president of Duke University (1969-1985), he mounted two unsuccessful campaigns for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States in 1972 and 1976. He received 77½ votes for president at the 1972 Democratic National Convention, finishing fourth behind George McGovern (1,864.95), George Wallace (381.7) and Shirley Chisholm.

Sanford won the Democratic nomination to succeed Senator John P. East in 1986. East committed suicide in July of that year, and Sanford's Republican opponent, Congressman Jim Broyhill, was appointed to hold the seat through November. Sanford defeated Broyhill by three percentage points in the November election. He took office a day later, as a special election to serve the last two months of East's term had taken place the same day.

Compared to most Southern Democrats, Sanford was fairly liberal. He chaired the Senate Select Ethics Committee in 1992. Following a serious heart ailment he lost his bid for reelection in 1992 against Lauch Faircloth, a former Democrat who turned Republican with substantial backing from the political organization of Sanford's Senate colleague, Jesse Helms.

During the time of his Senate service, he was also involved with the International Commission for Central American Recovery and Development, based at Duke.

Sanford spent the twilight of his life as vital as the young. He wrote books, taught and campaigned for the construction of a major performing arts center in the Triangle area that would provide a permanent home for the American Dance Festival, the North Carolina Symphony and the Carolina Ballet.

Sanford announced in late December 1997, that he had been diagnosed with inoperable esophageal cancer, and that his doctors had told him he had just a few months remaining. After his release from the hospital, Sanford's condition slowly deteriorated.

Sanford died peacefully in his sleep while surrounded by his family at his Durham home. He was 80 years old. Sanford is entombed in Duke University's Chapel.


Sanford, James Terry, a Senator from North Carolina; born in Laurinburg, N.C., August 20, 1917; attended Presbyterian Junior College; graduated, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1939; graduated, University of North Carolina Law School 1946; special agent, Federal Bureau of Investigation 1941-1942; parachute infantry, United States Army 1942-1945; North Carolina National Guard 1948-1960; assistant director, Institute of Government, University of North Carolina 1946-1948; lawyer in private practice 1948-1960, 1965-1969, 1985-1986; North Carolina State senator 1953-1955; Governor of North Carolina 1961-1965; president of Duke University 1969-1985; elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate on November 4, 1986, for the unexpired term of John East ending January 3, 1987, and for the six-year term ending January 3, 1993, and served from November 5, 1986, to January 3, 1993; unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1992; chairman, Select Committee on Ethics (1992); resumed the practice of law in North Carolina and Washington, D.C.; died in Durham, N.C. on April 18, 1998; interment in Duke University Chapel.

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