The Three Governors Controversy, Skullduggery, Machinations, and the Decline of Georgia’s Progressive Politics by Charles S. Bullock III, Scott E. Buchanan and Ronald Keith Gaddie (University of Georgia Press) is an entertaining and enlightening study of Southern politics at its worst.
The book is centered on the political life of Eugene Talmadge, a three term governor from a rural part of the state. Talmadge was a populist in the most corrupt sense of the word, playing the resentment of the poor farmers against the urban elites, the county political machines against the cities, and whites against Blacks.
Talmadge and his allies maintained power through the white primary and the county unit rule. Until banned by the Federal courts, the Georgia Democratic party ran the primary election and barred Blacks from participating. The primary was not decided by the popular vote, but by the county unit system which was akin to the Electoral College. Each county had a set number of unit votes. The units awarded to the rural counties were far in excess of their proportion of the population. In the 1946 primary, Talmadge lost the popular vote, but won the county unit vote.
Despite efforts by local authorities to strike Blacks from the voting rules, some Blacks were able to vote in the general election. But in one party Georgia, Black votes did not matter since all races were decided in the white primary.
In 1946, Eugene Talmadge tried in final comeback. After winning the white primary, his health declined. His supporters conspired to make his son, Herman the Governor if Eugene died before being sworn in. Eugene Talmadge died December 21, 1946, triggering a three way struggle for the Governor’s office. Georgia became the joke of the nation.