He was one Southern governor who chose not to stand in the schoolhouse door.
Ernest Vandiver was born in Canon, Georgia, in 1918 and graduated from the University of Georgia before serving as a bomber pilot in World War II. Elected governor in 1958, Vandiver cleaned up the state’s image after the scandals and corruption of the Marvin Griffin administration. He re-organized state government, expanded services without raising taxes, and promoted economic development.
Vandiver campaigned promising to maintain segregated schools and Georgia’s county unit system, which disproportionately gave political power to rural districts. He failed on both counts. A federal district court invalidated the county unit system, and ordered the University of Georgia to desegregate. Faced with public school desegregation, many Georgians urged the governor to close the schools. Vandiver weighed his options but chose to keep the schools open, fearing resistance would ultimately harm Georgia’s students and the state’s economic development.
Georgia’s most progressive governor since Ellis Arnall was born on July 3, 1918, Today in Georgia History.