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View from the 'ville
Thursday, August 23, 2007

By Al Myatt

Morgan, Jenkins history still emerging

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Before serving a stint in the U.S. Senate, East Carolina alumnus Robert Morgan was then President/Chancellor Leo Jenkins' principal ally in the N.C. General Assembly at a time when pitched political battles were waged over the school's bids for university status and a medical school. Morgan is pictured during his days as a member of his alma mater's board of trustees in this photo from the ECU Archives.
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The 2007
The Magazine



Carroll Leggett was Robert Morgan's chief of staff from 1969 to 1981. Leggett wrote a story about the Baggett family in the February issue of Metro magazine that touched on Morgan's unique entry into politics, which provided useful information for the piece on Morgan in the recently published Bonesville The Magazine.

An East Carolina alumnus, Morgan served as chairman of the board of directors and led some key battles in the state legislature against the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill establishment that were essential in ECU's development.

Morgan was the political point man in gaining approval for a medical school at East Carolina and in winning university status for his alma mater.

From the state legislature, Morgan went on to become state attorney general and served a term as United States Senator. He later was director of the State Bureau of Investigation before turning his time and energy to a law practice in his home town of Lillington.

Leggett was familiar with the political struggles that linked East Carolina, Morgan and former ECU chancellor Leo Jenkins.

"I have heard these stories and was around when much of this history was made," Leggett said.

But Leggett knew even more about the behind-the-scenes struggle than Morgan had shared in an interview for Bonesville The Magazine.

"The Senator forgot to pass on one event in the med school battle," Leggett said. "When the AMA sent its report back to the University system, it did have some favorable things to say about ECU's establishing a med school.

"It disturbed the powers in Chapel Hill, so they yanked two pages, and sent it over to the legislature — without bothering to renumber the pages. Senator Morgan caught it and publicly demanded that they release the two deleted pages. It embarrassed the Chapel Hill folks and gave the positives more attention than they would ever have gotten otherwise. It also damaged the credibility of Dr. (William) Friday and other opponents."

Little love from Governor's wife

Leggett said that neither former governor Dan Moore, who was part of the opposition to East Carolina's desire to grow and diversify as a center of higher learning, nor Morgan took their political duels personally.

The former Morgan aide said that Moore's wife did not possess the same degree of detachment from the issues. That made her a target one day for Morgan's mischievous side.

"After the battle was over, Governor Moore and Senator Morgan put the matter behind them and went on," Leggett said. "However, Mrs. Moore never was able to do (that.) She evidenced 'a minimum of high regard' for the Senator. One day we were walking down Fayetteville Street (in Raleigh), and the Senator spotted Mrs. Moore walking toward us on the opposite side of the street.

"In a moment of playfulness, he said, 'Let's cross the street so I can hug Jeanelle.' He said, 'It will make her mad as hell.' We crossed the street and he greeted Mrs. Moore with a big smile. She extended her hand and he ignored it and gave her a huge hug. He rarely hugged anyone. That was not his style. Sure enough, Mrs. Moore stiffened up and looked absolutely tortured. It made the Senator's day!"

Help from unexpected sources

It's been said that politics makes strange bedfellows. East Carolina's legislative battles of the 1960's gained support from unexpected sources. Former North Carolina governor Terry Sanford, a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate, counseled Morgan on expanding his political base during East Carolina's bid for university status.

"Despite their opposing roles in the 1960 Democratic gubernatorial primary, Senator Morgan and Governor Sanford were life-long friends," Leggett said. "In the fall of 1960, he took to the campaign trail and shared the platform with Sanford to bring in the conservative wing of the party.

"Without his help, many say Sanford would have lost. Incidentally, Sanford's opponent, Mr. Gavin (Republican), was Katie Morgan's cousin. (Katie Morgan is Morgan's wife whom he met at an East Carolina dance.) When Sanford ran for President, he called on Senator Morgan to serve as a surrogate, and he flew to New Jersey to pay his filing fee and made other appearances for him. Sanford supported Morgan when he ran for Attorney General and when he ran for the United States Senate. Their friendship is one of the least recognized facts of 20th century North Carolina politics."

While Sanford was a private ally, Friday was a political enemy when the battle lines of the 1960's were drawn. Morgan and Friday, however, have long since put aside their political differences in favor of mutual admiration.

"I was with Dr. Friday not long ago," Leggett said. "He and the Senator have great respect for each other, in spite of their old battles. Dr. Friday said, 'One of the great tragedies is that almost no one at ECU now knows how much Leo Jenkins did for that school.' That is high praise from an old foe.

"This article (in Bonesville The Magazine on Morgan), I feel, will go a long way toward educating a new generation of ECU alumni about the folks who fought those tough battles. They should never forget that ECU was the underdog and that fighting and prevailing against all the odds is part of their heritage."

One reason that Robert Gray, Jr., advocated an article that detailed Morgan's efforts on East Carolina's behalf was so that Morgan, a lifetime friend to Gray's family, could be given credit for those contributions while he was still young enough to appreciate the recognition. Gray is a cousin of Danny Whitford, editor and publisher of and publisher of Bonesville The Magazine and The Pirates' Chest.

I missed a call from Morgan earlier this month but he left a voice message saying that he had heard from people around the state who had read about his role in ECU's advancement.

And that's a great thing. Giving Robert Morgan his due credit was the intent all along.

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

Dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

08/23/2007 03:10:14 AM


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