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
|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.
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
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
Leggett was familiar with the political
struggles that linked East Carolina, Morgan and former ECU chancellor
"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
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 Bonesville.net 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
And that's a great thing. Giving Robert
Morgan his due credit was the intent all along.