John Shearer: Chattanoogans’ Old Letters Featured In New York Times Story

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 - by John Shearer
One of the better-read stories in the New York Times earlier this week was “A Mirror of Today’s Political Fray in Letters From 50 Years Ago.”
The article, which was featured prominently on the Times’ webpage on Monday as one of its hottest-trending online stories, pulled out some letters that had been written in the 1960s to then-U.S. Sen. Albert Gore Sr. from Tennessee.
The letters had been in a collection of the late senator’s papers at the Albert Gore Research Center at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.

They had been pulled out by writer Campbell Robertson with the help of MTSU political science professor Kent Syler to point out that many viewpoints on such issues as civil rights, gun control, Medicare and immigration have changed little in 50-odd years.
In fact, Mr. Syler said that the phrasing on some of the letters sounded like some of the thoughts heard not only today but also in the letters he saw while serving as chief of staff for Congressman Bart Gordon from Tennessee’s 6th District from 1985-2011.
Of the 15 sample letters to Sen. Gore that were scanned and posted along with the story, most – but not all -- offered conservative viewpoints. And two of the conservative ones were written and sent by then-Chattanoogans W.E. Kirby and Bird Underwood.
Mr. Kirby in a letter dated May 12, 1968, and sent from his home at 909 McHann Drive in the Belvoir area discusses the various civil rights-related social programs that he said had been a tax burden on working class people like him.
“The Civil Rights Bill was passed, did that satisfy them?” he asked. “No, and the next bill won’t, nor the next. All you hear from this group is discrimination, but the word has more than one meaning. The passing of that bill alone has torn the U.S.A. apart. Surely there is a man somewhere with enough guts to stand for our Constitution and our form of government.”
Mr. Underwood, writing on Southern Wholesale Sundry Co. of Chattanooga stationary on Sept. 10, 1965, was letting the senator know of his hope that he would vote against an immigration-friendly law of the time.
“Since the beginning of World War II, this country has been overrun with foreigners,” Mr. Underwood wrote. “In many cases they have grown fat and rich while many of us were serving our country during war.”
Sen. Gore Sr. – the father of former Vice President Al Gore Jr. and a liberal senator from the South for his time period – served as U.S. senator from 1953 until shortly after being defeated by Bill Brock of Chattanooga in 1970.

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