When I covered the late former Secretary of the Army Howard Bo Callaway’s entrance into national politics in 1964, I didn’t reflect on how his actions were a part of a pivotal shift in American politics. The Solid South was no longer “solid” for the Democratic Party and was moving toward being “solid” for the Republican Party. Republican presidential nominee Sen. Barry Goldwater voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Law and carried five Southern states, including Georgia. Bo Callaway switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party and ran as a “Goldwater Republican.” Goldwater lost , but Bo won easily in his bid to become the first Republican U.S. Representative from Georgia since Reconstruction.
I first met Bo when I covered the 1964 3rd Congressional District election for WRBL Radio and TV in Columbus. As far as positions on issues were concerned, I couldn’t tell much difference between them. Both Democrat Garland Byrd, a former Georgia Lt. Governor, and Bo were conservatives, and when I asked them if they were segregationists, neither seemed pleased that I asked the question, but both told me they were. I wasn’t, but, then, I wasn’t running for public office in 1964 Georgia.
Timing is everything, the adage tells us, and, in 1964, Bo Callaway’s timing was perfect. He went to Washington, but he only stayed two years, deciding he would rather be Georgia’s first Republican Governor since Reconstruction. He came close, but in the 1966 Georgia governor’s race that got national attention, he lost to arch-racist Democrat Lester Maddox in a convoluted election that ended up being decided by a Democratically controlled Georgia Legislature, because he got the most popular votes, but not enough for a majority, which was Georgia law at the time. (A plurality wins now.) I reported that General Assembly election live for WRBL Radio and TV from the Georgia House of Representatives. What a show that was!
The Republican National Convention in 1973 that nominated President Richard Nixon for reelection was also quite a show. I decided at the last-minute that WRBL Radio and TV needed to have some Georgia oriented coverage. Owner and GM Jim Woodruff, Jr. thought it too late because all of the hotel rooms were taken. I told him we would fly down in the morning and back that evening, that jets were fast. He said he would call Bo Callaway, who was a member of the Georgia delegation, to see if he could cut red tape and get us some credentials so we could get on the floor of the convention. He did and Bo did. When we got on the floor, Bo met us, gave me an interview, and took me over to the California delegation to introduce me to then Governor Ronald Reagan, who graciously gave me an interview.
I only asked Bo one question when he was forced out of his job as campaign manager for Vice President Gerald Ford when he ran against Jimmy Carter for President. He held a live prime time news conference in a WSB-TV studio in Atlanta, which was broadcast on TV stations all over Georgia. Since I drove up from Columbus for the news conference, the WSB-TV producer of the program allowed me to ask the first question about the alleged conflict of interest charge reported by an NBC correspondent. Bo responded that the charge was false, but he resigned as Ford’s campaign manager in order not to make the election about him instead of Ford.
When he was sworn in as President Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Army in 1973, a WRBL-TV news photographer and I flew to Washington to cover the ceremony. After we filmed the ceremony, he gave me an interview for the home folks. A West Pointer, who had left the Army as a First Lieutenant after the Korean War, was then outranking all of the generals.
When I working at WTVM, I did a series of half-hour interviews for Georgians and Alabamians who have earned “A Place in History.” When I interviewed Bo, he candidly answered all of my questions about his personal and professional life without hesitation. It was a fun interview with his telling me about such things as President Franklin D. Roosevelt coming to his parent’s Harris County home for cocktails and dinner when he came to nearby Warm Springs. There was one question that caused him to pause before answering. I asked him, “What was it like growing up as the son of the richest man in town.” Bo’s father Cason and his uncle Fuller, Jr. owned Callaway Mills in LaGrange. As best as I can remember it, he said, “Nobody has ever asked me that question before, Dick. My father made it clear to me that being who I was carried a responsibility with it. He said that I had to always conduct myself honorably and, if I didn’t, and he heard about it, I would have to answer to him. I’ve always remembered that and tried to follow his admonition.”
You may wonder why I refer to him by his nick name. It’s not out of disrespect, but because I consider that he and I were friends. There are some people that you cover over the years that you can’t resist becoming friends with. He is one and his political rival, President Jimmy Carter, is another. I read where he and Bo eventually became friendly. Recently, at the Rotary Club of Columbus where he was a member, as he was sitting at the table next to mine in his wheel chair, necessitated by a stroke, he leaned over and patted me on the shoulder when I was among those thanked for participating in a Rotary Foundation fund-raising program. That was the last contact I had with Howard “Bo” Callaway, who truly earned a place in history. .