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Louie B. Nunn Oral History Project  

This guide will help you find primary source oral history interviews pertaining to the life and political career of former Kentucky Governor Louie B. Nunn.
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Annotated Guide to the Louie B. Nunn Oral History Project.

If not available online, audio copies and/or transcripts of the interviews in this project are available in the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History.

Guide Compiled by Will Jones

Edited by Jeffrey Suchanek

2004

97OH98 LBN 01

LOUIE B. NUNN

Date: December 5, 1997

Location: Park, Kentucky

Interviewer: Terry L. Birdwhistell

P.T.: 4 hours 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

In the first of a series of seventeen interview sessions, former Governor Louie B. Nunn describes his childhood in Park, Kentucky. He reflects on how this early part of his life influenced many of the decisions made during his gubernatorial administration and throughout his political career. He remembers the discipline that was instilled by his mother, who held a high standard of social conduct and religious obligation for her children. Nunn also remembers the influence of his father, who, as Republican precinct committeeman of Hiseville No.3, introduced him to local politics and built a Republican foundation for his ideological development. While Nunn attributes a significant portion of the loving and wholesome nature of his family life to his father, he says his mother was the pillar of his family, and the person who drove him to excel.

Gov. Nunn's rural upbringing and strong family foundation also allowed him to learn many valuable lessons that he was able to carry with him to the capital. He learned the importance of racial equality through his parents, who taught him and his siblings to respect all people equally. When the first road was built connecting Park to Savoyard, another small Kentucky town, Nunn recognized the importance of roads in the development of the state. As governor, Nunn blacktopped more rural roads than any previous administration and built 254 miles of four-lane highways. Nunn is appreciative of his childhood and, throughout this first interview, reflects on a number of anecdotes that symbolize the nature of this portion of his life.

 

 

98OH09  LBN 02

LOUIE B. NUNN

Date: January 8, 1997

Location: Park, Kentucky

Interviewer: Terry L. Birdwhistell

P.T.: 4 hours 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

In this second interview session, Gov. Louie B. Nunn begins with a discussion of his preparation to attend college at the Bowling Green Business School. During his school years, Nunn saw value in respecting the work of many of his teachers. He remembers the positive influence that was given to him by those teachers he respected. He was also able to see this reciprocal relationship of respect and influence as he entered into military service during World War Two. In this interview, Gov. Nunn reflects on his time spent in the army and explains that while he was a noncombatant, his military service gave him a great deal of experience that he would apply later in life. He describes the war era as one of the most romantic times of his life.

 

In this transitional period of his life, Gov. Nunn recalls his time spent in Cincinnati, working at the flight school and living with his older brother Lee and his family. Lee Nunn, who played an integral part of Gov. Nunn’s life, upheld the standard of discipline and hard work that had been set as a standard by their mother. After this period, Nunn, like many other veterans, wanted to continue his higher education and enrolled in law school at the University of Louisville. While there he developed many relationships that would remain throughout his life before and after politics. Shortly after his graduation, he married and began to become involved in politics. Gov. Nunn reflects on his time spent as Barren County judge and with the campaigns of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, John Sherman Cooper and others. He concludes the interview with some discussion about his marriage to his wife, Beula, his legacy, and commentary on some of the political happenings of the second half of the century.

 

98OH10  LBN 03

LOUIE B. NUNN

Date: January 22, 1997

Location: Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer: Terry L. Birdwhistell

P.T.: 4 hours 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

The third interview session begins with Gov. Nunn’s graduation from law school and the first stages of his legal and political careers. After passing the bar exam, Nunn began his law practice in Barren County, working alongside attorney J.R. “Bob” White. This partnership was short-lived as Nunn felt a need to expand his financial opportunities. After a brief period of working out of his wife’s insurance office, he began to consider his political potential. His clearest path to the world of politics was through the seat of the Barren County judge, and so he took aim. In this interview, Nunn discusses his campaign for judge and his term in office.

Gov. Nunn remembers a “rough-and-tumble” campaign that was defined by tension, political trickery, and sometimes violence. There were numerous occasions when Nunn and his opponent, J. Wood Vance Jr., and their respective followers seemed to be on the brink of physical confrontation. Each side seemed to upstage the other, whether it was with speeches, parades, or payment for votes. Ultimately, Nunn would win the election, but only after a tumultuous campaign. Once in office, Nunn was an unusually young judge who sought reforms in roads, welfare, and the electoral process. Coinciding with his term as county judge, Nunn held positions as president of the local P.T.A, commander of the American Legion Post #28, member of the Masonic Lodge, and assisted in a number of other political campaigns. With hard work and acquired political experience, Nunn was able to use his position as county judge as a launching pad for public notoriety and, eventually, his term as governor of Kentucky.

 

 

98OH11  LBN 04

LOUIE B. NUNN

Date: February 12, 1998

Location: Park, Kentucky

Interviewer: Terry L. Birdwhistell

P.T.: 4 hours 15 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

The majority of this fourth interview session is devoted to the 1956 campaign for the U.S. Senate. As campaign chairman, Nunn worked closely with the Republican senatorial candidates John Sherman Cooper and Thruston Morton. In Kentucky, the Republican ticket read Eisenhower-Cooper-Morton. With Eisenhower as the big ticket for the presidential election, Cooper and Morton held a distinct advantage over their opposition, the incumbent Senator Earle C. Clements and former Gov. Lawrence W. Wetherby. Gov. Nunn vividly recalls the campaign and the close relationships he developed with both Cooper and Morton, as well as his own contributions. While he mentions a number of factors that led to the Republican victory, Gov. Nunn states that the leading causes were Eisenhower’s popularity, the factionalism within the Democratic Party, and the political circumstances of the time.

Gov. Nunn addresses some of the controversies surrounding the 1956 campaign and the terms of Cooper and Morton, and uses a number of anecdotes to define the personalities of both men. These interpretations, which came through his close relationships with both Cooper and Morton, offer a degree of contrast to the senators' historical images. Gov. Nunn also reflects on his time as governor as the two periods became congruous. In many ways, his term of office and the time he spent as campaign chairman involved the same people and the same controversies. He states that the political experience that he accumulated as chairman had a significant influence on his term as governor.

 

98OH12  LBN 05

LOUIE B. NUNN

Date: February 19, 1998

Location: Park, Kentucky

Interviewer: Terry L. Birdwhistell

P.T.: 3 hours 15 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

In this fifth interview session, Gov. Nunn discusses the political events of the mid 1950s and early 1960s, including his work as campaign chairman and his campaign for governor in 1959. He also shares his opinion on the A.B. "Happy" Chandler administration by comparing Chandler’s first and second terms as governor. He mentions that Chandler’s second term was not as effective as his first, due to a less ambitious agenda and the changing political climate. Gov. Nunn also talks about his relationship with Richard M. Nixon and offers insight into the presidential and senatorial elections of 1960. In the interview, Gov. Nunn also addresses the religious controversy surrounding the election by saying that it was an unintended issue that developed out of Marshall County.

Gov. Nunn uses this interview to explain a number of other controversies surrounding his name and his political reputation. He discusses his wife’s contribution to their shared income and the notion that she supported him throughout his political career. He also expresses his opinion on race relations and gives an explanation for his opposition to an executive order regarding public accommodations issued by Gov. Bert T. Combs. At the conclusion of the interview, Gov. Nunn looks back on his work with Senator Thruston B. Morton’s senatorial campaign in 1962. He searches through a number of speeches and newspaper clippings for historical evidence of the political context of the times and the political positions he took and those of his adversaries.

 

 

98OH13  LBN 06

LOUIE B. NUNN

Date: February 26, 1998

Location: Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer: Terry L. Birdwhistell

P.T.: 4 hours 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

In this sixth interview session, Gov. Nunn begins by discussing his favorite music, his American heroes, and his conception of public figures in modern society. He then proceeds with reflection on some of the difficult relationships within his family life, including the difficulties of raising a family under the political spotlight.

The second half of the interview examines the gubernatorial campaign of 1963 and the race between Gov. Nunn and Edward T. " Ned" Breathitt. Gov. Nunn discusses some of the polling data taken during the election. While this information was not made available to him during the election, his political intuition guided his campaign toward many of the same issues mentioned in the polling data, like taxes, roads, and education. He explains his controversial strategy of seemingly conceding defeat to deceive the Breathitt team. Although his deception failed and he lost the election, Gov. Nunn states that he reaped the benefit of statewide name recognition that would propel him to the governor's mansion in 1967.

 

98OH31  LBN 07

LOUIE B. NUNN

Date: March 12, 1998

Location: Park, Kentucky

Interviewer: Terry L. Birdwhistell

P.T.: 4 hours 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

This seventh interview session begins with Gov. Nunn commenting on his hopes for his political legacy in the history of Kentucky politics. The majority of this interview focuses on the Republican primary campaign of 1967. Gov. Nunn acknowledges the controversy surrounding this election but uses this interview to offer his detailed perspective on the subject. In a tightly contested race against fellow Republican Marlow Cook, he explains that he was forced to address emotional issues such as race and religion. He also explains that the primary campaign, like most political races of the time, required a certain level of political manipulation, and cites a number of instances where he and Cook may have exceeded the legal limitations of an election. He then discusses the reasons for his primary election victory.

 

98OH32  LBN 08

LOUIE B. NUNN

Date: April 7, 1998

Location: Park, Kentucky

Interviewer: Terry L. Birdwhistell

P.T.: 4 hours 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

This eighth interview session continues with a discussion of the general election of 1967 as Nunn begins to build his campaign against Democratic candidate Henry Ward. Nunn looks back on some of the political tactics used against Ward, which were some of the same ones he had used in previous elections, both as campaign chairman and as candidate. Nunn credits some of his eventual victory to Ward himself and the self-inflicted mistakes Ward made during the election. Nunn says that Ward foolishly directed a significant portion of his campaign at Nunn’s lack of a campaign platform.

Nunn also highlights some of the early events of his term as governor. He discusses some of his early decisions like the tax increase and methods for managing the state budget. Nunn explains his decisions concerning the building of his youthful staff, which came to be known as the “Kiddie Corps.” Nunn concludes the interview with stories about life in the governor’s seat and the many political relationships that developed as a result of his position.

 

 

98OH39  LBN 09

LOUIE B. NUNN

Date: May 5, 1998

Location: Park, Kentucky

Interviewer: Terry L. Birdwhistell

P.T.: 5 hours 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

In this ninth interview session, Gov. Nunn describes his first years in office. Upon entering the office, Nunn and his young staff immediately turned their attention to the inherited financial crisis. After some deliberation, Nunn saw a tax increase as the best remedy for ensuring revenue and progress in Kentucky. Nunn explains his thought process and addresses the controversy surrounding his policy on this and other issues in the first session of the legislature, including open housing and the direction of many of the universities in the state.

Throughout the interview Nunn acknowledges his critics, but defends his positions on critical issues by saying that his motives were in the best interest of the state of Kentucky. This sort of initiative was embodied in his inaugural speech, as he aimed to eliminate obstacles of partisanship, which might impede legislative initiatives and the progress of the state. Nunn also uses this interview to explain the roles of some of the top members of his staff and gives the reasons for putting particular people in particular positions.

 

 

98OH42  LBN 10

LOUIE B. NUNN

Date: May 14, 1998

Location: Park, Kentucky

Interviewer: Terry L. Birdwhistell

P.T.: 5 hours 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

In the tenth interview session, Nunn continues to recall his first years as governor. Contrasting with earlier interviews that dealt with the political aspects of these years, the initial discussion focuses on the personal effects of Nunn’s being elected governor. Nunn acknowledges the consequences of political life and the scrutiny with which he and his family would be observed. Nunn also weighs the benefits of such an esteemed public office and notes many instances of glamour and fame. Nunn extensively recalls his relations with Richard M. Nixon and his close encounters with federal politics.

Nunn also provides further assessment of his position on the controversial issues brought forth during his administration. He explains his actions concerning the University of Kentucky, particularly the highly criticized resignation of University President John W. Oswald. Nunn also explains his response to the student riots on the campus and his decision to use the National Guard as a means of suppressing the demonstrations. In a broad reflection of his term as governor, Nunn proclaims himself as a “hands-on governor” who was decisive while effective.

 

 

98OH43  LBN 11

LOUIE B. NUNN

Date: May 28, 1998

Location: Park, Kentucky

Interviewer: Terry L. Birdwhistell

P.T.: 5 hours 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

The eleventh interview continues the discussion on Gov. Nunn’s term in office, with particular attention to the issues he dealt with and the assertive manner in which he confronted them. Nunn notes many decisions and actions by his administration that were alleged to be politically influenced, such as the state’s policy towards Kentucky Educational Television, the University of Kentucky, and many other state contracts. Nunn again explains his position on the higher education program by noting his direct work with university presidents, which he thought to be a more effective method than the involvement of a committee. Nunn also describes a number of social programs born during his term, including the recruitment of African Americans for state jobs, the renovation of delinquent houses, and the first recognition of the “silent majority.”

Also highlighted in this interview are the political relationships that Nunn developed as a result of his position. Nunn speaks about his relations with Richard M. Nixon and his close connection to Washington, a connection he feels benefited the state throughout his four years. He gives his political and personal opinion of many of the leading figures of his era, such as Wendell H. Ford, Marlow Cook, John Sherman Cooper, Nixon, and many others. In doing so, Nunn also reflects on his involvement in the Republican National Party and his role in the party’s progress, on both the state and national level.

 

 

98OH44  LBN 12

LOUIE B. NUNN

Date: June 16, 1998

Location: Park, Kentucky

Interviewer: Terry L. Birdwhistell

P.T.: 4 hours 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

The twelfth interview with Gov. Nunn is a continuation of the discussion and reflection on the events taking place during his term as governor. Nunn touches on his relationships with well-known political figures like George Wallace and Richard M. Nixon. He tells the story of an event held for the canalization of the Tombigbee Waterway in Tennessee where the three politicians, Nixon, Wallace, and Nunn, came together in celebration of the waterway and of the progress of their respective administrations.

In an interesting reflection, Nunn comments on an article in the Courier Journal newspaper that praised Nunn’s first year as governor. The article, written by Fred Lugart, noted the contrast in Nunn’s policies and demeanor as a candidate and as governor. Lugart characterized his first year as surprisingly progressive, especially in areas of mental health and other social concerns, where he seemed to sit closer to the liberal side of the political spectrum than many would have expected. While Lugart’s assessment acknowledges some faults in Nunn’s first year as governor, such as the merit system and the tax increase, Nunn feels that it is just and insightful, and notes it as the best article he has seen from the liberal-minded Courier Journal. His reflection on this article is important as it allows Nunn to further, and more extensively, comment on the issues and political circumstances of his term.

 

 

98OH45  LBN 13

LOUIE B. NUNN

Date: August 6, 1998

Location: Park, Kentucky

Interviewer: Terry L. Birdwhistell

P.T.: 4 hours 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

In this interview session, Gov. Nunn gives his assessment of the second session of legislature during his term. He begins by noting the intentional shift of financial responsibility from the governorship to the legislature. What used to be his obligation was now the Kentucky legislature’s, meaning credit or blame for financial distribution would be given to the representatives. Nunn also traces his income to a number of accumulated sources, including oil, coal, law practice, and real estate, but clarifies that no portion of his wealth is the product of unlawful acquisition via the governor’s office.

In the second half of this interview, Gov. Nunn addresses his forceful response to the 1970 student uprisings on the campus of the University of Kentucky. While Nunn’s actions were supported by an overwhelming majority of the local populace, this did not dismiss the controversy surrounding his policy, especially within the student body and faculty. As a byproduct of his assessment of the campus riots, Nunn iterates a number of passionate sentiments concerning the Vietnam War, the radical nature of the protest, and the climate of the times. Nunn is careful in his statements to distinguish between the violent and non-violent demonstrators, but has no qualms with verbally assaulting those who sought democratic change through violence and destruction. In one statement he makes no distinction between these groups and the Ku Klux Klan, in terms of their misguided and destructive action.

 

 

98OH46  LBN 14

LOUIE B. NUNN

Date: August 27, 1998

Location: Park, Kentucky

Interviewer: Terry L. Birdwhistell

P.T.: 4 hours 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

The bulk of this interview is a broad reflection on Nunn’s four years in office. The fourteenth interview begins with a close examination of Nunn’s family life, before and after leaving the governor’s office. Governor Nunn explains how life was difficult for his family, in terms of the pressure of the public eye. Nunn specifically describes his relationships with his wife, Beula, and his son, Steve.

After looking back at his term, Governor Nunn moves to observations of the 1971 election and the future of the Republican Party at the time, on both the national and state levels. He talks about his difficult relationship with his lieutenant governor, who later went on to become governor and a U.S. senator, Wendell H. Ford. Ford won the election in 1971 and would go on to become, according to Nunn, the most influential politician in the history of Kentucky politics. In the latter half of this interview, Nunn dissects many of the relationships he made during his life as politician. While some were better than others, he was rarely on bad terms with anyone, and those that were, were usually born out of conflicting political convictions.

 

 

99OH68  LBN 15

LOUIE B. NUNN

Date: January 19, 1999

Location: Park, Kentucky

Interviewer: Terry L. Birdwhistell

P.T.: 4 hours 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

In this fifteenth interview session, Gov. Nunn provides insight into the contemporary political situation in Kentucky, with particular attention to the U.S. Senate race between Jim Bunning and Scottie Baesler. He also addresses any rumors suggesting that he would run for governor. In his interview Nunn says that his unfavorable health is the biggest obstacle keeping him from jumping back on the campaign trail. However, he also says that if he were able to run he would push education and drugs as the leading issues in the election and even draw back on the once notorious “Nunn’s nickel,” which would now be a more favorable sales tax than the one in place.

The interview proceeds with a lengthy discussion of Gov. Nunn’s defeat in the election for the U.S. Senate in 1972. Nunn attributes his loss to Democratic candidate Walter D. Huddleston to a number of factors, but cites the lack of funding and the aftershocks of his tax increase as the leading causes. Nunn admits to being somewhat intimidated by the public’s perception of his tax increase. Coupled with this fear was an unfulfilled promise of campaign finance from the Nixon administration, which is speculated to have fallen through because of preliminary indications of the Watergate scandal. Nunn also admits a void in his personal effort. He says that the drive that had led him to the governor’s office was missing in this campaign, and the end result proved this to be true.

 

99OH69  LBN16

LOUIE B. NUNN

Date: February 4, 1999

Location: Park, Kentucky

Interviewer: Terry L. Birdwhistell

P.T.: 3 hours 40 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

Gov. Nunn begins this sixteenth interview session with an overarching analysis of the administrations and campaigns of the 1970s in the state of Kentucky. By his assessment of this period in Kentucky politics, Nunn is drawn to comment on the social issues that swirled throughout the campaigns and debates. Nunn touches on race, abortion, censorship, and sexuality; all with a cautiously conservative tone.

Without meticulous detail, Nunn discusses the factors that led to his two defeats in the 1970s. He provides the most recollection in his discussion of the 1979 gubernatorial election against the savvy businessman John Y. Brown Jr. Nunn admits that he was overmatched by Brown, as Brown brought a new flair to Kentucky politics that Nunn, with his old face and worn tactics, would not be able to contest. The interview concludes with philosophical outlooks on business, politics, and life, all of which add to the flavor of Nunn’s character as both a man of rural upbringing and as a seasoned political pro.

 

 

00OH84  LBN17

LOUIE B. NUNN

Date: January 4, 2000

Location: Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewers: Terry L. Birdwhistell and James C. Klotter

P.T.: 3 hours

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

In the seventeenth and final interview session, Gov. Nunn reinforces many of the points made throughout the series of interviews. Particular attention is given to the lackluster performance of the Republican Party on Kentucky’s political stage after Nunn’s final year in Frankfort. Nunn cites a lack of leadership, organization, and inter-party support as the leading causes for the party’s weak showings. Nunn weighs in on the careers of some of the Republican Party’s leading figures during the second half of the century, and compares many of their choices and policies with his own.

As a final note, Nunn lectures on the importance of education as a vital tool in building a successful future for Kentucky. He is somewhat critical of the path that Kentucky education is heading, and offers suggestions for alternative methods. Nunn explains how development in education should be directed toward the secondary and elementary levels rather than the college level. This should also be done, Nunn says, on a community level. Nunn believes that communal reinforcement though a nurturing and supportive environment is the best method for promoting and catalyzing the education movement in the state. Nunn says that this will have the appropriate effects on higher education because of the preparation children would receive on the lower levels. Nunn says this would be his foremost issue if he were to run in a fifth gubernatorial campaign.

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