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Cities: Savannah

President Nixon Tours Savannah

In this WSB clip, filmed on October 8, 1970, President Richard Nixon and his family visit Savannah to unveil architectural plans for the Ocean Science Center at the Oceanographic Institute at Skidaway Island. Crowds gather to greet the President and his wife Pat as, waving and shaking hands, they cruise through the city in a convertible in a motorcade organized on the President’s behalf. The “Royal Eagle,” a forty-four foot yacht, carries the President and his party to the private dedication on the remote island.

On Skidaway Island, Nixon opens his speech with thanks to Republican Hal Suit, who invited the President to Savannah. He then jokingly refers to the bipartisan nature of his visit. He states that Democratic Governor Lester Maddox would agree that “everybody goes to Atlanta” and that it was due time for a visit to Savannah. Maddox and Suit shake hands after the President’s comment.

Although Nixon denied the charge, some Democrats, such as Governor Maddox, accused him of visiting Savannah to advance the Republican Party’s influence in Georgia through Suit’s gubernatorial campaign. Maddox found several reasons for accusing Nixon of campaigning for Suit: Suit’s car followed the President’s in the parade, he was the only politician who joined Nixon on the yacht, and he sat on the stage between Mrs. Nixon and their daughter Julie during the ceremony. At least one crowd member showed his support for Suit’s bid for governor by holding a sign that read “Hal Suit makes sense.”

Prior to Nixon’s visit, Suit had won the first Republican Primary held in Georgia, where he beat James Bently and J. C. Tanksley by a wide margin. Some attributed his win to his stint as a WSB newscaster in Atlanta, a position that had previously familiarized people with his name and face. Still, Maddox voiced his disquietude about the political move and extended his welcome on the condition that Nixon did not campaign for Republicans. In the end, Maddox had little to fear. Nixon’s visit did not garner enough support for Suit to lead to a Republican victory, and Jimmy Carter beat Hal Suit by a margin of about twenty percent in the general election held November 3, 1970.
 
President Nixon visited ten states to publicize his peace plan for the Vietnam War. He announced the plan to the nation the day before his trip to Savannah. His foreign policy involved strengthening the armed forces of the South Vietnamese so that they would eventually be able to defend themselves, increasing technical power to replace soldiers on the ground, and using heavy bombing to encourage North Vietnamese forces to negotiate. In his speech, Nixon defended American involvement in Vietnam and worked to downplay anti-war activism by criticizing the thousands of American men who dodged the draft by fleeing to Canada. The United States and North Vietnam reached a cease-fire agreement effective January 28, 1973, but only after Congress limited Nixon’s ability to control the war in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

In June 1972, Nixon’s abuse of power came to light when security guards caught members of his re-election campaign trying to repair wire-tapping devices at Democratic offices in the Watergate complex. Nixon futher damaged his public image by working to cover up the incident. In February 1974, the House of Representatives took the first steps toward impeachment that ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation. On August 8, 1974, he became the first United States President to resign the office.

Vice President Gerald R. Ford succeeded Nixon and served as president for the two and a half years remaining in Nixon's term. After one month in office, President Ford pardoned the crimes Nixon committed as President. President Ford's decision saved Nixon from a lengthy trial and possible jail time. It also caused many American voters to lose favor with Ford and the Republican Party. Soon after his term as Georgia governor ended, Jimmy Carter, in 1977 represented the Democratic Party, became the first president of the United States from Georgia.

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Discussion Questions

1. On February 24, 1868, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Andrew Johnson, the seventh president of the United States and first president to be impeached by Congress. Read about the impeachment trial of President Johnson. What similarities do you find between Presidents Johnson's and Nixon's impeachments?

2. Compare President Nixon's stance on civil rights to that of President Jimmy Carter. How did their policies affect the continuing struggle for equality among all American citizens? In what ways did they advocate civil rights issues after they had stepped down from office?

3. Read our stories Fannie Lou Hamer and Student Anti-War Activism and Students for a Democratic Society & Atlanta's Fat Cats in the Freedom on Film Atlanta pages. What was the position of civil rights activists on the Vietman War? What steps did the activists take to influence the government's position?

Take it to the Streets!

The Constitution includes a provision that under certain conditions gives the Presidency to the current Vice-President: "In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President..." Research times in American history when the President, whether by law or by death, was unable to fulfill his duties and the Vice President became President. How did the Vice President manage his new duties and how did the American public react to the changes?

 

Writer: Christina L. Davis                                                                    
Editors and Researchers: Christina L. Davis, Mary Boyce Hicks, and Professor Barbara McCaskill
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