Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened March, 1973
May 3, 1972
By J. R. Fuchs
FUCHS: To start, would you give us a brief resume of your background, when and where you were born, perhaps, your education, and then the various positions you've held up to the time that we're interested in, when you became acquainted with Mr. Truman?
DANIEL: It's too bad that I don't have with me, and I don't know whether I even have a copy of it anywhere, I may, a letter I wrote to President Truman in 1956 when I became engaged to his daughter, because I set out in that letter very briefly my own career, the background of my family, and some of my professional achievements, because I thought President Truman and Mrs. Truman were entitled to know something about the man their daughter was marrying. Moreover, I'm a bit old-fashioned, I thought it proper in a way, not exactly to ask for his daughter's hand, which is a little bit beyond what people do
nowadays, but at least to give him the opportunity to say to me, "I don't think I like this, that or the other," or "Could you explain this, that or the other for me, for my family." Or to say to his daughter, "It doesn't look to me as if this is the sort of man you ought to be marrying." Actually, he happily didn't say that. In fact, I don't know that he ever said anything in response to that letter. I don't recall that he did.
But very briefly, my background, in a sense, is not vastly different from his. We both came from farm families. My father was the son of a tobacco farmer in North Carolina whose name was William Daniel, and he grew up in a very small town, or near a very small town, called Wakefield, in eastern North Carolina, about twenty miles east of Raleigh, the capital. He was employed -- before he was twenty, I think -- in a drugstore which was operated by a local doctor named Dr. Z. M. (Z. for Zebulon, actually), Z. M. Caviness. He subsequently completed his education by studying pharmacy in a pharmacy school in Greensboro, North Carolina, and became a registered pharmacist, and was the operator of that drugstore, which he eventually came to own himself, for more than sixty years in Wakefield, and the little community of Zebulon, which grew up two miles away because the railroad passed two miles to
the south; and the town, in effect, moved down to the railroad. The town was a real estate development, really, built along the railroad, and it was called Zebulonin honor of Zebulon Baird Vance, who was a Civil War veteran in North Carolina, and so many things -- he was very popular -- and many things in North Carolina were named for him. They even got down to the point, as you can see, of using his first name, because there was already a Vance County, and Vanceboro and Bairdsville, and so on.
To go back a moment, I jokingly tell people I was the first white child born in that town. Actually I wasn't, I was about the third or fourth. The town was very young, not much older than I am, and I was born in 1912. I grew up there. My father ran this drugstore. He was active and a leading citizen of the town. He was mayor of it twice. I remember that he had the first telephone in town, and the telephone number was number 1. In those days when we had a hand-operated switchboard that served the town.
I went to school there. The school was located between Zebulon and Wakefield, and had a name that was made up of a combination of the two, called Wakelon School. It was both a primary, secondary and a high school, and a rather good one for that part of the country, good enough so that some children
from some distance away came to school there. They would board in the community and go to school there, because the school was thought to be a rather good one for its time and place.
My father, as I said, was a leading citizen, but he didn't escape the hazards of business any more than a lot of other people did. His business went bankrupt during the depression, which hit North Carolina and the agricultural belt, particularly North Carolina and other states, much sooner than it hit Wall Street. He didn't lose his business, but it went into bankruptcy and had to be reorganized.
It subsequently prospered and my father became, eventually, not only the head of that business, but the president of the North Carolina Pharmaceutical Association, which for him, in his profession, was quite an honor. He also was chosen Pharmacist of the Year by the Association. He received its Fifty Year Award, all of these honors that come to a man in his own profession. He died -- I have trouble remembering the year -- when he was about eighty-three years old, now about four years ago.
I went to the local school, as I said, and from there to the University of North Carolina, at the worst possible time, namely 1929, when there was no money anywhere, but to the
credit of my mother and father they scraped together what they could, and I worked some myself, and we managed to get me a college education.
I was vice president of the student body at the University of North Carolina. I was one of the editors, although not the editor, of the college daily newspaper, and I was the editor of the college magazine. Those were my highest honors, I suppose. I should have been a Phi Beta Kappa student, but I wasn't because I flunked Latin in my freshman year. I got interested in campus politics and journalism and neglected my work my first year, much to the dismay and disappointment of my parents who had always known me as a good student. My average, aside from that one F, was, I would say, a B+, let's say, certainly good enough for a Phi Beta Kappa.
I got the notion rather early in my life of going into journalism, and I think I really picked up this notion from sort of reading about various careers in boys' magazines, and I seem to recall reading advice in Boy's Life or something like that, to the effect that if you wanted to be a newspaperman the way to become one is to start being a newspaperman, that is, to start writing. And I did so. I wrote up, as I remember school athletic events and that sort of thing for the local weekly paper which was called the Zebulon
Record. Some of these things were published, which was fatal, because I never recovered from the delights of seeing my name in print and my words in print, and I have been in that business ever since. In fact, if you include my part-time work in high school and college, I suppose I have been in journalism now since 1927 or '28. I couldn't say exactly. I went to college in '29. I finished in 1933. I went to work that summer on a small newspaper in Dunn, North Carolina, on a newspaper established by a friend of mine who had a little money, and was interested in establishing a small town paper. The paper did not succeed, but before it finally expired I went away to work in Raleigh on the News and Observer, which was owned by Josephus Daniels, and his family -- Josephus Daniels being the man who was Secretary of the Navy during the First World War, and at the time I went there he was Franklin Roosevelt's Ambassador to Mexico. His son, Jonathan, a well-known writer and newspaper editor, was then the editor of the paper.
FUCHS: To go back just a minute, did they have a school of journalism in North Carolina, and was that your major?
DANIEL: They had a school of journalism at the University of North Carolina -- I beg your pardon, they did not have a school of journalism; they had a department, which was a very small
one. It was run by an extremely effective man, a professional newspaperman, by the name of O. J. Coffin, and a graduate of the university. Mr. Coffin was really the whole department when I first went there. He taught courses in journalism. I took some of them, and journalism was my minor, but I majored in English. I was interested in English composition and English literature, and I majored in English rather than in journalism. More than that, I had already had experience in journalism. These courses were rather practical in nature. Now they have a full-scale journalism school at the University of North Carolina, housed, incidentally, in what used to be the pharmacy school, which has a fine new building of its own, and my father played something of a role in getting that new building and in effecting the transfer of the journalism s