Sid McMath Collection (including Digitized Items) Now Open to Researchers

Today we are used to political campaigns filled with sound bites and fifteen- or thirty-second commercials. When Sid McMath ran for office in Arkansas in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he often bought large blocks of radio time to broadcast campaign events or to address the people.

The Sid McMath Collection (BC.MSS.18.33) at the CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies contains examples of such broadcasts, including five that have been digitized and are available online. In these clips, you can hear him speak, beginning with his first political campaign in 1946 and ending with a talk given a few months before his death in 2003. His voice remained strong, as did his commitment to democracy and to public service.

Sid McMath marching with Harry S. Truman in the 35th Division Reunion Parade in Little Rock (Pulaski County); June 1949. (Left to right): Frank Spina, Truman’s personal barber and fellow 35th Division veteran; Louis A. Johnson; Truman; McMath; and Harry H. Vaughn, the president’s military advisor.

Following service with the Third Marine Regiment in the Pacific during World War II, Sid McMath returned to his hometown and immediately entered the race for prosecuting attorney in the Eighth Judicial District. The collection includes radio broadcasts from this 1946 campaign, in which McMath challenged the tactics of Hot Springs mayor Leo McLaughlin in controlling local politics and promised to fight for an honest election. (Read more about the so-called GI Revolt on the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas here.)

McMath won that election and served two years as prosecuting attorney. He then capitalized on the broad attention garnered by his defeat of the McLaughlin machine by entering the 1948 campaign for governor. He served two terms as governor of Arkansas, from 1949 to 1953.

The McMath family at the mansion at Christmas.

A unique feature of McMath’s time as governor was the completion of the new Governor’s Mansion. His young family, including his wife Anne and sons Sandy, Phillip, and infant Bruce, who was born near the end of McMath’s first year as governor, moved into the mansion in January 1950.

The collection includes two video cassettes of McMath family movies, containing both personal and campaign events. Clips showing the mansion decorated for Christmas, children playing on the lawn and interacting with Mansion staff, and a 1950 political parade in Pine Bluff have been digitized and are available online.

The 1950 race for governor proved to be McMath’s last winning campaign, although he did run for a third term in 1952. Despite having lost this race for a third term as governor, McMath challenged Senator John McClellan in 1954, a race he narrowly lost. The collection includes a radio broadcast of the Senate campaign’s appreciation breakfast held for McMath at the Marion Hotel in Little Rock on July 22, 1954.

Former governor Sid McMath (center) as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve; July 1961.

McMath again ran for governor in 1962, challenging Orval Faubus. This campaign produced a movie, “A Man for Arkansas – Sid McMath,” also available online. Although he retired from politics after losing the 1962 race, McMath continued to be a respected voice in Arkansas politics and the Democratic Party.

The collection contains documents, photographs, and audio and video items that help tell the story of his long and influential life. Of particular interest is the video of a speech he gave in June 2003 in which he gave what he called a testimonial, expressing his belief in equality for all as set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. McMath died a few months later, on October 4, 2003. (Read more about Sid McMath on the CALS EOA here.)

The Sid McMath collection was donated to the CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies by his son Bruce in 2018. The finding aid, which includes links to the digitized items, is available here.

By Shirley Schuette, CALS Roberts Library Research Services

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