BIRDWHISTELL: The following transcript is the result of a tape recorded interview conducted by Terry L. Birdwhistell of the Earle C. Clements Oral History Project at the University of Kentucky with Mr. Earle Bell in Morganfield, Kentucky on the 18th day of September, 1975. Mr. Bell we can begin by you giving us some biographical information on yourself when you first got into newspaper business here in Morganfield and that type of thing.

BELL: Well, I didn't start in the newspaper business in Morganfield. I started in Sturgis in 1927 when I was a senior in high school which makes that 48 years. I started in Morganfield in October 1929. And I had known Earle Clements when 1:00I was still a student at Sturgis High School back in those days.

BIRDWHISTELL: Is that right? What was he doing then when you first knew him?

BELL: He was--of course I knew him as football coach mostly. I didn't care about his political career. I guess he was County Court Clerk. I don't know if it was before or after.

BIRDWHISTELL: As a football coach how do you remember him? Was he a good coach? How did he go about getting his team together?

BELL: I don't know how he went about it cause I never did go to one of his practice sessions but he always won nearly all of his games and I had heard a lot about him. He was tough and sincere and helpful to all the kids. And when he said do something he meant do it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Is that right?

BELL: That's right.

BIRDWHISTELL: Do you recall any of the stories about him when he was an athlete himself at UK, what kind of an athlete he was?

BELL: No, no I didn't keep up with him in those 2:00days about what kind he was.

BIRDWHISTELL: And what year did you say you came to Morganfield to work with the paper.

BELL: October 1929.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well in '34 Clements decided to run for County Judge. I was wondering if you recall anything about his campaign for County Judge here in Morganfield?

BELL: No. As I say I didn't keep up with him in his political activities too much.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well when he served as judge what impressions did you get of him as a County Judge? Was he effective? I know this was during the Depression and County Judges were responsible in those days for making sure the welfare of the people in the county. Was e effective in this?

BELL: Yes indeed. As far as I know very effective. 3:00He was aggressive when he wanted something done he got it done. Was that in the WPA days?


BELL: That's when all the remodeling was done down here on the courthouse.


BELL: And out in the country the culverts were built and bridges were repaired and so forth. Yeah he was good.

BIRDWHISTELL: As you recall then he had a very big following here in the county.

BELL: Oh yes, yes indeed.

BIRDWHISTELL: And so as a county judge you would say his outstanding achievements were in implementing the New Deal legislation on a local basis such as the WPA.

BELL: Sure, sure.

BIRDWHISTELL: Of course you've said that you didn't keep up with his politics too much but could you tell at this time that he was looking toward higher offices than county judge in terms of a political career?

BELL: No, to be honest I really couldn't.


BIRDWHISTELL: Well then in '42 Senator Clements ran for the State Senate here in Kentucky. I was wondering if you had any insights into why he maybe gave up a secure position such as county judge of Union County to make a race for a State Senate seat?

BELL: I have no idea unless he thought that would be a stepping stone to be the governor of Kentucky.

BIRDWHISTELL: Then you think maybe that's what--

BELL: I'm sure he had that in the back of' his mind.

BIRDWHISTELL: Do you remember anything about his campaign in terms of his campaign style and how he spoke to crowds and this type of thing? Was it on a one to one basis a very personal campaign this type of thing?

BELL: Well he's sort of like he had a style of 5:00Happy Chandler you know. He could sit down in front of a crowd and he wouldn't speak to the crowd he would say John I remember the day when you first moved here and all that sort of thing and he would look around and pick out some other fellow. In other words you didn't know who would be next so you kept looking at him because you thought he might say something about you and you didn't want to miss it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Didn't know what he would say either.

BELL: That's right.

BIRDWHISTELL: So you would compare him to Chandler's campaign style.

BELL: I sure would. He had that sort of unique style of making you feel like you were the main guy. And in associating with people he always come up and put his arm around you, you know, and you felt like old Clements thinks I'm really the guy. He had it no doubt about it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Of course there's been a long standing debate in Kentucky politics as to which one of the two, Clements or Chandler, could 6:00remember the most names? Would you say that Clements could remember names pretty well?

BELL: Yes. I wouldn't say that he was any better than Chandler at remembering names. I know Clements was sometimes compared to--I believe it was--to Jim Farley, at one time postmaster general.


BELL: He was a guy that remembered names. Clements was sort of in his category. May I give you an example?

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh sure, sure. One time down at the courthouse and I don't know who the man was but he was from up in Eastern Kentucky. He hadn't seen Clements for fifteen years. He said he sure as hell won't remember me I don't care how good he is. So he walked in. And when he could see him Clements jumped up out of his chair and said, "Hello John. It's been a long time since I saw you." (Laughter.) But he was that type of fellow.

BIRDWHISTELL: Of course that's a great political asset that he can do that.

BELL: It sure is, yes indeed.

BIRDWHISTELL: One of the interesting things I want to pursue a 7:00moment. Clements went on to be a, I suppose, a successful farmer here in Union County too. Is that right? Did he have a farm here?

BELL: I'm not familiar with his farming career.

BIRDWHISTELL: I was just wondering if his father who had served as sheriff here for him as judge had land here that possibly Senator Clements inherited upon his father's death.

BELL: I don't know about that. I really don't.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well in 1944 then Senator Clements ran for the United States Congress and Beverly Mill Vincent had been the Congressman from this district. And when Clements ran Vincent didn't even get into the race. I was wondering how this came about. Did Clements organize the district so thoroughly that he had it sort of wrapped up at that time?

BELL: That would be my idea of what happened. As 8:00I said I really couldn't tell you but I would think that's what happened because he was good at organization. He worked at it night and day through the noon hour and the dinner hour and everything else. Time meant nothing to him. A lot of time this has nothing probably to do with what you're talking about but if you went into his office twelve o'clock came he didn't pay any attention to it, one o'clock came he might call his wife, say I'm going to bring John out to dinner. That's one of his--there was never any argument about it. He always said anytime he got ready to take somebody home he took them home with him no fuss, no worry, no bother which is unusual.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right. It sure is. Of course one of the big campaigns in Kentucky--this is back to politics again was the Chandler campaign in 1935 and you mentioned Chandler a while ago. And he ran against Tom Rhea in the Democratic Primary and Clements 9:00was raised to State Campaign Chairman. I was wondering if you had any insights into Clements' role.

BELL: No, no I sure didn't.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well then as a newspaperman here in Morganfield and Clements was representing your district here I was wondering how effective you thought Clements was as a Congressman? Did you support him and think he was doing a good job?

BELL: I thought he was tops. Really one of the best.

BIRDWHISTELL: Was there any particular reasons for this or just your general attitude?

BELL: That's just my general attitude.

BIRDWHISTELL: Then of course Clements gave up his seat in the House to run for governor. Do you recall anything about his campaign for governor? How he campaigned? Was it the same type of style he used here on local basis?


BELL: Absolutely.

BIRDWHISTELL: Of course one of the interesting things in Clements career as Governor was his pushing for an amendment to the Day Law which would permit state colleges to accept blacks for post-graduate work. How did you feel about Clements' position on the race issue?

BELL: It suited me fine.

BIRDWHISTELL: Did you support that?

BELL: Yes sir.

BIRDWHISTELL: And then in '48 Clements created the state police. Did you have any feelings toward that about his move on that to support that also I suppose?

BELL: Absolutely. Most anything Clements did I was for.

BIRDWHISTELL: You were for it, right.


BELL: It may not have been right sometimes but I was still for it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well then when Clements went to the United States Senate I suppose you supported him in that also and thought he did a good job?

BELL: Yes sir.

BIRDWHISTELL: Of course Clements lost his bid for re-election in 1956 when Thruston Morton ran against him. Why do you think he lost? Did he lose contact with the people in Kentucky you think?

BELL: Well perhaps. You know when a fellow gets to be Senator or governor they have so many obligations you can't get out and mix and mingle with the masses too much like you did formerly. That's my opinion. I don't know really.

BIRDWHISTELL: Did he--when he was in Congress and in the Senate did he get back to Morganfield quite often to visit?

BELL: Well frequently, yes but he didn't have enough time to 12:00see the people he wanted to see I'm sure because you're a Congressman or Senator or governor and everybody wants to talk to you and they want to talk all day. Well Clements was never in a hurry. I don't suppose if anybody wanted to talk to him all day I guess he would sit there and talk to you. But he didn't have the contact 1vith a great number of people that he had had before. Can I go back to you were talking about him remembering names a while ago?


BELL: To give you an example of the way the man thought. When I believe--when we had a little celebration out at the Legion Club for Wetherby, standing there by Clements that night and there was a five dollar bill on the floor. Someone had dropped it. And he picked it up and our black brother George Palimiur, he walked over and he said, "George take that home 13:00and give it to Viola." Years had gone by but he remember Viola's name. Isn't that something? I didn't know her name myself.

BIRDWHISTELL: Of course in the Combs administration Clements served as Highway Commissioner and got involved in some trouble in that administration and then later he got in trouble with income tax also. I guess you were disappointed in this facet of his career, in this type of thing happening to Senator Clements?

BELL: I don't know anything about that. I really don't. I remember it all happened but I thought somebody had made a mistake somewhere and got the wrong man. I guess you 14:00would call me a Clements fan wouldn't you?

BIRDWHISELL: Right. Well if you had to put a label on Clements' political philosophy. His philosophy in terms of a leader as Congressman, as Senator how would you label him--liberal, conservative, progressive?

BELL: I think that last term there progressive would probably define it better.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well outside of politics, is there any insights you can give us about the man. Some of the things you have said about his ability to remember names. His interaction with the people here in Morganfield. Are there any stories or anecdotes that you recall that would give someone who was trying to find out what kind of man he was, insight into his life and career?

BELL: I don't recall any specific things right now. Of 15:00course he was always helping someone probably nobody knew anything about it, maybe not even Sarah his wife. But I don't remember any person or anything connected with along that line.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well that's about all the questions that I have. Is there anything that you would like to add that maybe we haven't talked about?

BELL: No I can't think of anything right now, Terry, except he is a wonderful person and he comes back now and visits. And every time he comes to town he just comes up here. He never sits, he walks and talks. And I don't know he is just the kind of guy you like to listen to when he talks. He always has something to say 16:00and a very colorful career. He was, well the word isn't dominating, I don't mean it exactly that way. In other words, if he wanted it done it usually happened. I don't know how but he--well--Clements said do it and somebody got out and did it. He was just that type leader in my book.

BIRDWHISTELL: Almost a natural leader I suppose.

BELL: Yes sir.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well I appreciate--

BELL: Besides that he's got a good first name, Earle.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's right. That helped him quite a bit in his political career right? I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me about this. Thank you very much.

BELL: Okay, Terry.

[End of interview.]

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