The Cocking Affair
“I was born and raised in Georgia. Four generations of my ancestors sleep beneath Georgia’s sod. I am a graduate of the University of Georgia. My father and my grandfather also were students at the University of Georgia, and walked those paths, and in those halls where the dearest memories and the grandest traditions of Georgia were molded. I love the University of Georgia. I showed it. I sent my only son there. And I love the University enough to put up a fight for it when I think that any foreign element is trying to destroy the great traditions of that grand institution...”
Editor's Note: In the summer of 1941, Eugene Talmadge began his year-long attack on the higher education system in Georgia. This attack focused on the University of Georgia’s Dean of the College of Education, Walter Cocking. Talmadge accused Cocking of advocating for the integration of Georgia schools and demanded his removal.
The Board of Regents’ hearing on the matter revealed no evidence to support Talmadge’s claim and therefore, the board voted to dismiss the charges against Cocking. Furious, Talmadge removed several members of the Board of Regents and replaced them with members who promised to follow Talmadge’s orders. At the July 1941 Board of Regents meeting, they voted to remove Cocking from his position.
The dismissal of Cocking had immediate and far-reaching consequences. The excerpt above comes from a radio address Talmadge gave defending his actions just a few days after the vote to remove Cocking. Once Talmadge had control over the Board of Regents, he dismissed educators who disagreed with him, purged libraries, and intimidated administrators to comply with his orders.
As a result of Talmadge’s political interference in Georgia’s schools, the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools removed accreditation from Georgia’s state-supported colleges for white students. The Cocking Affair, as it became called, proved to be one of Talmadge’s worst political miscalculations. His popularity among voters plummeted and he lost the 1942 gubernatorial race to the progressive Ellis Arnall.