Reflections on Georgia Politics Oral History Collection, ROGP 112 Forrest Burson on Bill BursonReflections on Georgia Politics Oral History Collection, ROGP 112 Forrest Burson on Bill Burson

Reflections on Georgia Politics Oral History Collection, ROGP 112 Forrest Burson on Bill Burson

Descriptive Summary

Title: Reflections on Georgia Politics Oral History Collection, ROGP 112 Forrest Burson on Bill Burson
Creator: Burson, Forrest.
Dates: 2010 June 16
Extent: 1.0 interview
Collection Number: RBRL/220/ROGP
Repository: Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies
Abstract: Bill Burson served as an aide to Senator Herman Talmadge and later to Governor Carl Sanders. In 1967, the newly elected governor, Lester Maddox, appointed Burson Director of the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services. Over the next three years Burson fought a “War on Hunger” attempting to create food stamps programs across Georgia. Burson was elected State Treasurer in 1970 and campaigned for the U.S. Senate in 1972. After losing the senatorial campaign, he worked as a lobbyist for business interests in the Southeast. In 1975, he became Zell Miller’s administrative and special assistant, a position he held until his retirement in 1991. Forrest Burson, son of Bill Burson, discusses his father's work in journalism, as a public servant, and as an important figure in the Miller administration.

Collection Description

Historical Note

William H. (Bill) Burson

William H. (Bill) Burson was born July 31, 1928 in Thomaston, Georgia, located in Upson County. After attending primary and secondary school with outstanding performance, Burson graduated as valedictorian from Robert E. Lee Institute in 1945. He worked at the Thomaston Times and wrote for various local papers before he was accepted into the University of Georgia’s school of journalism. Burson quickly climbed the ranks as a writer for the campus newspaper, The Red and Black, and was active in many student organizations. By the time he graduated with a BA in journalism in 1948, he had achieved numerous honors and been inducted into several honorary fraternities.

From college, Burson jumped into the world of journalism as a staff correspondent for the United Press International. Most of his work focused on the actions of the Georgia legislature and the then Governor Herman Talmadge. Soon he was transferred to Mississippi to act as a bureau manager. In 1951, Burson served as a war correspondent while on the frontlines with the U.S. 7th Infantry Division in the Korean War. When he returned stateside, he continued to serve as bureau manager until 1953 when he resigned to serve as an administrative aide to Governor Talmadge. After a year, Burson went on to be the Press Secretary for Georgia House Speaker Fred Hand’s campaign for governor. Next he served as Executive Secretary for Attorney General Eugene Cook and subsequently was appointed director of information for the Associated Industries of Georgia (AIG) in 1955. In 1956, Burson withdrew from AIG and returned to Talmadge’s staff as an editorial assistant before Talmadge announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. The launch of the campaign allowed Burson to take on the role of Press Secretary, his writing skills used to craft speeches and public statements.

Burson continued to serve as Senator Talmadge’s executive aide and press secretary until 1962 when he left to serve as the assistant to James L. Bentley, the Comptroller General of Georgia. In 1963, Burson resigned to work as an aide to Governor Carl E. Sanders. Later in the year, he was appointed the Director of the State Board of Probation while still acting as a speech writer for Governor Sanders. As director, he created significant reforms that brought notice to his achievements. In July of 1965, Burson left the probation department to become the assistant to the Atlanta Postal Region Director, within the United States Post Office Department. While in this post, Burson helped to produce speeches for Lester Maddox, most notably his inaugural speech for governor.

In 1967, Burson became Director of the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services (DFACS). Burson’s appointment was not well received by the state senate, which fought to delay his confirmation hearing. After much debate the senate agreed to confirm Burson as long as “a spirit of harmony and cooperation” could be maintained between DFACS contacts and members of the General Assembly. At this station, Burson created controversy by pushing to create strong welfare programs, such as his “War on Hunger” that attempted to establish food stamps programs in all of Georgia’s counties. New welfare programs were heavily criticized by members of the state senate due to DFACS increased funding needs and concerns about programs encouraging illegitimate children. Burson countered these apprehensions by suggesting that the only way to discourage illegitimacy is through sex education, advice and information about birth control, and job training for unwed mothers. Public discussions and support of both birth control and sex education, along with Burson’s support of voluntary sterilization of welfare recipients, increased criticism of DFACS programs.

On May 19, 1970, after several tumultuous years promoting welfare reform in Georgia, Bill Burson submitted his resignation to DFACS in order to be eligible to run for state treasurer. He ran a campaign with little funding, using the family station wagon to traverse the state. After a successful campaign, he was sworn in as the new state treasurer by Governor Jimmy Carter in January 1971. As treasurer Burson was critical of the way that Georgia handled its investments and supported the abolition of the treasury office in Carter’s plan for government reorganization. However, Burson greatly disapproved of moving the treasury position to the State Department of Administration, where he felt it would lose the power to oversee necessary fiscal reform. Under increasing criticism for his financial policies Burson began his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Richard B. Russell at his death in 1971.

Burson’s senatorial campaign had a difficult beginning, as the General Assembly voted to abolish the Treasury Department; Burson began his campaign and refused to abdicate the office. Burson announced that his campaign would begin with a “walk for Congress,” a 1,000 mile walk from Rabun Gap to Tybee Light. Burson campaigned for children to have the right to attend the closest school to their home, for parents to have the right to enroll their children in any school with vacancies, for it to be a federal offense to assault or murder a police officer, and for the minimum Social Security payment to be increased. In August 1972, his bid for the Senate ended in the senatorial primary where the run-off came down to David Gambrell and Sam Nunn, who later won the general election against Republican opponent Fletcher Thompson.

Upon returning to the Treasury Department, Burson filed suit to prevent the abolition of the treasurer’s position. Repeated attempts were made to remove him from his office, but none were successful until the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that his position had been lawfully eliminated.

After the elimination of his position in the Treasury Department, Burson briefly worked for the State and Local Program Office of the National Federation of Independent Business. In 1975, he was offered an appointment as Administrative Assistant, then Special Assistant (1983-1991), to Lieutenant Governor Zell Miller, and went on to serve as Miller’s senatorial campaign coordinator. As Special Assistant to the Lieutenant Governor, Burson was responsible for researching and writing speeches, answering correspondence, and constituent casework. Burson applied for retirement in February 1991 after Miller’s gubernatorial inauguration. In retirement Burson worked part-time as a publications clerk at the Institute of Paper Science and Technology.

Bill Burson passed away on November 11, 1997 at the age of 69; Governor Zell Miller spoke at his funeral. He was married to Lila Laverne Womble, and they had three children - Forrest Brooks, Nancy Leigh, and Mildred Louise (Lu).

Forrest Burson

Forrest Burson was born June 5, 1952. He started working in public service doing AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) and food stamp casework in Fulton County DFCS (Division of Family and Children Services). After that, he worked in the Child Protective Service in Atlanta doing emergency intake on child abuse cases. In 1997 Burson enrolled the University of Georgia to earn his Master's Degree in Social Work. Burson then worked as deputy director of Hall County Family and Children Services in Gainsville. Back in Atlanta, Burson became chief of the Adoption Unit where he computerized all adoption records. From there, he moved to Douglas County DFCS to serve as director and oversee the department's move to a new building and help expand services. Burson served on the Senate study committee for foster care and adoption law reform. He was named the director of the state Department of Human Resources' Office of Adoptions.

Scope and Content

Forrest Burson discusses his father's, Bill Burson's, life. Forrest discusses Bill's early childhood holding many jobs that led him to strive to improve the world. Bill became interested in journalism, moved up the ladder at the Thomaston Times, and ultimately wrote columns and editorials. He attended the University of Georgia's school of Journalism and graduated with high honors. Forrest discusses his father's work as the Director for Public Relations at the University of Georgia and subsequently head of the Georgia News Bureau.

Forrest discusses Bill's work after graduation with the United Press and serving as a war correspondent in Korea. Forrest relays several stories of his father's time on the front and his father's goal to build relationships with Korean officials. Forrest describes how his own birth helped bring his father back to the states to a job in Jackson, Mississippi, and subsequently to Atlanta covering the Capitol. Forrest recalls moving to Washington, D.C., when Senator Talmadge was elected to Congress. He discusses his father's work at that time and his own perception of his parents' struggles in Washington, D.C., Forrest discusses being watched by Betty Talmadge as a child. Forrest discusses his father's friendship with Governor Sanders and their collective goal of moving Georgia into the New South. Forrest recalls his father's transfer to the Probation Office and subsequently the Department of Family and Child Services.

Forrest discusses his childhood impressions of Lester Maddox and his father's relationship with Governor Maddox. He recalls his father's skill in public speaking and insistence that racism, malnutrition, lack of education, and other disadvantages were keeping Georgia back. Forrest discusses his father's passion for food stamp programs and his campaign for state treasurer. Forrest recalls Bill's lawsuit against Jimmy Carter for abolishing the constitutional state office of treasurer. Forrest describes his father's unsuccessful 1972 campaign for U.S. Senate and his subsequent work with Zell Miller as office manager, campaign manager, general advisor, and speechwriter.

Forrest then discusses his own perception of party politics in Georgia before describing his career in the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and Child Protective Services. He recalls transferring the adoption process from DFCS to the Office of Adoptions through the Department of Human Resources.

Administrative Information and Restrictions

Custodial History note

Reflections on Georgia Politics began in the fall of 2006 at Young Harris College, as a lecture and discussion program hosted by Georgia political veteran Bob Short. In late 2007, the Richard B. Russell Library began producing the program as an oral history video series to further illuminate and personalize the tectonic shifts that occurred in Georgia politics in the late twentieth century.

Preferred citation

Reflections on Georgia Politics Oral History Collection, ROGP 112, Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Georgia, 30602-1641.

Copyright Information

Resources may be used under the guidelines described by the U.S. Copyright Office in Section 107, Title 17, United States Code (Fair use). Parties interested in production or commercial use of the resources should contact the Russell Library for a fee schedule.

Finding Aid Publication

Finding aid prepared by Russell staff, 2013.

Related Materials

Access Points

Burson, William H. (Bill), 1928-1997.
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Child welfare--Georgia.
Georgia Division of Family and Children Services.
Georgia. Governor (1963-1967 : Sanders)
Georgia. Governor (1967-1971 : Maddox)
Georgia. Governor (1971-1975 : Carter)
Korean War, 1950-1953--United States.
Maddox, Lester G., 1915-2003.
Miller, Zell Bryan, 1932-
Oral histories.
Political campaigns--Georgia.
Talmadge, Herman E. (Herman Eugene), 1913-2002.
United Press International.
United States. Congress. Senate.
University of Georgia.

Related Collections in this Repository

Reflections on Georgia Politics Oral History Collection

William H. (Bill) Burson Scrapbooks

William H. (Bill) Burson Papers, Series VI. Audiovisual Materials

Series Descriptions and Folder Listing

ROGP 112 Forrest Burson video, transcript, and interview index in OHMS Access Online
ROGP 112 Forrest Burson video (Extent: 84.0 minutes ) Access Online
ROGP 112 Forrest Burson PDF transcript (Extent: 46.0 minutes ) Access Online