Tom Gilmore oral history interview, 1996 September 29
Tom Gilmore discusses his career in North Carolina politics and in his family business, Gilmore Plant and Bulb. Born in Julian, North Carolina in 1936, he describes being very close as a young boy to an African American boy of the same age. Mr. Gilmore was excited to begin school with his friend, but upon learning from his mother that segregation prohibited whites and blacks from attending school together, he and his brother attempted to paint his friend's face white. This formative event solidified Mr. Gilmore's lifelong belief that all people should be treated equally. He describes attending North Carolina State University for a degree in horticulture beginning in 1955, and taking an active role in campus politics. Most notably among the sixteen organizations he was involved with, he talks about being president of the Young Democrats of America organization on campus and holding office alongside former governor Jim Hunt, former Charlotte mayor Eddie Knox, and other young men who later went on to have careers in politics. Mr. Gilmore describes helping Jesse Jackson start his career in politics by appointing him as a delegate to the Young Democrats of America convention in 1963. His support of civil rights legislation in the 1960s made him a target of white supremacists and Ku Klux Klan members, who threatened the lives of Mr. Gilmore and his family. Mr. Gilmore discusses being a delegate to the 1964 and 1968 Democratic National Conventions, serving as president of the national Young Democrats association, then running and winning a seat in the N.C. House of Representatives in 1972. He discusses legislation he successfully introduced or fought for as a House representative, including the introduction of public kindergarten and making the Venus flytrap an endangered species. Mr. Gilmore talks about leaving his safe seat in the House in 1978 to become the Deputy Secretary of Human Resources, where he got to implement some of the legislation he had passed. He also recounts his failed campaigns for governor in 1984 and senator in 1988.