From the album Songs From Burke County

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Call Your Senator Sam
(Mark W. Winchester)

Born in Morganton on September 27, 1896, Sam Ervin, Jr. is the most famous son of Burke County, NC. While many men in similar circumstances would have done the opposite, Ervin embraced his heritage, and took Burke County and her stories with him on every step of his amazing journey.

As an infantryman during World War I he was wounded twice, and received service awards that included the Purple Heart, the Silver Star, and the Distinguished Service Cross. After his graduation from the University of North Carolina and Harvard Law School, he began practicing law in 1922. In the years that followed, he served three terms in the North Carolina General Assembly, presided as a Superior Court judge, filled the vacancy of his deceased brother in the United States House of Representatives, and was an Associate Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Beginning in 1954, it was during his twenty-year tenure in the United States Senate that Sam Ervin became a household name. Using the persona of a self-described “old country lawyer,” Ervin frequently interwove small-town anecdotes with quotes from the Bible, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain to brilliantly illustrate his points. Viewed as the foremost authority on the Constitution in the Senate, he never hesitated to stand up for what he thought was right. Early in his Senate career, Sam led the charge against the “Red Scare” ideologies of Senator Joe McCarthy. Still puzzling to some political historians, he supported Jim Crow laws and opposed most civil rights legislation, but could not have been more progressive when it came to the protection of civil liberties.

When the Watergate scandal began to unfold, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield looked no further than Senator Sam Ervin when selecting someone to chair the Senate Select Committee to Investigate Campaign Practices. "Sam is the only man we could have selected on either side who would have the respect of the Senate as a whole," Mansfield said. As the world watched, Ervin masterfully guided the proceedings that eventually implicated several White House aides, and led to the demise of President Richard Nixon.

At the end of 1974, four months after Nixon’s resignation, Sam retired from the Senate. Upon returning home to Morganton, he continued to spend his time with matters of the law and community service, as well as writing books. Senator Sam Erving, Jr. passed away at the age of 88 on April 23, 1985.