Jackson Parish, Louisiana
Biographies

 

 

ASWELL, James Benjamin

(18691931)

ASWELL, James Benjamin, a Representative from Louisiana; born near Vernon, Jackson Parish, La., December 23, 1869; attended the public schools; was graduated from Peabody Normal College, Nashville, Tenn., in 1892 and from the University of Nashville in 1893; taught in country schools and high schools, and later attended Chicago University; State institution conductor 1897-1900; president of the Louisiana Polytechnic Institute 1900-1904; State superintendent of public education 1904-1908, and while serving in that capacity reorganized the public-school system of Louisiana; president of the Louisiana State Normal College at Natchitoches 1908-1911; elected as a Democrat to the Sixty-third and to the nine succeeding Congresses and served from March 4, 1913, until his death in Washington, D.C., March 16, 1931; interment in Rock Creek Cemetery.

Source: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1771-Present, contributed by A. Newell.

Davis, James Houston "Jimmie"

James Houston Davis (September 11, 1899 November 5, 2000), better known as Jimmie Davis, was a noted singer of both sacred and popular songs who served two nonconsecutive terms as a Democratic governor of Louisiana (19441948 and 19601964).Davis was born to a sharecropping couple in the now ghost town of Beech Springs, near Quitman in Jackson Parish in 1899, to Sarah Elizabeth Works and Samuel Jones Davis. The family was so poor that young Jimmie did not have a bed in which to sleep until he was nine years old.

He graduated from Beech Springs High School and Soule Business College, New Orleans campus. The late Congressman Otto Ernest Passman, a Louisiana Democrat, also graduated from Soule, but from the Bogalusa campus. Davis received his bachelor's degree in history from the Baptist-affiliated Louisiana College in Pineville. He received a master's degree from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Davis taught history (and, unofficially, yodeling) for a year at the former Dodd College for Girls in Shreveport during the late 1920s. He was hired by the college president, Monroe Elmon Dodd, who was also the pastor of the large First Baptist Church of Shreveport and a pioneer radio preacher.

Davis' first wife, the former Alverna Adams, from a prominent Shreveport family, was first lady while he was governor. She died in 1967. He thereafter married Anna Carter Gordon, a member of the Chuck Wagon Gang gospel singers based in Nashville.

Out of office, Davis resided primarily in Baton Rouge but made numerous singing appearances, particularly in churches throughout the United States.

He died at the probable age of 101 and is buried in the Davis Family Cemetery in Quitman in Jackson Parish. He lived longer than any other former state governor. Davis was posthumously inducted into the Delta Music Museum Hall of Fame in Ferriday.

James Houston Davis, better known as Jimmie Davis, was a noted singer of both sacred and popular songs who served two nonconsecutive terms as a Democratic governor of Louisiana. Davis was considered to have been part of the anti-Long faction though Governor Earl Kemp Long endorsed him in the pivotal 1960 runoff election.

Davis became a commercially successful singer of rural music before he entered politics. His early work was in the style of early country music luminary Jimmie Rodgers, and he was also known for recording raunchy blues tunes like "Red Nightgown Blues." Some of these records included slide guitar accompaniment by black bluesman Oscar Woods.

He is associated with several popular songs, most notably "You Are My Sunshine," which was designated an official state song of Louisiana in 1977. He claimed that he wrote the song while attending graduate school at LSU, but research indicates he bought it from another performer Paul Rice, who had recorded it with his brother Hoke, who recorded together as the Rice Brothers under Paul Rice's name. The practice of buying songs from their composers was a common practice during the 1930s through the 1960s. Some writers in need of cash often sold tunes to others. Davis was elected as the city's Democratic public safety commissioner. (At the time, Shreveport had a commission form of government. In the 1970s, the city switched to the mayor-council format.) Davis was elected in 1942 to the Louisiana Public Service Commission but left the rate-making body, which meets in Baton Rouge, two years later to become governor.

Davis was elected governor as a Democrat in 1944. He defeated Lewis L. Morgan of Covington, the seat of St. Tammany Parish, who had been backed by former Governor Earl Long and New Orleans Mayor Robert Maestri. Davis received 251,228 (53.6 percent) to Morgan's 217,915 (46.5 percent). Eliminated in the primary were a number of candidates, including freshman U.S. Representative James Hobson "Jimmy" Morrison of Hammond in Tangipahoa Parish.

Davis pleased conservatives with his appointment of Cecil Morgan to the Louisiana Civil Service Commission. Morgan, as a Caddo Parish legislator, had led the impeachment forces against Governor Huey Pierce Long, Jr. in 1929 and later took a high position with Standard Oil Company. Morgan was succeeded in the Louisiana House by Rupert Peyton of Shreveport, who also served as an aide to Davis.

Long was seeking the lieutenant governorship on the Lewis Morgan "ticket" and led in the first primary, but he lost the runoff to J. Emile Verret of New Iberia, who was the president of the Iberia Parish School Board.

Davis kept his hand in show business and set a record for absenteeism during his first term with trips to Hollywood to make Western "horse operas."

Democrats in Louisiana often formed non-binding "tickets" for governor and lieutenant governor and sometimes lower constitutional offices as well. But voters could "split tickets" by voting, for example, for a Long candidate for governor and an anti-Long candidate for lieutenant governor or vice versa. Louisiana's Constitution, until amended in 1966, allowed governors to serve for only one consecutive term. Therefore Davis stepped down in 1948 at the completion of his term of office.

 Second term (19601964) See also: Louisiana gubernatorial election, 1959-60

In 19591960, Davis, with a pledge to fight for segregation in public education, sought a second term as governor. He won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination over a crowded field that included staunchly segregationist State Senator William Monroe Rainach of Claiborne Parish, former Lieutenant Governor William J. "Bill" Dodd of Baton Rouge, former Governor James Albert Noe, Sr., of Monroe, and New Orleans Mayor deLesseps Story Morrison, Sr. A member of the Ku Klux Klan, A. Roswell Thompson, who operated a taxi stand in New Orleans, also filed candidacy papers. Davis ran second to "Chep" Morrison, considered a liberal by Louisiana standards, in the primary and then defeated him in the party runoff held in January 1960.

Davis polled 213,551 (25.3 percent) to Morrison's 278,956 (33.1 percent). Rainach ran third with 143,095 (17 percent). Noe was fourth with 97,654 (11.6 percent), and Dodd followed with 85,436 (10.1 percent). Davis won the northern and central parts of the state plus Baton Rouge, while Morrison dominated the southern portion of the state, particularly the French cultural parishes. In the runoff, Davis prevailed, 487,681 (54.1 percent) to Morrison's 414,110 (45.5 percent). It was estimated that Davis drew virtually all of the Rainach support from the first primary.

Long endorsed Davis in the runoff against Morrison because he had a personal distaste for the New Orleans mayor. Long, meanwhile, had run unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in the first primary. There was a second primary between Morrison's choice for the job, Alexandria Mayor W. George Bowdon, Jr., and Davis's selection, former state House Speaker Clarence C. "Taddy" Aycock of Franklin in St. Mary Parish. Aycock defeated Bowdon by a margin similar to that of Davis over Morrison. The defeat was Long's second for lieutenant governor. He had lost also in the 1944 primary to J. Emile Verret of Iberia Parish.

Davis effectively used the slogan "He's One of Us" in the gubernatorial race. Number 6 on the ballot, he assembled an intraparty ticket for other statewide constitutional officers, including Aycock for lieutenant governor, Roy R. Theriot of Abbeville for comptroller, Douglas Fowler of Coushatta for custodian of voting machines, Jack P.F. Gremillion for attorney general, Dave L. Pearce for agriculture commissioner, Ellen Bryan Moore for register of state lands, and Rufus Hayes for insurance commissioner, all based in Baton Rouge. The entire Davis ticket was elected.

Davis' appointees in the second term included outgoing State Representative Claude Kirkpatrick of Jennings, the seat of Jefferson Davis Parish, who was named to succeed Lorris M. Wimberly as the Director of Public Works. In that capacity, Kirkpatrick took the steps for a joint agreement with the Texas to establish the popular Toledo Bend Reservoir, a haven for boating and fishing. Mrs. Kirkpatrick, the former Edith Killgore, a native of Claiborne Parish in north Louisiana, headed Davis's women's campaign division for southwestern Louisiana.

In the 1959 campaign, Dodd attacked Davis ferociously: it was part of Dodd's strategy to get Davis to withdraw from the primary. "Nothing personal in his [Dodd's] heart, just a cold-blooded plan to wind up in a second primary against Morrison, who he figured could not win against anyone [else] in a runoff," said Davis in the introduction to Dodd's memoirs, Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics. Dodd then endorsed Morrison in the runoff, but he had a long-term reason for doing so. Dodd planned to run for school superintendent in the 1963 primary, and he wanted to have at least the neutrality of Morrison.

Dodd and Davis later became close friends. In Davis' words:

Bill and I have many things in common. We share the same type of religion and boyhood background; we got our start as schoolteachers and figured prominently in public education; we both served in public life at or near the top. And I like to feel that we share a common appreciation and respect for people, all people. One of the greatest rewards in politics is meeting people. And one of the greatest and most unusual men I've ever met is Bill Dodd.

On 1960 April 19, Davis defeated Republican Francis Grevemberg, a Lafayette native, by a margin of nearly 8217 percent. Grevemberg had been head of the state police under Governor Robert F. Kennon and had fought organized crime. He called for the origin of a two-party system for Louisiana. As the Democratic nominee, Davis had no worries and did little campaigning for the general election. It has been reported that had General Curtis LeMay turned down George C. Wallace's offer to be his candidate for vice president in 1968 on the American Independent Party ticket that Wallace was ready to announce Davis as his selection for vice president. source: Wikipedia



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