Jimmie Davis: Wikis

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Jimmie Davis

Davis in 1964

In office
May 9, 1944 – May 11, 1948
Lieutenant J. Emile Verret
Preceded by Sam Houston Jones
Succeeded by Earl Long

In office
May 10, 1960 – May 12, 1964
Lieutenant Clarence C. "Taddy" Aycock
Preceded by Earl Long
Succeeded by John McKeithen

Born September 11, 1899(1899-09-11)
Quitman in Jackson Parish, Louisiana
Died November 5, 2000 (aged 101)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Alverna Adams
Anna Carter Gordon
Profession Songwriter; former educator
Religion Baptist

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 (1944–1948 and 1960–1964).

Contents

Early life

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.[1] 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.

Musical career

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 energetic and raunchy blues tunes like "Red Nightgown Blues." Some of these records included slide guitar accompaniment by black bluesman Oscar Woods. During his first run for governor, opponents reprinted the lyrics of some of these songs in order to undermine Davis's campaign. In one case, anti-Davis forces played some of the records over an outdoor sound system only to give up after the crowds started dancing, ignoring the double-entendre lyrics. Davis until the end of his life never denied, or repudiated those records.

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.

Rice himself had adapted it from another person's poem. Reportedly, the song was copyrighted under Davis' name and that of longtime sideman Charles Mitchell, after they purchased it from Rice. Davis also purchased the country ballad "It Makes No Difference Now" from its composer Floyd Tillman. Tillman later had his composer credit restored alongside that of Davis.

In 1999, "You Are My Sunshine" was honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award and the Recording Industry Association of America named it one of the Songs of the Century. "You Are My Sunshine" was ranked #73 on CMT's 100 Greatest Songs in Country Music in 2003. Until his death, Davis insisted that he wrote the song. In any case, it will forever be associated with him.

Davis became the popular "singing governor" who often performed music during his campaign stops. While governor, he had a No. 1 hit single in 1945 with "There's a New Moon Over My Shoulder." A long-time member of the Baptist faith, he also recorded a number of southern gospel albums and in 1967 served as president of the Gospel Music Association. He was a close friend of the North Dakota-born band leader Lawrence Welk who frequently reminded viewers of his television program of his association with Governor Davis.

A number of his songs were used as part of motion picture soundtracks, and Davis himself appeared in half a dozen films, one with the popular entertainers Ozzie and Harriet. Members of Davis' last band included Allen "Puddler" Harris of Lake Charles, who had also been an original pianist of Ricky Nelson.

Political career

Davis was elected as Shreveport'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.

First term as governor (1944–1948)

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."[2]

Davis was term-limited to a single term in office.

Second term (1960–1964)

In 1959–1960, 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.[3]

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 82–17 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.

Fourth place in 1971

In 1971, Davis entered another crowded Democratic gubernatorial primary field, but he finished in an unimpressive fourth place with 138,756 ballots (only 11.8 percent) since time had passed him by.

In a runoff election held in December 1971, Congressman Edwin Washington Edwards of Crowley in Acadia Parish defeated then state Senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., of Shreveport for the party nomination. That vote was very close: Edwards, 584,262 (50.2 percent) to Johnston's 579,774 (49.8 percent). Edwards then beat Republican David C. Treen in the March 1972 general election. Davis' days as a politician were clearly behind him at that point.

Toward the end of his life, longtime Democrat Davis endorsed at least two Republican candidates: state Representative Louis E. "Woody" Jenkins of Baton Rouge for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Mary Landrieu in 1996 and the reelection of Governor Murphy J. "Mike" Foster, Jr., who faced little opposition in 1999 from African-American Democratic Congressman William "Bill" Jefferson of New Orleans.[4]

Political legacy

Davis established a State Retirement System and funding of more than $100 million in public improvements while leaving the state with a $38 million surplus after his first term.[5]

During his second term, Davis built the Sunshine Bridge, the new Louisiana Governor's Mansion, and Toledo Bend Reservoir, all criticized at the time, but later recognized as beneficial to the state. Davis coordinated the pay periods of state employees, who had sometimes received their checks a week late, a particular hardship to those with low incomes.

During his time as governor, Jimmie Davis attempted to enforce policies of racial segregation, but federal law slowly brought about desegregation. Davis apologized for his actions later in life. One time during his tenure, he rode his horse up the steps of the Louisiana State Capitol to protest integration.

Among his appointments was the selection of Alexandria businessman Morgan W. Walker, Sr., to the State Mineral Board. Walker founded a company which later became part of Continental Trailways Bus lines.

Honors

The Jimmie Davis Bridge over the Red River on Louisiana State Highway 511 connects Shreveport and Bossier City.

The Jimmie Davis Bridge atop the Red River connects Shreveport and Bossier City via Louisiana Highway 511. It was named in his honor during his second term as governor.

Jimmie Davis State Park is located with Caney Lake, southwest of Chatham in Jackson Parish.

Jimmie Davis was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971 and into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1972. In 1993, Davis was among the first thirteen inductees of the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.[6]The Hall of Fame also issues periodically the "Friends of Jimmie Davis Award". The 2006 recipient was former State Senator B.G. Dyess of Rapides Parish.

Davis believed that his singing career enhanced his political prospects. He once told the Georgia Republican Ronnie Thompson, a mayor of Macon: "If you want to have any success in politics, sing softly and carry a big guitar," a play on an old Theodore Roosevelt adage.[7]

Personal life

Davis married the former Alverna Adams in this historic Shreveport house in the Highlands neighborhood. It was formerly owned by the Eglins, the maternal grandparents of Davis' second successor as governor, John McKeithen. (Source: Historic marker, Eglin House in Shreveport)

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.[8] She survived Davis.

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.

See also

References

  • http://elvispelvis.com/jimmiedavis.htm
  • Toru Mitsui (1998). "Jimmie Davis." In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Ed. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 136.
  • Kevin S. Fontenot, "You Can't Fight a Song: Country Music in Jimmie Davis' Gubernatorial Campaigns," Journal of Country Music (2007).

Footnotes

  1. ^ Ancestry of Jimmie Davis
  2. ^ Mathur, Monika (June 23, 2009). "A look at odd behavior by US governors". Associated Press. http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jQ7_25-eKs8eU2rs504vDLRpD6dAD990JHEG0.  
  3. ^ Davis exhibit, Delta Music Museum, Ferriday, Louisiana
  4. ^ Jefferson, a former assistant to United States Senator J. Bennett Johnston, was engulfed in personal financial scandals in 2006 and subsequently defeated by Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao in 2008.
  5. ^ Louisiana Secretary of State
  6. ^ "”Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame”". cityofwinnfield.com. http://www.cityofwinnfield.com/museum.html. Retrieved August 22, 2009.  
  7. ^ Davis, quoted in Eric Welch, "Gospel-singing Jeweler Is 'Country' Candidate", Macon Telegraph, 1967 August 26, p. A1.
  8. ^ See also J. Bazzel Mull.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Sam Houston Jones (D)
Governor of Louisiana

James Houston Davis (D)
1944–1948

Succeeded by
Earl Kemp Long (D)
Preceded by
Earl Kemp Long (D)
Governor of Louisiana

James Houston Davis (D)
1960–1964

Succeeded by
John Julian McKeithen (D)

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