John E. Rankin: Wikis


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John E. Rankin

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1921 – January 3, 1953
Preceded by Ezekiel Candler
Succeeded by Thomas Abernethy

Born March 29, 1882(1882-03-29)
Itawamba County, Mississippi
Died November 26, 1960 (aged 78)
Tupelo, Mississippi
Political party Democratic

John Elliott Rankin (March 29, 1882 – November 26, 1960) was a congressman from the U.S. State of Mississippi.

He supported racial segregation and voiced racist views on African Americans[1] and Jews[2] on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. In 1944, following the Port Chicago disaster, the U.S. Navy asked Congress to give $5,000 to the victim's families. However Rankin insisted the amount be reduced to $2,000 when he learned most of the dead were black sailors.[3]


Early life

Rankin was born near Bolanda in Itawamba County, Mississippi and he graduated from the University of Mississippi law school in 1910. He began practicing in Clay County, Mississippi before becoming prosecuting attorney of Lee County, Mississippi, a position he held to 1915.[4]

Military service

Rankin served in the United States Army during World War I.[5]

Congressional career

Election to Congress

In 1920, he was elected to the House as a Democrat. He served sixteen consecutive terms (March 4, 1921 – January 3, 1953) as Mississippi's First District Representative.

Rankin co-authored the bill to create the Tennessee Valley Authority and was a supporter of the Rural Electrification Administration. He was a sponsor of Edith Nourse Rogers' Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (also known as the G. I. Bill of Rights). He was a strong supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and advocated economic intervention in poor rural communities. He opposed the creation of the UN, stating "The United Nations is the greatest fraud in all History. Its purpose is to destroy the United States." He supported racial segregation and opposed civil rights legislation.[6] During World War II, Rankin alleged that the US Army's loss of a certain battle was due to the cowardice of black soldiers. Fellow Representative Helen Gahagan Douglas replied that many black soldiers had been decorated for bravery despite serving in a segregated Army.[7] When African American Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was elected to Congress in 1945, Rankin vowed to never sit next to him.[8]


FDR (center) signs the Rural Electrification Act with Rankin (left) and Senator George W. Norris (right)

Rankin chaired the Committee on World War Veterans' Legislation (Seventy-second through Seventy-ninth Congresses[9]) and the Committee on Veterans' Affairs (Eighty-first and Eighty-second Congresses[10]).

House Un-American Activities Committee

Rankin was a leading member of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). He was active in probing the Communist Party, USA and the German-American Bund, but was criticized for failing to investigate violence and murder perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan. After HUAC's chief counsel Ernest Adamson announced: "The committee has decided that it lacks sufficient data on which to base a probe," Rankin added: "After all, the KKK is an old American institution."[11].

Rankin's 'bigoted' remarks condemned by his peers

Rankin belittled both Jews and African Americans on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. After Rankin used the epithet nigger on the floor of the United States House of Representatives, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. called for his impeachment. Although freshmen Congressmen were expected not to speak during their first year in office, Powell rose after one of Rankin's outbursts to say that "the time has arrived to impeach Rankin, or at least expel him from the party."[1] William L. Strickland, professor of political science at University of Massachusetts at Amherst[12][1] has written that "Rankin was an equal opportunity bigot since he also assailed columnist Walter Winchell as 'the little kike.'"[2] The moment was referenced in the 1947 Academy Award winning film, Gentleman's Agreement, which focuses on the topic of antisemitism.

Rankin claimed that the Immigration and Nationality Act was opposed solely by American Jews:

They whine about discrimination. Do you know who is being discriminated against? The white Christian people of America, the ones who created this nation... I am talking about the white Christian people of the North as well as the South... Communism is racial. A racial minority seized control in Russia and in all her satellite countries, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, and many other countries I could name. They have been run out of practically every country in Europe in the years gone by, and if they keep stirring race trouble in this country and trying to force their communistic program on the Christian people of America, there is no telling what will happen to them here.(Cong. Rec., April 23, 1952, p. 4320).

Rankin notoriously baited Jewish Congressmen, including Adolph J. Sabath and Emanuel Celler. In one exchange, Rankin referred to Celler as "the Jewish gentleman from New York". When Celler protested, Rankin asked, "Does the member from New York object to being called a Jew or does he object to being called a gentleman? What is he kicking about?"[13]

An article in the ADL Bulletin entitled The Plot Against Anna M. Rosenberg attributed the attacks on Rosenberg's loyalty to "professional anti-Semites and lunatic nationalists," including the "Jew-baiting cabal of John Rankin, Benjamin H. Freedman and Gerald Smith."[14] During the trial of the Communist spies Rosenberg, Rankin was attacked by Jewish groups for calling the Rosenbergs "communist kikes".[15]

Congressional usage of the word nigger

Following the 1949 Peekskill Riots, which were violent attacks by a mob of white racist anti-communists after a concert where African American entertainer and political radical Paul Robeson sang, Rankin condemned Robeson.[16]

He was followed by Representative Jacob Javits who condemned the mob in Peekskill for violating constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and free assembly.[17 ] Rankin replied angrily. "It was not surprising to hear the gentlemen from New York defend the Communist enclave." Rankin bellowed that he wanted it known that the American people are not in sympathy "with that Nigger Communist and that bunch of Reds who went up there."[17 ] On a point of order, Representative Vito Marcantonio protested to House Speaker Sam Rayburn that "the gentlemen from Mississippi used the word 'nigger.' I ask that the word be taken down and stricken from the RECORD inasmuch as there are two members in this house of Negro race." Rayburn claimed that Rankin had not said "nigger" but "Negro" but Rankin yelled over him saying "I said Niggra! Just as I have said since I have been able to talk and shall continue to say."[18 ] Speaker Rayburn defended Rankin, ruling that "the gentlemen from Mississippi is not subject to a point of order... referred to the Negro race and they should not be afraid of that designation."[18 ]

Unsuccessful bid for Senate

Rankin ran for the Democratic nomination following the death of Theodore G. Bilbo. He finished last among five major candidates with over 24,000 votes and 13% of the vote.

Defeat and death

Rankin was defeated for re-election to the House in 1952 by Congressman Thomas G. Abernethy after their districts were joined through Redistricting.

Rankin died in at his home in Tupelo on November 26, 1960. He is interred in Greenwood Cemetery in West Point, Mississippi.


  1. ^ a b Haygood, Wil. King of the Cats. Houghton Mifflin, NY. 1993, p. 118.
  2. ^ a b Time Magazine
  3. ^ Allen, The Port Chicago Mutiny, 67.
  4. ^ Biographical Dictionary of the United States
  5. ^ Vickers, Kenneth Wayne. "John Rankin: Democrat and Demagogue." Master's thesis, Mississippi State University, 1993.
  6. ^ Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson & His Times, 1908-1960 Dallek, R (OUP, 1991) ISBN 0195054350 p. 505.
  7. ^ Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate Caro, R (New York, Knopf, 2002) ISBN 0394528360 p. 346.
  8. ^ Evidence of Rankin's hostility to Celler
  9. ^ 1931 to 1947: Encyclopaedia Britannica 1955 Vol 22 p. 845.
  10. ^ 1949 to 1953 Britannia (Ibid)
  11. ^ Inside U.S.A. Gunther, J (London, Hamish Hamilton, 1947 p. 789)
  12. ^ Black Commentator March 26, 2009 Issue 317
  13. ^
  14. ^ Jews Against Prejudice, p. 120
  15. ^ A Fire in Their Hearts, p. 258.
  16. ^ Ford, Carin T. Paul Robeson: I Want to Make Freedom Ring, pp. 97–98 Chapter 9, 2008.
  17. ^ a b Duberman, Martin. Paul Robeson, 1989, Peekskill p. 373.
  18. ^ a b United States Congressional Record, September 21, 1949, p 13375


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