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LeRoy Percy

Le Roy Percy (November 9, 1860– December 24, 1929) was a wealthy planter from Greenville, Mississippi in the heart of the Delta. He attended the University of Virginia where he was a member of the Chi Phi Fraternity. He served as United States Senator from Mississippi from 1910 to 1913.

Contents

United States Senate

Following the vacancy of the seat held by Senator James Gordon, the Mississippi legislature convened to fill it. A plurality of legislators at the time backed white supremacist James K. Vardaman, but the fractured remainder sought to thwart his extreme racial policies. A majority united behind Percy to block Vardaman's appointment. Percy became the last senator chosen by the Mississippi legislature, prior to the adoption of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution mandating popular election of senators.

Percy held office until 1913. In 1912 he was challenged in the Democratic Primary under the new direct elections system by the populist Vardaman, whose campaign Theodore Bilbo managed, stressing class tensions and racial segregation. The tactic resulted in defeat for Percy, who was attacked as a representative of the aristocracy and for taking a progressive stance on race relations; advocating education for blacks working to improve race relations by appealing to the planters’ sense of noblesse oblige.

Post-Senate career

Percy retired from politics to run his model plantation at Trail Lake and to practice law for railroads and banks. British investors hired him to manage the largest cotton plantation in the country, for which he received 10% of the profits.

Condemnation of the Ku Klux Klan

In 1922 he rose to national prominence when the Ku Klux Klan attempted to set up in Washington County, Mississippi. On March 1, 1922 the Klan attempted to hold a recruiting session at the Greenville courthouse. Percy arrived there during a speech by Klan leader Joseph Camp attacking blacks, Jews, and Catholics. After Camp finished, Percy approached the podium and proceeded to dismantle Camp's speech to thunderous applause, concluding with the plea "Friends, let this Klan go somewhere else where it will not do the harm that it will in this community. Let them sow dissension in some community less united than is ours."

After Percy stepped down, an ally of his in the audience rose to put forth a resolution, secretly written by Percy, condemning the Klan. The resolution passed and Camp ceased his efforts to establish the Klan in Washington County. Percy's speech and victory drew praise from newspapers around the nation.

Involvement in the 1927 Flood

During the 1927 flood, Delta residents began frantic efforts to raise the levees and save the land by stacking sand bags on the top of the established levee walls. Charles Williams was an employee of Percy's on one of the largest cotton plantations in the Delta. He set up camps on the levee protecting Greenville, complete with field kitchens and tents, for thousands of plantation workers - all African Americans - to live as the men handled sand bags.

When the river broke through the levees on April 21, 1927, Senator Percy's son William Alexander Percy (a World War I hero and a noted poet) took charge of the Red Cross relief efforts for the blacks stuck on the levee. His first impulse was to evacuate them on steamers.

The planters protested. They persuaded Percy to instruct his son to leave those blacks on the levee. The planters knew that if the blacks got out of the Delta, they would never return, and the cotton crops that ran the economy of the Delta were labor-intensive to grow.

On the levee the blacks filled and stacked sandbags, for which Percy set a pay scale of 75 cents per day. Those who were put to unloading and distributing Red Cross food parcels, which were starting to come to Greenville by barge to feed 180,000 people and thousands of animals.

Percy ordered all Greenville blacks to the levee. The camp stretched seven miles. Percy ordered that all the Red Cross work be done for free; however, this was to comply with Red Cross requirements that boats be unloaded only with volunteer labor. There were too few tents, not enough food, no eating utensils or mess hall. Black men were not allowed to leave--those who tried were driven back at gunpoint by the National Guard.

The food they received was inferior to what the whites got. Canned peaches came in, but were not distributed to blacks for fear it would "spoil them". Whites kept the good Red Cross food for themselves. Giving it to the blacks, one white man explained, "would simply teach them a lot of expensive habits".

Children

Percy was the father of poet William Alexander Percy as well as the great-uncle and adoptive grandfather of famed novelist Walker Percy.

Legacy

Leroy Percy State Park, a state park in Mississippi, is named after him.

Other Percys

Bibliography

  • Baker, Lewis. The Percys of Mississippi: Politics and Literature in the New South. LSU Press, 1983.
  • Barry, John. Rising Tide. New York, Simon&Schuster, 1998.
  • Kirwan, Albert Dennis. The Revolt of the Rednecks. P. Smith, 1964.
  • Percy, William Alexander. Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter’s Son. New York, Knopf, 1941. (Reprinted with new introduction by Walker Percy, LSU Press, 1973).
  • Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. The House of Percy: Honor, Melancholy and Imagination in a Southern Family. New York and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1994.

External links

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Le Roy Percy (November 9, 1860– December 24, 1929) was a wealthy planter from Greenville, Mississippi in the heart of the Delta. He attended the University of Virginia where he was a member of the Chi Phi Fraternity. He served as United States Senator from Mississippi from 1910 to 1913.

Contents

United States Senate

Following the vacancy of the seat held by Senator James Gordon, the Mississippi legislature convened to fill it. A plurality of legislators at the time backed white supremacist James K. Vardaman, but the fractured remainder sought to thwart his extreme racial policies. A majority united behind Percy to block Vardaman's appointment. Percy became the last senator chosen by the Mississippi legislature, prior to the adoption of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution mandating popular election of senators.

Percy held office until 1913. In 1912 he was challenged in the Democratic Primary under the new direct elections system by the populist Vardaman, whose campaign Theodore Bilbo managed, stressing class tensions and racial segregation. The tactic resulted in defeat for Percy, who was attacked as a representative of the aristocracy and for taking a progressive stance on race relations; advocating education for blacks working to improve race relations by appealing to the planters’ sense of noblesse oblige.

Post-Senate career

Percy retired from politics to run his model plantation at Trail Lake and to practice law for railroads and banks. British investors hired him to manage the largest cotton plantation in the country[citation needed], for which he received 10% of the profits.

Condemnation of the Ku Klux Klan

In 1922 he rose to national prominence when the Ku Klux Klan attempted to set up in Washington County, Mississippi. On March 1, 1922 the Klan attempted to hold a recruiting session at the Greenville courthouse. Percy arrived there during a speech by Klan leader Joseph Camp attacking blacks, Jews, and Catholics. After Camp finished, Percy approached the podium and proceeded to dismantle Camp's speech to thunderous applause, concluding with the plea "Friends, let this Klan go somewhere else where it will not do the harm that it will in this community. Let them sow dissension in some community less united than is ours."

After Percy stepped down, an ally of his in the audience rose to put forth a resolution, secretly written by Percy, condemning the Klan. The resolution passed and Camp ceased his efforts to establish the Klan in Washington County. Percy's speech and victory drew praise from newspapers around the nation.

Involvement in the 1927 Flood

During the 1927 flood, Delta residents began frantic efforts to raise the levees and save the land by stacking sand bags on the top of the established levee walls. Charles Williams was an employee of Percy's on one of the largest cotton plantations in the Delta. He set up camps on the levee protecting Greenville, complete with field kitchens and tents, for thousands of plantation workers - all African Americans - to live as the men handled sand bags.

When the river broke through the levees on April 21, 1927, Senator Percy's son William Alexander Percy (a World War I hero and a noted poet) took charge of the Red Cross relief efforts for the blacks stuck on the levee. His first impulse was to evacuate them on steamers.

The planters protested. They persuaded Percy to instruct his son to leave those blacks on the levee. The planters knew that if the blacks got out of the Delta, they would never return, and the cotton crops that ran the economy of the Delta were labor-intensive to grow.

On the levee the blacks filled and stacked sandbags, for which Percy set a pay scale of 75 cents per day. Those who were put to unloading and distributing Red Cross food parcels, which were starting to come to Greenville by barge to feed 180,000 people and thousands of animals.

Percy ordered all Greenville blacks to the levee. The camp stretched seven miles. Percy ordered that all the Red Cross work be done for free; however, this was to comply with Red Cross requirements that boats be unloaded only with volunteer labor. There were too few tents, not enough food, no eating utensils or mess hall. Black men were not allowed to leave--those who tried were driven back at gunpoint by the National Guard.

The food they received was inferior to what the whites got. Canned peaches came in, but were not distributed to blacks for fear it would "spoil them". Whites kept the good Red Cross food for themselves. Giving it to the blacks, one white man explained, "would simply teach them a lot of expensive habits".

Children

Percy was the father of poet William Alexander Percy as well as the great-uncle and adoptive grandfather of famed novelist Walker Percy.

Legacy

Leroy Percy State Park, a state park in Mississippi, is named after him.

Other Percys

Bibliography

  • Baker, Lewis. The Percys of Mississippi: Politics and Literature in the New South. LSU Press, 1983.
  • Barry, John. Rising Tide. New York, Simon&Schuster, 1998.
  • Kirwan, Albert Dennis. The Revolt of the Rednecks. P. Smith, 1964.
  • Percy, William Alexander. Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter’s Son. New York, Knopf, 1941. (Reprinted with new introduction by Walker Percy, LSU Press, 1973).
  • Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. The House of Percy: Honor, Melancholy and Imagination in a Southern Family. New York and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1994.

External links


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