Political history reviewed

Published 4:57 pm Wednesday, November 19, 2008

By Staff
The year was 1962. John Kennedy was President. Camelot was in full bloom. Forgotten was the fact that Kennedy's father Joseph, who had vowed to buy the Presidency for his son, had in fact done just that. In collusion with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, they had shifted just enough votes in Chicago wards to tilt the pivotal swing state of Illinois to Kennedy over Nixon. The entire election hinged on Illinois. It was days before the final count was in because Daley had to make sure he had enough votes before they counted Nixon out.
The Congress was democratically controlled because the south was solidly Democratic. The issue of Civil Rights was a tempest set to blow off the Capitol dome. Kennedy was under intense pressure to pass major civil rights legislation. However, he was up against a wall to get it past the powerful bloc of southern senators.
Race was the only issue in the south. George Wallace was riding the race issue to the Governor's office for his first term in 1962. The white southern voter was determined to stand firm against integration and was poised to cast their vote for the most ardent segregationist on the ballot.
Our congressional delegation was all Democratic. All nine congressmen and both senators, John Sparkman and Lister Hill, had come to Washington during the Roosevelt New Deal era and were considered somewhat progressive. They had been the authors of legislation to help poor southern whites. They were all instrumental in providing health care for the rural south, federal aid for college education and the coveted TVA for rural north Alabama.
Sparkman and Hill had a combined 40 years of senate service.
Out of nowhere a handsome, articulate, young Gadsden businessman named Jim Martin appeared on the scene. Martin was 42, born in Tarrant City, and a decorated WWII officer.
Martin was a business Republican and active in the State Chamber of Commerce. Martin left Washington and decided that Alabama at least needed a two-party system and that he would be the sacrificial lamb to take on the venerable Lister Hill as the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate. Martin received the nomination during the convention and the David vs. Goliath race was on.
When votes were counted in 1962, Martin had pulled off the biggest upset in the nation.
However, things were happening in rural North Alabama similar to what had occurred in Chicago two years earlier. Martin had won by 6,000 votes but three days later boxes mysteriously appeared with just enough votes to get Hill the belated victory. The entire country and most Alabamians knew that Jim Martin had been counted out. There were boxes that came in from counties where he received zero votes.
Jim Martin would have been the first Republican senator from the south in a century. Most people acknowledge that Martin received the most votes in that 1962 race but nevertheless he was the John the Baptist of the southern Republican sweep of 1964.
Steve Flowers is a political columnist who served 16 years State Legislature.