‘Big Jim’ went to people

Published 4:22 am Wednesday, September 23, 2009

By Staff
Steve Flowers
The 1962 governor’s race really began in 1958. The governor’s office and the race for it was the big show in Alabama politics in that era. Being a U.S. senator was secondary in Alabama politics. Governor is still probably the most important and glamorous political position today.
Television had not come into its own. Most Alabamians did not own a TV. There were no southern major league baseball teams to follow, such as the Atlanta Braves who were still in Milwaukee at that time. The closest team was the St. Louis Cardinals and they were miles away and not really in the south. The Grand Ole Opry was only on the radio on Saturday night. Therefore, southerners had to include politics as a prime source of their entertainment.
That probably explains why we had such colorful political characters. They were really our entertainers and in some cases real clowns. We certainly had more entertaining politicians than the rest of the country. We had a legacy of Jimmy Davis and Huey Long in Louisiana, Bilbo in Mississippi, Talmadge in Georgia, and the most colorful of all time was our very own Big Jim Folsom.
Big Jim was the most uninhibited, gregarious, fun loving of them all. He traveled the state with his country band the “Strawberry Pickers.” Alabamians thought Big Jim’s barefoot musical antics and down home soaking the rich speeches spiced with country humor were better than the circus coming to town. Big Jim was first elected governor in 1946. He upset the Big Mules of Birming-ham and the Big Planters of the Black Belt to become the first people’s governor in 50 years.
All 12 governors before him had been picked in the closed door board rooms of Birmingham. They were well heeled Big Mules or Big Planters who went out and gave dull speeches and simply bought the election with corporate and large agricultural money. How-ever, Big Jim went directly to the country people all over the state.
Most people in Alabama at that time were rural or lived in small towns. Big Jim convinced them that he was their friend. He won their hearts. He became the youngest and most progressive Alabama governor in history. He was the little man’s big friend. However, the governor could not succeed himself. It was one four-year term and you were out. So Big Jim left after four years, 1946-1950.
A quaint aristocrat named Gordon Persons became governor from 1950-1954, but Big Jim came storming back to win in 1954.
He won without a runoff despite the fact that most of the state’s big daily newspapers endorsed other people and predicted he would lose. He became only the second person to be elected to two terms.
Steve Flowers is a political
columnist who served in the
state legislature.