In recent years, candidates for political office have lambasted, run against and proclaimed that they were not career politicians. Every television ad for someone who has never held office has proudly stated that they are not career politicians.
That all sounds good, but is it really good? In my lifetime, the word politician has become synonymous with someone sinister and untrustworthy. In fact, politics has become something that the brightest and best people have come to avoid.
That was not the case when I was a boy growing up in Alabama. The most outstanding young men in the state chose to go into public service. Having roots in the state was important towards success for the men who rose to public office. The great Alabama storyteller, Katherine Tucker Windham, would say, “Alabama is a big front porch.” Boys would grow up with aspirations of being Governor, United States Senators or Congressmen. People in their hometowns would identify young men who were talented and groom them to be a future governor or congressman.
A study of Alabama political history will reveal that Alabama has done pretty well over the years in the halls of the United States Congress by electing homegrown boys to be their Representatives in Washington. These gentlemen of bygone years were born, trained and ready to be the most powerful, erudite and respected men in Washington. Their paths were laid out to be career politicians.
A look back to 60 years ago in Alabama politics reveals that we had the greatest statesmen in our state’s history representing us in Congress. They all amazingly took the same path. Their career path to Congress was textbook. They grew up in their hometown, went to The University of Alabama, further continued and went to The University of Alabama School of Law, came back home and practiced law for a short time. They then went to Congress and started building seniority and power in Washington.
In 1963, 60 years ago, we had the greatest tandem in history as our two U.S. Senators, Lister Hill and John Sparkman. Senator Hill grew up in Montgomery, graduated from The University of Alabama and then The University of Alabama School of Law. He served the old second district in Congress a decade and then was elected to the Senate where he served 30 years.
Senator John Sparkman was born in rural Morgan County, graduated from The University of Alabama and then The University of Alabama School of Law, practiced law a few years in Huntsville before being elected to the U.S. Senate where he served 32 years.
The man who took Sparkman’s Tennessee Valley Congressional Seat in 1946 was the great Bob Jones. Congressman Jones was from Scottsboro and was one of the state’s greatest Congressman and a savior for the Tennessee Valley. He was a graduate of The University of Alabama and The University of Alabama School of Law.
Carl Elliott was in that 1963 class. He was a giant in Washington. Congressman Elliott was born in Red Bay, but practiced law in Jasper and called Walker County home. He was a graduate of The University of Alabama and The University of Alabama School of Law.
George Andrews was a great Congressman for the old third district. He served a decade with extreme effectiveness and distinction. Ft. Rucker would not be the mainstay of the Wiregrass if it were not for George Andrews. He was a graduate of the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama School of Law. He was born and raised in the third district.
Congressman George Grant served the old second district with distinction for 28 years. He followed Lister Hill in this seat. He was born and raised in the district and practiced law in Troy before going to Congress. He was a product of The University of Alabama and The University of Alabama School of Law.
Albert Rains represented the Gadsden area for decades in Congress. He was a power. He was successful in business and banking concurrently with his Congressional career. He graduated from The University of Alabama School of Law.
George Huddleston, Jr. represented the Birmingham area with distinction during this era. He had a law degree from The University of Alabama and was a prominent lawyer before going to Congress.
The great Black Belt Congressman, Armistead Selden, was a freshmen in that 1963 group. He was a graduate of Sewanee and The University of Alabama School of Law.
These men, who made up the Congressional delegation representing us in Washington in 1963, will be remembered in the annals of Alabama history as some of Alabama’s greatest and most powerful public servants. Their gameplan was to be a public servant. Therefore, you might say they were pretty good career politicians.
See you next week.