That 01′ Bloc Magic Shreveport, La. In 1959, when I was covering Louisiana politics for a Shreveport daily, New Orwas the true-blue, honest-to-God Democrat seeking residence in the governor’s mansion in Baton Rouge, an edifice then occupied by the Hon. Earl Kemp Long. Debonair and balding Morrison faced rightwing segregationist Willie Rainach, former singing Gov. Jimmie \(“You Are My Sunformidable Uncle Earl hisself. Back then Morrison used to say, when he was told he vaguely resembled Adlai Stevenson, “I don’t know whether that’s a compliment or not.” He stepped gingerly in North Louisiana, that part of the state where segregation was invented, according to a friend of mine. Morrison had too many strikes against him in the Bible Belt top of the state north of Alexandria. Not only was he a Catholic, he was from the big city of New Orleans, tantamount to sin itself to many of the Protestant upcountry folk. No New Orleans candidate has been elected since 1920, and the last Roman Catholic to. win was Samuel D. McEnery .in 1884. Although Morrison reached the runoff in 1959, he lost in January 1960. Generally, what happened to Morrison in 1960 happened again this month when State Public Service Commissioner John J. McKeithen defeated him in the Democratic runoff, 492,437 to 451,499. Again, as in 1960, Morrison was “out-segged,” to use the term of an Alabama also-ran ; but segregation wasn’t the only factor. Morrison had carefully tailored his program even more to the political sensitivities of the northern rednecks, but still suffered his third straight loss for governor. Country lawyer McKeithen was unknown to more than 60% of the voters 13 months ago, according to a statewide poll, but his wide-open TV and newspaper ad attack swiftly enabled him to overcome Morrison’s two-to-one first primary plurality. McKeithen, once considered a moderate, had sought AFL-CIO backing, but he wasted no time in making racial “bloc voting” the major emotional issue. NAACP chief Roy Wilkins, McKeithen charged, had delivered the Negro vote in a bloc for Morrison. An ad in the Shreveport Times, for instance, emphasized: “Morrison must be defeated; if elected we..feel he would be obligated to the NAACPCORE MARTIN LUTHER KING controlled Negro bloc vote for his election.” Morrison people replied with an ad showing that McKeithen had similarly received lop-sided’ Negro support in his race for public service commissioner, but the damage was done. James Presley Despite the bloc voting claims, registration of Negro voters in Louisiana is relatively low. Out of 1,176,825 registered Democrats, only 160,002 are Negroesincluding the 15 in Tensas Parish. But the mere idea of black polling power was sufficient for many northern Louisiana whites. In the last weeks of the bitter campaign, Morrison forces released a tape recording of McKeithen’s plea before the AFL-CIO in which he had boasted of having been the runaway favorite in Negro districts. McKeithen claimed the tape was “distorted,” but labor officials said it wasn’t. RONICALLY, some of the ultra-conservatives in the first primary had stated there were three “Kennedy candidates,” Morrison, McKeithen, and Congressman Gillis Long, a cousin to Sen. Russell Long. Two weeks after the murder of the President, Morrison, McKeithen, and Long finished first, second, and third. Falling behind were two staunch conservativesegregationists, ex-Gov. Robert F. Kennon and Supt. of Education Shelby Jackson. In the fourth congressional district which includes Shreveport, however, Kennon was way ahead. If one had listened to the speeches he wouldn’t have known the three were “Kennedy candidates,” though. Gillis Long tended to skip over civil rights, but did get around to saying: “I don’t owe the Kennedys a thing. I will oppose a civil rights bill every way I can.” McKeithen, once a trusted legislative lieutenant of the late Earl Long, was more definite. One large newspaper ad heralded: “Help McKeithen ‘KO’ Kennedy!” A muscled-up . arm smashed a boxing glove over a paragraph which read: “All of us recognize that today’s number one threat to our way of life is a continuation of the dictator-ilike administration of the political power-hungry Kennedys. Our state and our country can not stand another four years of Jack, Bobby, and other members of the Kennedy clan.” The way to remedy this, the ad suggested, was to elect McKeithen governor of this sovereign state. Then came the Dallas murder, and McKeithen said he was so upset by the tragedy, “I can hardly speak about it.” One candidate, he said \(in an apparent’ referKennedy’s death. McKeithen also managed to get it said that “Congressman [Otto] Passman, campaigning in behalf of [Kennon], had been going all over the state calling me all kinds of names because I publicly admitted that I had voted for and supported our late President. Now, since this tragedy, hatchet men like Congressman Passman will go back to Washington and crawl into a hole.” It is one of the vagaries of Louisiana politics, though, that Congressman Passman did not crawl into a hole; he endorsed McKeithen. McKeithen also picked up the backing of the prince of Plaquemines Parish, aging Leander Perez, who has built a medieval hell for any possible integrators. McKeithen’s burning issues in the runoff became “the bloc vote” and “federal intervention,” by which he meant the same things Allan Shivers meant back in the 1950’s in Texas. WITHOUT A DOUBT Kennedy’s murder knocked the props out from under several other campaigners and Morrison then was able to proceed more steadily, yet Morrison, in the first primary, had been as anxious to shed the label of a “Kennedy candidate” as anyone. He probably had been as close as anyone to Kennedy, for he had served a formal apprenticeship on the New Frontier as ambassador to the Organization of American States. He emphasized to Louisianians, however, that the post “was in the field of foreign policy,” which was supposed to get him off the hook. In the area of domestic policy, there was perceptible change between the Morrison of 1959 and of 1963. In 1959 Morrison told the overalls-clad citizens of the little northern towns that segregation was the tradition of Louisiana and that as governor he would maintain it, just as he had done while mayor of New Orleans. Segregation, he said, is “the tested and pioven system of separate but equal facilities for all.” Morrison’s promises on civil rights were implicit, if they can be said to have been made at all. The state needs a rule of reason, he said. “We must oppose violence of all kinds.” But the proposed civil rights legislation is “unjust, unreasonable, and unworkableI am unalterably opposed to it.” Again: “I pledge every effort to defeat this bill.” Morrison reinforced his stand with his running mate, Claude Duval, a former president of the Louisiana Chambers of Commerce and a former state commander of the American Legion, a sound conservative lure for the folk JFK had stirred up. And, of course, Duval is a Protestant. The Morrison-Duval ticket was “for states’ rights and against the growth of federal power.” In the polyglot circumlocutions of politics, though, Morrison is a “Louisiana liberal.” As in 1959, he concentrated on eco January 24, 1964 3
You May Also Like
The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.