Harrison Bagwell

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Harrison Garey Bagwell, Sr.​

(Louisiana Republican Party pioneer)

Born December 6, 1913​
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA​
Died December 2, 1973 (aged 59)​
Baton Rouge, Louisiana<vbr>

Resting place:
Resthaven Gardens of Memory in Baton Rouge​

Spouse June Sue Ross Bagwell (married 1936-1971, her death)​

Seven children​
Arthur D. and Birdie Harrison Bagwell​

Harrison Garey Bagwell, Sr. (December 6, 1913 – December 2, 1973),[1] was an attorney and politician in his native Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was the Republican nominee for governor of Louisiana in the 1952 general election.[2]

With the state's passage of the Constitution in 1898, which raised barriers to voter registration, most African Americans were disenfranchised and excluded from the political system. As they had comprised the great majority of the Republican Party in the state following emancipation, it was essentially destroyed as a competitive force for decades until the late 1960s and later.​ ​


​​ Bagwell was a son of Arthur D. Bagwell (1878-1955), a native of Lincoln Parish, and the former Birdie Mae Harrison (1878-1961), originally from Houma in Terrebonne Parish. The couple died in Oak Grove, West Carroll Parish; they are interred there at Oak Grove Cemetery.[3]

Bagwell attended local segregated schools through high school. He graduated from Louisiana State University and the LSU Law Center, both of which were also segregated.[2] In 1936, Bagwell married the former June Sue Ross (1915-1971). The couple had seven children together.[2][4]

Political life

​​ Unusual for his time, Bagwell joined the Republican Party at a time when most whites were Democrats. Louisiana had been a one-party state since the late 19th century, when white Democrats regained control of the state government and approved a new state constitution in 1898 that effectively disenfranchised most blacks by raising barriers to voter registration and voting. Prior to 1964, African Americans had constituted the great majority of members of the Louisiana Republican Party. ​ During the first decades of the 20th century, some white Republicans began to try to build up the party. In 1928, Étienne Caire, a businessman from Edgard in St. John the Baptist Parish, polled 4 percent in the gubernatorial election in his challenge of Huey Pierce Long, Jr.[5] In 1952, Bagwell ran as only the second Republican candidate for governor in the 20th century.

In the gubernatorial general election held on April 22, 1952, Bagwell polled 4,958 votes (4 percent) of the vote statewide in a low-turnout contest against the Democrat Robert F. Kennon, a judge from Minden, who received 118,723 votes (96 percent). Bagwell reached double digits in only three parishes, St. James (13 percent), Iberia (12.5 percent), and his own East Baton Rouge Parish (11.8 percent). In three parishes, Concordia, DeSoto, and Tensas, Bagwell received not a single vote.[6]

Bagwell's gubernatorial showing was far below the votes secured by his fellow Republican, Clem S. Clarke, in the United States Senate special general election of 1948. The Shreveport oilman polled just over 100,000 votes in his failed challenge of Democrat Russell Long, the older son of Huey Long.[7] By 2015, Republicans for the first time held both Senate seats from Louisiana.​ ​ Bagwell said that his primary goal in running for governor was to try to establish a competitive two-party system in Louisiana. He said that the state Republican party was being held back by its traditional leaders so that they could maintain their control over the party organization.[8] Representing Louisiana's 6th congressional district, Bagwell was a delegate to the 1952 Republican National Convention, which met in Chicago to nominate the ticket of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon.[4] Bagwell assisted later U.S. District judge John Minor Wisdom in making the case for seating the pro-Eisenhower delegation, rather than the supporters of Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio. Because Bagwell and Wisdom were successful, they were instrumental in securing the nomination for Eisenhower.[9]

Governor Kennon endorsed the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket. Although successful nationally, Eisenhower lost the Louisiana electoral vote that year. White conservatives in the state then remained overwhelmingly Democratic.[10] but would by the 21st century become predominantly Republican.​ ​ Bagwell sought a federal judgeship but was not selected by the Eisenhower administration.[2] Along with incoming state party chairman LeRoy Smallenberger of Shreveport, Bagwell served as an alternate delegate to the 1960 Republican National Convention, which also met in Chicago and nominated the ticket of Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., of Massachusetts. George Reese, a New Orleans lawyer who challenged Democratic U.S. Senator Allen Ellender that year for his seat, was also a delegate to the Chicago convention. So was the Shreveport Republican and later a Nixon-appointed U.S. District Judge, Tom Stagg.[11]

In the 1964 presidential election, Barry Goldwater was the first Republican to carry the Deep South, although he lost nearly everywhere else. Bagwell called for an "overhaul" of the state party leadership, arguing that more moderate policies were necessary for broader party success. The more conservative party leaders, including Floyd O. Crawford, the defeated Republican candidate for U.S. representative from Louisiana's 6th congressional district; and Morton Blackwell, later active as a Republican party official in Virginia, criticized Bagwell for his comments: They "seem to come from another world and another era." Crawford said that "if Bagwell wishes to be a liberal, then he should become a Democrat."[12]

Bagwell died in 1973, four days before his 60th birthday. He and his wife, who predeceased him by two years, are interred at Resthaven Gardens of Memory in Baton Rouge.[1] Bagwell's papers, dated 1941 to 1969, which cover his Republican Party activities, are available through the LSU Archives.[13]


​ Bagwell's namesake son, Harrison Garey "Gary" Bagwell, Jr. (1937-1985), entered the United States Navy during the Vietnam War. He served aboard the transport ship, U.S.S. Caddo Parish. His letters home described the Viet Cong, military operations, and the people and landscape of South Vietnam and Taiwan. His papers are held in the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections of the LSU Archives. There is also a special feature in the archive from the New Orleans Item on the Louisiana Republican Party in 1952.[14]

One of the Bagwells' younger daughters, Bonnie Bagwell Messer (born September 1954), recalled in 2013 that her father had treated the neighborhood children at their home in University Acres each Halloween to hot dogs, chili, and Kool-Aid. On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Bagwell's death, Messer said that when she was a child, "Our house was THE place to go, and he fed everyone. It has been forty years since his last Halloween at our house ... I hope all our neighbors who trick-or-treated at our house will remember him this Halloween and the love he had for Halloween and them."[15]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Harrison G. Bagwell. findagrave.com. Retrieved on January 6, 2015.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Christopher Freeman (formatter) (2006). Bagwell Collection. lib.lsu.edu. Retrieved on January 6, 2015.
  3. Birdie Mae Harrison Bagwell. Findagrave.com. Retrieved on January 6, 2015.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Harrison Garey Bagwell. The Political Graveyard. Retrieved on January 6, 2015.
  5. Milburn E. Calhoun (2008). Louisiana Almanac, 2008-2009. Pelican Publishing Company. Retrieved on November 29, 2013. 
  6. Michael J. Dubin. United States Gubernatorial Elections, 1932-1952: The Official Results by State and County. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 103–104. ISBN 978-0-7864-7034-1. Retrieved on January 6, 2015. 
  7. Louisiana Secretary of State, U. S. Senate election returns, November 2, 1948.
  8. "Republican Boom Likely to Fizzle Out in South". Times-Daily (February 25, 1952).
  9. Joel William Friedman (1996). "Judge Wisdom and the 1952 Republican National Convention: Ensuring Victory for Eisenhower and a Two-Party System for Louisiana". Washington and Lee Law Review, Vol. 53, No. 1.
  10. LOUISIANA'S CHIEF BACKS EISENHOWER; Gov. Kennon Says General Will End 'Truman Era of Minks, Pay-Offs and Rackets'. The New York Times (September 7, 1952). Retrieved on January 6, 2015.
  11. Louisiana delegation to the 1960 Republican National Convention. The Political Graveyard. Retrieved on January 6, 2015.
  12. "Louisiana GOP Factions Clash". Lake Charles American-Press (November 13, 1964). Retrieved on January 16, 2015.
  13. Harrison G. Bagwell Papers. worldcat.org. Retrieved on January 6, 2015.
  14. Gary Bagwell Letters. beta.worldcat.org. Retrieved on January 23, 2015.
  15. Smiley Anders (December 2, 2013). "Mr. Halloween". The Baton Rouge Advocate. Retrieved on January 6, 2015.

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