J. C. "Sonny" Gilbert
|Jess Carr Gilbert, Sr.|
Louisiana State Senator for Franklin, Richland, and Catahoula parishes
1960 – 1972
|Preceded by||Ralph E. King|
|Succeeded by||James H. "Jim" Brown|
Louisiana State Representative
for District 21 (Catahoula
and Concordia parishes)
|Preceded by||David I. Patten|
|Succeeded by||Dan Richey|
Member of the
Catahoula Parish Police Jury
1956 – 1960
|Born|| March 6, 1922|
Wisner, Franklin Parish, Louisiana, USA
|Died|| November 21, 2014|
Catahoula Parish, Louisiana
|Resting place||Oakley Cemetery in Gilbert in Franklin Parish|
|Political party||Democrat (later Republican)|
|Spouse(s)|| (1) Barbara June Peck Gilbert (married 1946-1985, her death)
(2) Delman Fulmer Gilbert (died 1999)
|Children|| Barbara Peck Gilbert Haigh
J. C. Gilbert, Jr.
|Alma mater||Wisner High School|
|Occupation|| Cotton farmer|
United States Army in World War II
Jess Carr Gilbert, Sr., known as J. C. "Sonny" Gilbert (March 6, 1922 – November 21, 2014), was a cotton farmer from the small town of Sicily Island in Catahoula Parish in northeastern Louisiana, who served as a Democrat in both houses of his state legislature. Gilbert served three consecutive terms in the state Senate from 1960 to 1972, having represented Franklin, Richland, and Catahoula parishes.
In 1972, Gilbert was elected for a single four-year term to the Louisiana House of Representatives from newly-established District 21 (Catahoula and neighboring Concordia parishes). He was allied with the anti-Long legislative faction. During the 1980s, as a retired lawmaker and a conservative, Gilbert switched his party registration to Republican.
Gilbert was born in tiny Wisner in Franklin Parish to Jess Gilbert, I (1894–1923), and the former Fannie Adams (1895–1976). Jess and Fannie shared an October 27 birthday but a year apart. Fannie was a daughter of William Hughlett Adams, a Franklin Parish sheriff. Gilbert's sister, Frances Virginia Gilbert Martin, was his elder and only sibling. Gilbert was a great-nephew of former State Senator Thomas Benjamin Gilbert, II (1864–1931), who served from 1904 to 1908 and again from 1916 to 1932. Jess Gilbert, I, was a first cousin of Henry Wellman "Harry" Gilbert (1894–1970) of Wisner, a state senator from Franklin Parish from 1932 to 1940. Harry Gilbert was a son of Thomas B. Gilbert.
Gilbert's father died some three weeks before Christmas 1923, of pneumonia, which he contracted at a hunting camp. "Sonny" Gilbert's mother, hence widowed at twenty-eight, did not remarry. Instead she moved into one of the Gilbert homes in Wisner and for many years afterwards operated a boarding house with three meals daily for her patrons. Because his father, Jess "I", died when Gilbert was only a year old, "Sonny" Gilbert used the designation "Sr." after the birth in 1951 of Gilbert's son, Gilbert, "Jr."
Education and military
"Sonny" Gilbert graduated from Wisner High School in 1940 and thereafter attended the University of Louisiana at Monroe (then Northeast Junior College before it was expanded to four-year status) and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He left LSU to enlist in the United States Army during World War II and served with a B-24 bomber unit in England and Africa.
In 1946, after military service, Gilbert married the former Barbara Jane Peck (1922-1985) of the Ferry Place Plantation in Sicily Island, the daughter of William Smith Peck, Sr.] (1873–1946), and the former Estelle Woodard (1893–1983). With his marriage, Gilbert moved nine miles south from Wisner to Sicily Island. Barbara Peck was the sister of Sicily Island civic figures William S. Peck, Jr. (1916-1987), and Henry C. Peck, Sr. (1919-2004, a contractor, rancher, farmer, past president of the Sicily Island State Bank, and, from 1946 to 2000, a director of Concordia Bank and Trust Company.
Another future state representative and later state senator, Cecil R. Blair, was reared in Sicily Island as the son of a sharecropping family. Blair represented Rapides Parish from the 1950s until 1976.
In addition to cotton, Gilbert farmed rice and was a rancher and a founding director of the Jonesville Bank and Trust, now the Southern Heritage State Bank, which has branched into Catahoula, LaSalle, and Rapides parishes.
From 1956 to 1960, Gilbert was an elected member of the Catahoula Parish Police Jury, the parish governing body similar to the county commission in most other states. Gilbert was first elected to the state Senate in the 1960 Democratic primary. He unseated the staunchly pro-Long Ralph E. King, a physician from Winnsboro in Franklin Parish. Gilbert made an issue of nepotism after it was found that King had placed his son, Ralph King, Jr. (1931-2006), on the state payroll. Such questionable hiring prompted state Senator B. H. "Johnny" Rogers (1905-1977) of Grand Cane in DeSoto Parish, to introduce unsuccessful legislation to ban "deadheads," persons who perform no visible duties but are placed on the state payroll by legislators who reward key supporters with a tie to the state treasury.
Gilbert entered the Senate during the second administration of Governor Jimmie Davis, who had agricultural interests of his own in northeastern Louisiana. After three terms, Gilbert left the Senate and was succeeded by future Louisiana Secretary of State and Insurance Commissioner James H. "Jim" Brown, then of Ferriday in Concordia Parish. In 1971, Gilbert ran for the state House and, in the primary, he unseated a two-term Representative David I. Patten (1923-1998), a construction company owner in Harrisonburg in Catahoula Parish.
On February 1, 1972, Gilbert defeated his Republican legislative opponent, Jehu Welton Brabham, I (1921-1998), who operated a print shop in Ferriday but later returned to his native Mississippi. Brabham drew 42.3 percent of the vote against Gilbert, a larger showing at the time than most GOP candidates polled in lower-tier races in Louisiana.
Gilbert did not seek reelection to the Louisiana House in the first of the state's nonpartisan blanket primaries in 1975. He supported as his successor, the Democrat (later Republican) Dan Richey of Ferriday (later Baton Rouge).
Defender of agriculture
As the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Gilbert was a defender of agricultural interests and sponsored legislation to increase the penalties for wildlife and game violations. Local district attorneys were mandated to enforce the new laws which Gilbert authored. His legislation led to a large increase in the number of game animals, including deer and turkey, in the Louisianan forests. He was also a member of the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. In 1976, Governor Edwin Edwards appointed Gilbert to a six-year term on the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries; he was chairman of the commission from 1980 to 1982. After his service at Wildlife and Fisheries, Gilbert returned in 1982 to Sicily Island. Later, then Republican U.S. Representative Richard Hugh Baker of Louisiana's 6th congressional district, who had also served in the state House with Gilbert, named him one of five members of Baker's agricultural advisory committee. Gilbert hunted deer, turkey, bear, and elk. He served on the board of directors of the National Wild Turkey Federation from 1980 to 1987. He was the president of that organization from 1983 to 1985 and the chairman of the board from 1985 to 1987.
Gilbert was a regular donor to the LSU Foundation. He gave more than $100,000 to the institution in 2004-2005. He was affiliated with Rotary International, the American Legion, the Farm Bureau Federation, and the Masonic lodge. Gilbert was twice widowed. His first wife, Barbara, was one of the few women whose husband ("Sonny" Gilbert), father (W. S. Peck, Sr.) and brother (W. S. Peck, Jr.) were all Louisiana state lawmakers, but not simultaneously. Peck, Sr., served from 1920 to 1928, and Peck, Jr., held the position from 1956 to 1964. In addition, Dr. Henry John Peck (1803–1881), the grandfather of W. S. Peck, Sr., and a planter in Sicily Island, served in the Louisiana Senate for two terms and in the Louisiana House for one term prior to the American Civil War, according to Peck-Gilbert family records. Louisiana state records before the Civil War are too fragmentary to confirm the years of Henry John Peck's tenure.
From his first marriage, Gilbert has two surviving children. Barbara Peck Gilbert Haigh was employed as an English language instructor at the Natchez, Mississippi, campus of Copiah-Lincoln Community College and the wife of Thomas David Haigh. Son J. C. Gilbert, Jr. (born 1951), a Ph.D. from Michigan State University in Lansing, is formerly a professor of rural sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; he and his wife, the former Marilyn Sinkewicz, reside in the Wisconsin capital city of Madison.
Most of the Pecks and Gilberts are entombed at Highland Park Mausoleum in Sicily Island. After Barbara's death, "Sonny" Gilbert married the former Delman Fulmer (1937–1999) of Baton Rouge. Gilbert died in 2014 at his Sicily Island home at the age of ninety-two. Services were held at the First United Methodist Church in Sicily Island, of which he was a former Sunday school superintendent. He is interred at Oakley Cemetery in Gilbert in Franklin Parish named for his early family members.
Gilbert is honored by the naming of the J. C. "Sonny" Gilbert Wildlife Management Area west of Sicily Island. The site includes Rock Falls, Rock Falls Trail, and the seven-mile Big Creek Hiking Trail located in a mixed-pine hardwood forest.
- Membership in the Louisiana Senate, 1880-Present (Catahoula Parish). Louisiana State Senate. Retrieved on October 16, 2019.
- J. C. "Sonny" Gilbert obituary. The Alexandria Town Talk. Retrieved on October 16, 2019.
- Membership in the Louisiana House of Representatives, 1812-2020 (Catahoula and Concordia parishes). Louisiana House of Representatives. Retrieved on October 16, 2019.
- Click J. C. Gilbert, March 1922. voterportal.sos.la.gov. Retrieved on November 20, 2013; information no longer on-line; website posts only living voters.
- Gilbert family records.
- Obituary of H. C. Peck, Sr.. The Natchez Democrat. Retrieved on June 24, 2010; no longer accessible.
- Senator Embarks on 'Holy Crusade'. Lake Charles American-Press (August 21, 1962). Retrieved on October 16, 2019.
- The Monroe News-Star, February 2, 1972.
- James Ronald Skains, "Agents walked fine line: Many hunters depended on game for food," The Piney Woods Journal, November 2013, pp. 1, 4.
- Benefactor. LSU Foundation. Retrieved on October 16, 2019.
- Full-time Instructors (2003-2004). Copiah-Lincoln Community College archive.org. Retrieved on October 16, 2019.
- Department of Sociology: Jess Gilbert. ssc.wisc.edu. Retrieved on November 24, 2014; information no longer accessible.
- Kezia Kamenetz (February 22, 2016). Everyone In Louisiana Must Visit This Epic Waterfall As Soon As Possible. onlyinyourstate.com. Retrieved on October 16, 2016.