J. D. DeBlieux

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Joseph Davis "J.D." DeBlieux

Louisiana State Senator for now District 15 (East Baton Rouge Parish)​
In office
1956​ – 1960​
Preceded by Charles F. Duchein​
Succeeded by Wendell P. Harris​
In office
1964​ – 1976​
Preceded by Wendell P. Harris​
Succeeded by Thomas H. Hudson​

Born September 12, 1912​
Columbia, Caldwell Parish
Louisiana, USA
Died March 13, 2005 (aged 92)​
Mer Rouge. Morehouse Parish​
Nationality American
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Dorothy Lepine DeBlieux (1916-1993, married 1948-her death)​
Children Paul Louis DeBlieux (1952–1998)​
Residence Baton Rouge, Louisiana​
Occupation Attorney
Religion Roman Catholic

Joseph Davis DeBlieux, known as J.D. DeBlieux (September 12, 1912 – March 13, 2005), was a Democratic state senator from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, known for his support of civil rights measures. He served nonconsecutively from 1956 to 1960 and 1964-1976.[1]

DeBlieux (pronounced "W") was involved in the New Orleans school desegregation crisis of 1959-1960. He chaired the Louisiana State Advisory Committee to the United States Civil Rights Commission, established in 1957. He argued for "equal rights for all," not for racial integration per se, as the American South slowly complied with the United States Supreme Court's 1954 opinion, Brown v. Board of Education.[2]

Background

DeBlieux was the oldest of fourteen children (seven boys and seven girls) born to Honore Louis "Bubba" DeBlieux, Sr. (1889–1958), and the former Ozet Perot (1895–1981). Honore and Ozet were both natives of Natchitoches Parish: he was from [rural Clarence and she from nearby Campti. The couple married in 1911 in Winnsboro in Franklin Parish south of Monroe. Honore was a farmer, operated a grocery store, and delivered Monroe News Star newspapers. In 1973, Ozet, whose last child was born in 1939, was named Louisiana "Mother of the Year". The DeBlieux family had just relocated to Columbia in Caldwell Parish, at the time of J.D.'s birth there. He graduated in 1929 from Caldwell Parish High School, then known as Columbia High School. While in high school, he worked for The Caldwell News.[3]

The DeBlieuxs lived on land adjacent to the Hogan Plantation acquired by future Louisiana Governor John J. McKeithen, who recalled that the DeBlieux family overcame great odds: "Everything he did, he did on his own. It's a credit to him. I think it's a credit to America that he could do what he did."[4] McKeithen added, "There has never been a man in the legislature more honest than J.D. DeBlieux.".[5]

The family thereafter relocated to Bastrop in Morehouse Parish north of Monroe. In 1932, DeBlieux received a two-year associate's degree from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, when the institution was known as Ouachita Parish Junior College. He then transferred to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he procured his Juris Doctorate degree in 1936. To earn money for his studies, DeBlieux was an elevator operator at the Louisiana State Capitol and performed many odd jobs over the years.[3]

DeBlieux opened his general practice in Baton Rouge in 1936. He declined to take divorce cases or other requests which he thought might be unethical. He opposed advertising by lawyers.​ ​ In 1941, DeBlieux was drafted into the United States Army, having served during World War II in the Middle East as a staff sergeant law clerk.[5] From 1949 to 1950, he was an officer of the Baton Rouge American Legion post and a member of Lions International.[6]

Political life

Legislative years

In 1948, DeBlieux ran for the Louisiana House of Representatives in East Baton Rouge Parish but was defeated. In 1952, he ran for the state Senate but lost to Charles F. Duchein (1914-1998). It was an anti-Long year in Louisiana, with Robert F. Kennon of Minden in Webster Parish winning the governor ship over a candidate from Baton Rouge, Judge Carlos Gustave Spaht, Sr. (1906-2001). DeBlieux rebounded to unseat Duchein in 1956, when Earl Kemp Long made his comeback for a second full term as governor. At the time DeBlieux, like Earl Long, was strongly supported by organized labor because of his advocacy of the repeal of the right-to-work law passed during the Kennon administration.[4]​ but repealed after Long returned to the governorship.

DeBlieux was a Louisiana delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1956, when delegates nominated the Adlai Stevenson/Estes Kefauver ticket, the first national Democratic candidates since Reconstruction to fail to win Louisiana's electoral votes.[6]

DeBlieux also served for a time on the 144-member Louisiana Democratic State Central Committee, a powerful organization with influence in election procedures and campaigns.[4]

DeBlieux was unseated in the Democratic runoff election in January 1959 by segregationist Wendell P. Harris (1917-1994). Under a revised districting plan following the 1960 census, East Baton Rouge Parish gained two additional state Senate seats. DeBlieux entered the 1963 Democratic primaries and managed to unseat Harris, who had been indicted for illegal wiretapping.[7]

In the March 3, 1964, general election, DeBlieux defeated Republican businessman and Illinois native Floyd O. Crawford (1907–1995) of Baton Rouge, 55-45 percent.[8] That fall, Crawford, running with the Barry Goldwater electors, unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Representative James Hobson Morrison, Sr. (1908-2000), of Hammond. DeBlieux was thereafter reelected to the state Senate in 1968 and 1972.​ ​ DeBlieux's support for civil rights caught the eye of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who invited DeBlieux to the White House. DeBlieux had supported the Kennedy-Johnson, Johnson-Humphrey, and Humphrey-Muskie tickets in 1960, 1964, and 1968, but only Kennedy of the three Democratic nominees secured Louisiana's then ten electoral votes.​

DeBlieux was unlike most of his Senate colleagues. He published his annual income in the newspaper. He tried to prevent Louisiana department heads from soliciting campaign contributions from state employees. He sought to examine the records of state agencies. He opposed an attempt by the Louisiana House of Representatives to invoke the doctrine of interposition in regard to federal-state relations and authored an unsuccessful amendment that affirmed the state's recognition of federal constitutional authority.[4] He hired future state district and appellate court judge Henry Yelverton of Lake Charles or his Senate staff. Yelverton later said that DeBlieux's public posture was an inspiration for his own.

DeBlieux was unseated in the 1975 elections, the first held in Louisiana under the nonpartisan blanket primary format, by fellow Democrat Thomas H. Hudson of Baton Rouge, who held the seat for three terms. Ironically, DeBlieux lost the black vote to Hudson because DeBlieux refused to give black ministers funds for their pledged support. "You should be raising money for me and giving me money to help in my election. I shouldn't be giving you money," DeBlieux told the clergymen. He added that he never gave the ministers any funds.[4]

Challenging Senator Allen Ellender

In 1966, midway in his second term in the state Senate, DeBlieux waged an intra-party challenge to U.S. Senator Allen J. Ellender of Houma in Terrebonne Parish in south Louisiana. While DeBlieux challenged the entrenched incumbent from the political left, another candidate, Troyce Guice, a conservative businessman then from Ferriday in Concordia Parish in eastern Louisiana, ran to Ellender's right. Ellender polled 484,519 votes (74.2 percent) to DeBlieux's 94,154 (14.1 percent) and Guice's 78,137 (11.7 percent).[9] Ellender was then unopposed in the November 8 general election for the last of his six Senate terms.​ Ellender died in office and was succeed by the interim Senator, Elaine Edwards, and then a permanent successor, J. Bennett Johnston, Jr.

Opposing Henson Moore

​​In 1968, DeBlieux, with little available funding, waged a losing intra-party challenge to conservative U.S. Representative John Richard Rarick (1924-2009), a conservative originally from Indiana and a lawyer from St. Francisville in West Feliciana Parish who had lost the gubernatorial primary in 1967 to John McKeithen.​

In 1976, shortly after he had left the state Senate, DeBlieux waged a challenge to freshman Republican U.S. Representative William Henson Moore, III, of Baton Rouge in the state's 6th congressional district. Moore, who succeeded John Rarick in 1975, proved an easy winner even though DeBlieux's candidate for U.S. President, former Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia, won Louisiana's then ten electoral votes. Moore received 99,780 votes (65.2 percent) to DeBlieux's 53,212 (34.8 percent) and won majorities in all voting precincts in the district except for two boxes in West Feliciana Parish. Moore was the first Louisiana Republican congressional candidate in the 20th century to run ahead of the presidential electors in the state. Even in areas where the Carter-Mondale ticket won handily, DeBlieux still trailed.[10]

The 6th congressional district did not return to its Democratic moorings until May 3, 2008, when state Representative Don Cazayoux of New Roads in Pointe Coupee Parish defeated Republican former State Representative Woody Jenkins in a special election created by the resignation of Republican Richard Hugh Baker. Cazayoux was then defeated for a full two-year term in the November 4 general election by Republican State Senator Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge.​[11]

Family and legacy

​ DeBlieux closed his law practice in December 1997. He was predeceased by his wife of forty-six years, the former Dorothy Lepine (1916-1993), and their adopted son, Paul Louis DeBlieux (1952-1998) who died of renal failure five days before his 46th birthday.​ In his last years, DeBliex moved to a convalescent home in Mer Rouge in Morehouse Parish, where he was tended by a sister, Alma D. Honeycutt (1923-2019),[12] a retired postmistress in Mer Rouge. DeBlieux died of Alzheimer's disease. He was a distant cousin of Robert DeBlieux, who served as mayor of Natchitoches from 1976 to 1980. An active Roman Catholic who attended mass daily and was a member of the Knights of Columbus, DeBlieux was once cited for his spiritual convictions by Pope John Paul II.[13][6]

DeBlieux was a recipient of the "Racial Justice Award" given by the Baton Rouge chapter of the Young Women's Christian Association.[14] On April 2, 2008, DeBlieux was, along with former Judge and 1952 gubernatorial candidate Carlos Spaht and former Register of the State Lands Ellen Bryan Moore, honored posthumously by the annual Louisiana Governor's Prayer Breakfast. DeBlieux's funeral mass was celebrated on March 16, 2005, at St. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge. The DeBlieuxes are interred at Resthaven Gardens of Memory in Baton Rouge.​

Camille F. Gravel, Jr., the Alexandria attorney who was a confidant of three governors and who himself died nine months after DeBlieux's passing, referred to his friend, accordingly: "This may sound overblown, but there aren't enough ways for me to describe what a fine man J.D. DeBlieux [was]. He had courage in his handling of public matters..." Gravel, who was with DeBlieux at the 1956 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, recalled that two crosses were burned on DeBlieux's property in Baton Rouge during the desegregation crisis, but DeBlieux stood his ground.[4]

Victor Bussie, former president of the Louisiana AFL-CIO, said that DeBlieux would not only vote for liberal measures before the Senate but "speak out, which was very unusual. Some others would vote that way but not carry the fight by speaking out. J.D. did both."[4]

Smiley Anders, columnist for The Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, wrote on DeBlieux's death that the former lawmaker was:​

​ a small man with glasses and a high voice. But in the state Senate in the 1950s, his was the lone voice crying out for racial justice. Today, it's hard to imagine the kind of courage required to take a stand for civil rights in those days. Segregationists ran the state, and bad things could happen to people who supported ... voting rights for African Americans. J. D.'s support of civil rights didn't help his political career, and no doubt didn't help his law practice. Being ahead of your time can be a costly business. His stubborn advocacy of equal rights for all Louisiana people caused the first crack in the solid wall of segregation. J.D. said what he believed needed to be said at a time when few people wanted to hear it. His stand was not only right—it was heroic.[15]

References

  1. Membership in the Louisiana Senate (1880 - Present) (East Baton Rouge Parish).. Retrieved on October 29, 2019.
  2. The New Orleans school crisis: report. Law.umaryland.edu. Retrieved on June 30, 2008; no longer on-line.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Third Generation. Intersurf.com. Retrieved on October 29, 2019.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 George Morris, "A Civil Servant: J.D. DeBlieux fought in the Legislature for civil rights," The Baton Rouge Advocate], March 9, 1998.
  5. 5.0 5.1 DeBlieux obituary, Bastrop Daily Enterprise, March 15, 2005, p. 3.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 J. D. DeBlieux. The Political Graveyard. Retrieved on October 29, 2019.
  7. Adam Fairclough. Race & Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972. University of Georgia Press through Google Books. Retrieved on October 29, 2019. 
  8. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, December 7, 1963 - March 3, 1964.
  9. Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, Senate primaries, 1966.
  10. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, November 2, 1976.
  11. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, November 4, 2008.
  12. Alma Honeycutt Obituary. tributes.com. Retrieved on October 29, 2019.
  13. Statement of Alma D. Honeycutt (sister of J. D. DeBlieux), Mer Rouge, Louisiana, May 5, 2008.
  14. Racial Justice Award - Greater Baton Rouge. ywca.org. Retrieved on June 3, 2009; no longer on-line.
  15. Smiley Anders, Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, March 14, 2005.

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