Jasper K. Smith

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Jasper Keith Smith, Jr.​

Louisiana State Representative
for Caddo Parish (at-large seat)​
In office
1944​ – 1948​
Preceded by At-large membership:​

H. H. Huckaby
​ Wellborn Jack
​ Turner B. Morgan
​ Beatrice Hawthorne Moore​

Succeeded by Algie D. Brown

Edwin F. Hunter, Jr.
​ Wellborn Jack
Keith M. Pyburn

In office
1952​ – 1964​
Preceded by At-large delegation:

Algie D. Brown
​ Edwin F. Hunter, Jr.
​ Wellborn Jack
​ Keith M. Pyburn​

Succeeded by At-large delegation:​

Morley Hudson
Taylor W. O'Hearn
​ Algie D. Brown
Frank Fulco
J. Bennett Johnston, Jr.


Born June 20, 1905
Shreveport, Louisiana
Died May 18, 1992 (aged 86)
Resting place Vivian Cemetery in Vivian, Louisiana​
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Lavonya Pullen Smith​
Children Jasper "Jake" Smith, III​

John Smith
​ Suzi Smith​
Parents:
Jasper K. Smith, Sr.
​ Julia Hollingsworth Stewart​

Residence Vivian, Louisiana​
Alma mater Davidson College​

Tulane University Law School​

Occupation Attorney
Religion Presbyterian

Jasper Keith Smith, Jr., sometimes called Jap Smith (June 20, 1905 – May 18, 1992), was an attorney and Democratic politician from Vivian in northern Caddo Parish in the far northwestern corner of Louisiana.​

Background

​ Smith was born in Shreveport, the sixth of eight children of Jasper Smith, Sr. (1869–1934), and the former Julia Hollingsworth Stewart (1872 – c. 1974), both natives of Georgia.[1] The senior Smith was for thirty years until his death in 1934 the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Shreveport. He dedicated the new church building on Jordan Street on March 7, 1926.[2] Smith's oldest brother, Jasper Stewart Smith (1893–1981), a veteran of World War I, was an architect who designed many homes of the gentry in Shreveport.[1]

Like his father, Jasper, Jr., graduated from the church-affiliated Davidson College in Davidson in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Smith subsequently studied at the Tulane University School of Law in New Orleans but dropped out before graduating after he took the state bar examination on a trial basis and passed with a high score. At the time, a law degree was not required to take the examination. He established his law practice in Vivian, where he would be the only attorney in the community, with the expectation of clients from the oil and natural gas industry. Smith had difficulty establishing a law practice in Vivian; in his first month there, he earned only $2.50 for drawing up a deed.[1]

Smith's one-room law office in Vivian had two windows overlooking the street. He had an old wooden desk with a swivel chair, a manual typewriter, two chairs for clients, and two wooden filing cabinets. On the wall hung his certificate of membership in the Louisiana Bar Association and a picture of former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, a fellow Presbyterian. The facility was not physically conducive to lawyer-client privilege, as conversations could be overheard outside the office in the hallway. Vivian called itself "The Heart of the ArkLaTex", referring to the three-state region. Smith's son, Jasper "Jake" Smith, III, compared Vivian to the fictitious Grover's Corner in Thornton Wilder's 1938 play, Our Town. The downtown was six square blocks with three traffic lights. Dixie Drugs on one corner was situated across Main Street from Dixie Mercantile and Trees Mercantile. Among the numerous businesses were a theater, the Caddo Citizen newspaper, and a Western Auto outlet.[1]

Political life

In 1944, Smith was first elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives,[3] with the incoming administration of Governor Jimmie Davis, a former resident of Shreveport and a former teacher at Dodd College, attended by Smith's wife, the former Lavonya Elizabeth Pullen (1911–1970).[4] Her father, John Pullen, was a prosperous cotton farmer in Arkansas, then the community of Direct in Lamar County, Texas, and, finally, Red River Parish, Louisiana. In his later years, Pullen left the vagaries of farming to become a foreman, based in Bossier City, for the Louisiana Highway Department, since renamed the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. Lavonya's mother, the former Helen Starbuck, was descended from a family who had been whalers in New England. She claimed descent from Rebecca Ann Bryan Boone (1739-1813), the wife of the frontiersman Daniel Boone.[1]

During a four-year legislative hiatus corresponding with the administration of Earl Kemp Long, Smith could focus full-time on his legal duties. A part of the anti-Long faction, Smith returned to the state House in 1952 during the administration of Governor Robert F. Kennon, a former mayor of Minden and a long-term resident of Baton Rouge. There Smith remained during subsequent terms of Governors Long and Davis. In the 1959-1960 election cycle, Smith won a highly-contested Democratic primary by a margin of forty-four votes against David Kent, an advertising executive.[5][6]

On March 3, 1964, however, Smith was unseated in the general election. In a temporary Republican sweep in Caddo Parish, with Charlton Lyons as the GOP gubernatorial nominee, two Republicans, Morley Hudson and Taylor Walters O'Hearn (1907-1997), both of Shreveport, became the first members of their party to win seats in the Louisiana House since Reconstruction. Their victories ended the careers of Smith and his Democratic colleague, Wellborn Jack, an attorney from Shreveport and at the time a conservative Democrat.[3]

Smith, as the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, pushed through a rule requiring a two-thirds vote of the membership before tax increases could take effect, a measure strongly opposed by Earl Long, who returned for a final term as governor in 1956. Smith supported segregated public schools. Smith's son Jake said that his father believed he could not be reelected in 1959, when few African Americans were voting in Louisiana, had he wavered on the issue of segregation, a matter which otherwise made him uncomfortable and which ended in total defeat for the segregationist forces.[1]

Smith also served as city attorney of Vivian. In his law office, for a time he tutored several persons in the study of the law, including Earl Williamson, the Vivian mayor from 1938 to 1946 and again from 1962 to 1966 and a long-term member of the Caddo Parish Police Jury. Though Williamson, the father of another state legislator, Don Williamson, never became a lawyer himself, his legal studies proved invaluable in his long political career.[7]

Death

​Upon Smith's death at the age of eighty-six, The Shreveport Times said: "Every Louisiana taxpayer should bow in reverence to their departed champion: former Representative Jasper K. Smith of Shreveport. The dapper lawyer-lawmaker ... gave state taxpayers their No. 1 means of protection: the so-called super-majority on all tax increases."[8]

In addition to Jasper "Jake" Smith, III (born 1935), the Smiths had two younger children, John "Johnny" Smith, and Suzi Smith. Jake Smith is a graduate of the former Vivian High School (since North Caddo High School), Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, the historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts. He is a United States Army veteran, an oilfield worker in his youth, and a former federal employee, farmer, and university professor and administrator.[1]

Jasper and Lavonya Smith are interred at Vivian Cemetery. He outlived his wife by twenty-two years.[9]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Jake Smith, Dinner with Mobutu: A Chronicle of My Life and Times, Xlibris, pages 13-72 ISBN=978-1413499438.
  2. Rev. Jasper K. Smith. Findagrave.com. Retrieved on June 16, 2020.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Membership in the Louisiana House of Representatives, 1812-2024. Louisiana House of Representatives. Retrieved on June 16, 2020.
  4. Lavonya Elizabeth Pullen Smith. Findagrave.com. Retrieved on June 16, 2020.
  5. The Shreveport Times, December 6, 1959, p. 16-A.
  6. "Smith Winner by 44 Votes," The Shreveport Times, December 11, 1959, p. 1.
  7. Billy Hathorn, "The Williamsons of Caddo Parish: A Political 'Mini-Dynasty'", North Louisiana History, Winter 2008, p. 27.
  8. The Shreveport Times, May 14, 1992.
  9. Jasper K. Smith, Jr.. Findagrave.com. Retrieved on June 16, 2020.

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