Jesse Bankston

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Jesse Homer Bankston, Sr.​

Member, Secretary, and Chairman of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education​ (for the
6th congressional district
In office
1968​ – 1996​

Member and former chairman of the Louisiana State Democratic
Central Committee
In office
1960​ – 2010​

Born October 7, 1907​
Mount Hermon, Washington Parish, Louisiana​
Died November 25, 2010 (aged 103)​
Baton Rouge, Louisiana​
Resting place Greenoaks Memorial Park in Baton Rouge
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Ruth Paine Bankston (married c. 1938-1997, her death)​
Children Dale Leon Bankston​

Larry Stephen Bankston (former state senator)
​ Jesse Bankston, Jr.
​ Shirley Bankston Newsham
Allie Ames Magee and Leon Victor Bankston​

Alma mater Louisiana State University

University of North Carolina

Occupation Hospital consultant​

State government administrator​

Religion Southern Baptist

Jesse Homer Bankston, Sr. (October 7, 1907 – November 25, 2010),[1] was a politician within the Democratic Party of Louisiana, a businessman, and, at his death at the age of 103, a member of the board of Louisiana Public Broadcasting.​

Bankston became involved in a dispute in 1959 with Governor Earl Kemp Long which led to Bankston's dismissal as the director of the State Department of Hospitals. Long's estranged wife, Blanche Revere Long, had committed her husband to the mental institution Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville in St. Tammany Parish. Long ordered Bankston, an otherwise loyal supporter, to discharge him, but Bankston refused because he believed that Long needed treatment; his recent behavior had been erratic.[2] With the affirmation of Lieutenant Governor Lether Frazar, and state Attorney General Jack P. F. Gremillion, Long fired Bankston and replaced him with a pliable supporter, who immediately took steps to release the governor from the hospital. During this confrontation, Bankston was also at the time at odds with his political ally, state Senator B. B. "Sixty" Rayburn, a political powerhouse from Bogalusa in Washington Parish, who remained steadfast to Long.[3]

In June 2007, a joint resolution of the state legislature congratulated Bankston on his 100th birthday. The legislators described Bankston as a "political icon" and a "mover and shaker with nearly seventy years of experience in the public arena."[4]


Bankston was the last surviving of eleven children born to the former Allie Ames Magee (1876-1940) and Leon Victor Bankston (1869-1967) in Mount Hermon in Washington Parish west of the Mississippi state line. He was educated in public schools and received his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in 1933 and 1936, respectively. He did further graduate work at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.[1]

Bankston married the former Ruth Paine (1918–1997), a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Walter R. Paine, Sr. She was a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Democratic Executive Committee and was a delegate to two Democratic National Conventions. The Bankstons had a daughter, Shirley B. Newsham, and three sons, Dale Leon Bankston, Larry Stephen Bankston, and Jesse Bankston, Jr. Larry Bankston, an attorney, served as a Democratic member of the Baton Rouge City-Parish Commission and as a state senator.​ ​


Oddly, Bankston began government service in 1940 under Governor Sam Houston Jones, a staunch anti-Long political figure. Bankston was first a management consultant charged with reorganization of state government. In 1942, he became an organizational specialist in the Louisiana Civil Service Department established through the work of attorney Charles Dunbar.

Bankston moved to the state Department of Institutions in 1944 under Governor Jimmie Davis as administrative assistant. He was appointed director of the Department of Institutions in 1947. After serving as the appointed director of the Louisiana Hospital Board from 1948 to 1952 under Governor Earl Long, Bankston left state government with the incoming administration of Robert F. Kennon.​

He opened a health-care consulting firm, Bankston and Associates. With the return of Governor Long in 1956, Bankston was appointed the director of the newly established Department of Hospitals, where he served until the 1959 dispute over Long's mental health. At that time, Bankston returned to his consulting business, which he maintained until 1990, when he turned eighty-three.[1]

Political life

Bankston was the longest-serving elected member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (1968 to 1996). He represented the [[Baton Rouge-based 6th congressional district on the board. As a BESE member in 1990, he joined a group that attempted to oust Dorothy Garrett Smith of Springhill, the first woman president of the board. The dissenters fell one vote short of their goal, but Smith died of heart failure a month after the move against her.[5]

Bankston was the longest-serving member of the powerful Louisiana Democratic State Central Committee, a party administrative body which he joined in 1960,[1] when Jimmie Davis began his second nonconsecutive term as governor.[4]

As the director of the Department of Institutions, an agency that encompassed both corrections and hospitals, Bankston wanted employees to have access to loans. He established the Department of Hospitals Credit Union, which subsequently became the "Pelican State Credit Union."[4]

After his dismissal by Long, Bankston began his work for Democratic candidates and causes, having helped to deliver Louisiana's then ten electoral votes for the Kennedy-Johnson ticket. The Democrats easily carried Louisiana over the Republicans Richard M. Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., and a States' Rights Party state slate that included future Governor David C. Treen.​

Bankston joined the boards of the newly established Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Louisiana Public Broadcasting (LPB). Public Broadcasting President Beth Courtney told The Baton Rouge Advocate that Bankston never missed a board meeting: "He asks good questions, built on a lifetime of public service. He’s got good advice. He's got experience."[4]

In 1970, Bankston challenged conservative U.S. Representative John Rarick for re-nomination to a third term in the 6th congressional district. A former state court judge, Rarick prevailed, 57,835 votes (58.9 percent) to Bankston's 40,450 (41.1 percent). Rarich was the unopposed in the general election[6]​ but was ousted in the Democratic primary in 1974.

In the 1979 gubernatorial general election campaign, Bankston obtained a censure resolution against two failed Democratic candidates E. L. "Bubba" Henry and Edgar G. "Sonny" Mouton, Jr., both of whom openly endorsed the successful Republican candidate, former Democrat David Treen. Bankston warned Mouton, then an outgoing state senator from Lafayette and one generally considered to have been a liberal lawmaker, that "if he thinks he is going to get all those people who voted for him in the primary to vote for a Republican, I think he's looking through rose-colored glasses." Bankston questioned whether Treen had agreed to assist in the retirement of Mouton's campaign debts.[7] Bankston blamed confusion over the certification of Democratic candidate Louis Lambert in part to the competition between the Associated Press and United Press International in attempting to be the first to report the ballot tabulations. The Democratic committee did not censure two other Democratic gubernatorial candidates who backed Treen, outgoing Secretary of State Paul Hardy, later the first Republican to serve as lieutenant governor of Louisiana since Reconstruction and the then outgoing Lieutenant Governor Jimmy Fitzmorris because their support for Treen came after the committee had met.

In 1982, Bankston was unseated, 56 to 44 percent, from the BESE board by his fellow Democrat, former State Representative Lillian Walker Walker (1923-2016), also of Baton Rouge.[8]

Bankston on the Democratic future

​ In a printed interview in 1980, Bankston said that the Louisiana Democratic Party apparatus was in excellent condition despite having lost the governorship for the first time since 1872:

Why, for years, the party was just kind of performing ministerial duties and didn't do anything from a political standpoint. We supported state Democrats and national Republicans. But with President Carter's election in 1976 -- when we carried Louisiana for only the third time since 1944 -- we broke away from the old Perez group. We were able to get blacks as officers for the first time. We elected Henry "Hank" Braden, an African American state senator from New Orleans] as national committeeman. That was the first time we actually came out, as a party, and endorsed the national party's presidential ticket, and that caused a real revolution.[9]

​ Bankston noted that during the time that the state Democrats balked over their national nominees, the much smaller Louisiana GOP had largely rallied to support its candidates.[10] Bankston said that he had warned the Louisiana Democratic congressional representatives in 1979 that Republican Treen could take the governorship:​ ​

"I went to Washington, D.C., to meet with the Democrats in the congressional delegation and the national party people, and I told them that unless we get our act together and get some money and organization, the Republicans were going to take it. But they wouldn't listen. They said, 'Louisiana is a surplus state: we don't ever put money into Louisiana.' I said, 'Well, this time you better, or you are going to lose the governor and maybe then the congressional delegation[11] because the governor's office in Louisiana is the most powerful office in the United States[12] except the office of U.S. President, and the governor can have a lot of influence on who is elected to Congress."[9]

​ After going to Washington, Bankston said party officials contacted him and asked what they could do. Bankston said that he told them, "Nothing, you're too dad-blamed late."[9] Bankston said that Fitzmorris, Hardy, Henry, and Mouton "completely misjudged the wrath brought on by the party." Bankston predicted that future Louisiana Democrats eliminated in the nonpartisan blanket primary would not dare to endorse a Republican in a general election showdown.[9]​ ​

Personal life

​In addition to BESE and LPB, Bankston served on the boards of the Boy Scouts, Salvation Army, YMCA, and the United Way. He was a member of the Masonic lodge, the Sons of the American Revolution, and the American Hospital Association and its state equivalent. He was a member of the trustees of the Broadmoor Baptist Church in Baton Rouge.​[1]

In 2002, Bankston was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield, the traditional home of the Longs. In 2007, he received the first annual "T. J. Jemison Race Relations Award" from the Mount Zion First Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, named for the black minister and civil rights advocate, Theodore Judson "T. J." Jemison (1918-2013). Bankston was recognized for "working to bring people together regardless of their race, ethnicity, or religious backgrounds."[1]

Bankston wrote a book about Earl Long and a memoir entitled Memories of a Country Boy, an account of his boyhood in Washington Parish.[1]

Bankston died in Baton Rouge at the age of 103. His services were held on December 3, 2010, at Greenoaks Funeral Home Chapel in Baton Rouge. He is interred alongside his wife at Greenoaks Memorical Park.[13]​ ​


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Jesse Bankston, Sr.. The Baton Rouge Advocate (November 28, 2010). Retrieved on April 26, 2020.
  2. Invictus?. Time (undated).
  3. Inside Northside Magazine, October/November 2003; material no longer on-line
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Jared Janes (October 8, 2007; no longer on-line). Bankston honored on 100th birthday. The Baton Rouge Advocate.
  5. "Heart Attack Claims Dorothy Smith," Minden Press-Herald, August 9, 1990, p. 1.
  6. Louisiana Almanac, 2006.
  7. Shreveport Journal, November 14, 1979, p. 1.
  8. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, November 2, 1982.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Shreveport Journal, March 20, 1980, p. 4D.
  10. This did not apply to the 2015 gubernatorial general election, when two failed Republican candidates in the primary refused to support U.S. Senator David Vitter in Vitter's unsuccessful race against Democrat John Bel Edwards.
  11. By the time of Bankston's death, the Republicans held six of the seven congressional seats from Louisiana.
  12. In Louisiana, despite the separation of powers, the governor has traditionally selected the House Speaker and the president of the state Senate. However, in 2016, the House chose as Speaker Taylor Barras, rather than the choice of the governor. In 2020, the governor's choice, Clay Schexnayder, was selected with a coalition of thirty-five Democrats, two Independents and twenty-three dissident Moderate Republicans whom conservatives denounced as the Fraud Squad.
  13. Jesse Homer Bankston, Sr.. Retrieved on April 26, 2020.