| Kent Harbinson Courtney, Sr.|
(Journalist and political organizer active in the "Radical Right" of the 1950s and 1960s)
|Political party||Democrat-turned-States' Rights Party (1960) |
|Born|| October 23, 1918 |
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
|Died|| August 12, 1997 (aged 78) |
|Spouse|| (1) Phoebe Carolyn Greene Courtney (divorced; interred at
Littleton Cemetery in Littleton, Colorado)
Kent Harbinson Courtney (October 23, 1918 – August 12, 1997) was a leading figure in the "Radical Right" of American politics from the 1950s to the 1970s. Over his life, he was a journalist, newspaper publisher, college professor, political organizer, and lecturer, but his principal dedication centered upon fighting the threat of communism.
Courtney was born in the capital city of St. Paul in Ramsey County, Minnesota. His parents, Joseph Frank and Zella Edana Smith Courtney relocated their family to New Orleans, Louisiana; they were listed in the 1940 census as residing at 59 Fontainebleau Drive in the Uptown section of the city. Courtney graduated from Alcée Fortier High School in New Orleans. He served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and then worked as a pilot for Pan American Airlines. Later, he was a commercial officer with the British consulate in New Orleans. For a time, he was a public relations spokesman for a fruit shipping company. In 1950, he received a degree in business administration from Tulane University in New Orleans, at which he later taught economics, banking, and marketing for three years. His sister, Claire J. Courtney (born c. 1927), also graduated from Tulane.
Courtney was an assistant to a president of a banana-importing firm. He was active in the American Legion veterans organization and served on its "Americanism" committee. He was also a member of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce and the John Birch Society.
In 1954, Courtney was named chairman of the New Orleans branch of the group called Ten Million Americans Mobilizing For Justice, a defender of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who was cemsured by his fellow senators for his investigations into communist subversion of the U.S. government. That same year, Courtney lost a Democratic primary race for the New Orleans City Council, when deLesseps Story "Chep" Morrison, Sr. (1912-1964), a moderate who still endorsed segregation, was finishing his second term as the mayor. One of the winners in that council election was the future Lieutenant Governor James E. "Jimmy" Fitzmorris, Jr.
In January 1955, Mrs. Courtney, the former Phoebe Carolyn Greene (March 13, 1918 – September 14, 1998), launched Free Men Speak, a bi-monthly newspaper, which was renamed the Independent American. Courtney traveled a great deal during this period to address like-minded groups around the country while his wife was the managing editor of the newspaper until it was disbanded in 1991..
In 1956, Courtney organized a campaign to prevent pro-civil rights law professor Walter Fischel Gellhorn (1906-1995) of Columbia University in New York City from lecturing at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Gellhorn was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a long-term board member of the American Civil Liberties Union as well as a critic of segregation.
Rallying for a conservative party
In October 1959, Kent and Phoebe Courtney sponsored a two-day meeting in Chicago, Illinois, which included a banquet to honor Robert Welch of Massachusetts, the founder of the anticommunist John Birch Society. William F. Buckley, Jr., columnist and publisher of National Review magazine attended the meeting and for a time was a confidant of Welch. Three years later, Buckley was one of the founders of the Conservative Party of New York under whose label he ran in 1965 for mayor of New York City but lost out to the liberal Republican U.S. Representative (and later Democrat) John Vliet Lindsay (1921-2000). By the middle 1960s, Buckley had become a critic of the JBS and those espousing "conspiracies" which he said marginalize conservatives in the electorate as a whole.
The 1959 gathering proposed the creation of a new party on grounds that establishment Republicans were unwilling to oppose Democratic policies with sufficient vigor to make a difference and hence would not offer conservative voters sufficient choices in general elections. The rally for a new party was further promoted by columnists Thomas J. Anderson (1910-2002) of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Medford Bryan Evans (1907-1989), a professor at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana; Republican Governor J. Bracken Lee (1999-1996) of Utah, and Dan Smoot, a native of Missouri and an investigative conservative journalist and former FBI agent.
Candidate for governor and presidential elector in Louisiana
On April 19, 1960, Courtney was the gubernatorial nominee of the Louisiana States Rights Party. He received 12,515 votes (less than 2.5 percent) of the ballots cast. The winner was Democratic former Governor Jimmie Davis, elected to his second nonconsecutive term. Also in that general election was a conservative Republican nominee, Francis Carroll Grevemberg (1914-2008), a former Democrat and a former superintendent of the Louisiana State Police who had conducted raids against organized crime in the 1950s. Kent Courtney's younger brother, Cy David Francis Courtney (1924-1995), a New Orleans lawyer, had been an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor on December 5, 1959, on a segregationist intra-party ticket with gubernatorial hopeful William Rainach, a state senator from Claiborne Parish. Cy Courtney lost out to fellow Democrat Clarence C. "Taddy" Aycock (1915-1987), a conservative from Franklin in St. Mary Parish. As a member of a third party, Kent Courtney could not vote for his brother in the then closed Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in 1959 but would have been able to have done so under the nonpartisan blanket primary, which began on November 1, 1975.
In the general election held on November 8, 1960, Kent Courtney was a presidential elector of the States Rights Party; so was future Republican U.S. Representative and Governor David C. Treen and the fiery conservative, Leander Henry Perez, Sr. (1891-1969), the longstanding political boss of Plaquemines Parsh near New Orleans. The Democratic ticket of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson nevertheless handi
Courtney and Goldwater
In July 1960, Courtney organized a "Goldwater for President" rally in Chicago on the eve of the Republican National Convention. He hoped to derail the certain nomination of Vice President Richard M. Nixon as the presidential nominee. Courtney considered Nixon too liberal and soon grew disillusioned with Goldwater as well because he perceived the Arizona senator as too accommodating to the moderates in the Republican Party. In January 1964, Mrs. Courtney wrote about her husband's meeting with Goldwater after the senator announced his presidential candidacy. According to Phoebe, "Kent told Goldwater that on the basis of the strong anti-communist position contained in his opening announcement that their Independent American newspaper would support him. As early as 1961, Phoebe Courtney had urged Goldwater to quit the GOP and to campaign as an independent conservative in the 1964 presidential election, advice not taken.
In 1962, Goldwater endorsed the reelection of Governor Nelson Rockefeller and U.S. Senator Jacob Koppel Javits (1904-1986), two pillars of the liberal establishment which Goldwater was trying to dismantle. The endorsements did not sit well with Courtney and others in the "Radical Right."
In the 1964 pre-convention campaign, Goldwater's last intra-party rival, Governor William Warren "Bill" Scranton (1917-2013) of Pennsylvania, who failed to obtain a coveted endorsement from former President Eisenhower, questioned Goldwater's connections with Kent Courtney. Scranton said that he could not understand why Courtney, identified nationally as a "radical," was supporting any Republican candidate for president. Despite their reservations, the Courtneys voted for Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election over the victorious Lyndon Johnson. Scranton accused the Courtney faction of questioning his commitment to anti-communism.
The Conservative Society of America
In April 1961, the Courtneys formed the Conservative Society of America and called a "Congress of Conservatives" to consider forming a new anti-communist political party. The conference met in the Morrison Hotel in Chicago, with 125 in attendance. Seventeen of the attendes approved a "Declaration of Conservative Principles." At a press conference on the first day of the convention, Courtney called for a military invasion of Cuba, a few days before the aborted Bay of Pigs fiasco. Courtney said that one-third of the contacts for the new party were members of the John Birch Society. Robert Welch told a reporter for Time magazine that he did not attend the gathering because he viewed Courtney as " a publicity seeker."  In addition to Buckley, attendees including future Georgia Governor Lester Maddox, the predecessor to the Democrat Jimmy Carter, with whom Maddox was often at odds.
The announced purpose of the congress was to support conservatives already in Congress and to recruit new candidates who would oppose liberal and/or socialist-voting congressmen regardless of partisan affiliation. By 1962, Courtney hired James Ward Poag (died December 4, 2004) of Nashville, Tennessee, a former John Birch Society coordinator, as national field organizer for his group. In June 1962, Courtney announced that the CSA had 1,500 members from forty-seven states. Among CSA endorsers on the group's letterhead were Medford Evans, J. Bracken Lee, Edward Merrill Root (1895-1973), and Major General Charles Andrew Willoughby (1892-1972) A member of the John Birch Society, Courtney agreed with Robert Welch in Welch's controversial 1963 book, The Politician, which claimed that former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a "conscious, dedicated agent of the communist conspiracy." Many Republican candidates at the time repudiated the JBS in part because of outrage over Welch's book. The actor Adolphe Menjou (1890-1963) resigned from the JBS after Welch issued the attack on Eisenhower. Such repudiation of the JBS continued into the 1966 mid-term elections, when numerous Republican nominees for high office had qualms about association with the J In 1962, the since defunct Look magazine declared that Courtney's Conservative Society of America had a staff of fifteen and an income in 1960 of $133,000 (1.15 million in 2019 dollars) and $181,000 in 1961 (1.55 million in 2019 dollars). The rated members of Congress based on their voting records. In 1962, it declared that there were only two 100 percent conservative Senators, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina (still a Democrat) and Republican John Tower of Texas, and three perfect House conservatives, Republicans James Boyd Utt (1899-1970) of California, Clare Eugene Hoffman (1875-1967) of Michigan, and Bruce Reynolds Alger (1918-2015) of Texas. Goldwater received an 88 percent rating, but Senate Republican Leader Everett McKinley Dirksen of Illinois garnered a 64 percent CSA rating. Over the years, Tower steadily moderated his views and supported abortion and opposed President Ronald W. Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. Alger's staunchly conservative views presumably contributed to his defeat for reelection by Democrat Earle Cabell (1906-1975), a Dallas mayor, in the Democratic landslide of 1964, a year after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
In 1962, the Courtneys published America's Unelected Rulers, a book which claims that the private Council on Foreign Relations, of which Richard Nixon was a member, exists to promote the goal of world government.
IN 1968, Courtney again refused to support Richard Nixon in the presidential election opposite Hubert Humphrey. Instead, he worked instead in the American Independent Party campaign waged by former Governor George Wallace of Alabama. He served on the AIP nation committee from 1969 to 1970.
In 1969, Courtney exposed the Black Panthers in his CSA publication, The Black Panthers: an expose of a communist front which is engaging in guerrilla warfare against high school and universities. In this book, he claimed that the Panthers were working to foster international communism.
Courtney was active in the White Citizens Council, which published a journal called The Citizen: A Journal of Fact and Opinion, of which former Professor Medford Evans was the managing editor from an office in Jackson, Mississippi. Courtney and Evans agreed that it would be most difficult to integrateg white and black society. Evans further said that African Americans even under segregation were far better off economically in the United States than in their ancestral homelands. To Evans, integration was pushed by communists to bring about world conflict. The White Citizens Councils were organized to fight the desegregation of public schools, once the United States Supreme Court in 1954 issued the unanimous opinion, Brown v. Board of Education.
Kent and Cy Courtney were a strong proponent of staunchly conservative Democratic Congressman John Richard Rarick (1924-2009) of St. Francisville in West Feliciana Parish. In 1967, Rarick ran for governor but finished far behind his opponent, the incumbent, John J. McKeithen. For Kent Courtney to have been able to vote for either Rarick in 1967 or his brother Cy in 1959, he would have had to have still been a registered Democrat.
In that same election, Ned Touchstone, a Shreveport/Bossier City bookstore owner and figure in the "Radical Right," unsuccessfully challenged the second-term bid of Louisiana Education Superintendent Bill Dodd. a major figure in the Democratic establishment at that time.
The later years
Sometimes prior to 1973, Courtney relocated to Alexandria to serve as an aide to Democrat-turned-Republican Mayor Ed Karst. Though Karst was originally from New Orleans and like Courtney attended Tulane, records do not clearly reveal how the two became politically connected. Karst vacated the mayoral office in June 1973 as John K. Snyder began the first of his two nonconsecutive terms in the office. As mayor, Karst had not been particularly known for conservative policy issues. Karst later left the GOP; he first returned to the Democratic Party, then he became an Independent.
Kent Courtney surfaced again in 1976, when, running as an independent in the general election, he challenged the reelection of Democratic U.S. Representative Gillis Long of Alexandria, who represented the since disbanded 8th congressional district. A third-party conservative, Dr. Samuel Ralph "S. R." Abramson (1917-1997 ) of Marksville in Avoyelles Parish, had challenged Long four years earlier, but Long prevailed in a three-way race with 68.6 percent of the ballots cast. In 1976, Courtney polled 6,526 votes, or 5.8 percent against Long, more than 11,000 votes fewer than Abramson had received in 1972. No Republican filed for the 1976 congressional race in the 8th district
The Courtneys had a son, Kent, Jr. (born June 12, 1953), a multi-media producer in New Orleans and a Democrat who formerly resided in Pennsylvania. In the early 1970s, the Courtneys divorced. Phoebe relocated to Littleton in Arapahoe County, Colorado, where she continued to publish "Tax Fax" pamphlets, which excoriate the high cost of government and the impact on declining purchasing power. She authored Beware Metro and Regional Government! (1973) and Gun Control Means People Control (1974). She is interred at Littleton Cemetery; she was a few months older than her husband and outlived him by a year.
Courtney spent his last years in Bunkie, a small city in Avoyelles Parish. He was married to the former Juanita Overbey (born 1928), who had formerly resided in St. Marys, Georgia, and Broussard in Lafayette Parish. Kent Courtney is interred at Bayou Rouge Baptist Cemetery in Evergreen in Avoyelles Parish, but is unclear whether he was a Baptist. The Federal Bureau of Investigation did not investigate the Courtneys, but Director J. Edgar Hoover referred to them in a reply to an inquiry as "known rabble rousers and hate mongers."
- Phoebe G. Courtney. Ancestry.com. Retrieved on August 14, 2019.
- Claire Courtney. Ancestry.com.
- Our Campaigns: Kent Courtney. Ourcampaigns.com. Retrieved on August 17, 2019.
- Beware Metro, Regional Government". Sweet Liberty (August 1973). Retrieved on August 17, 2019.
- Walter Gellhorn, Law Authority, Is Dead at 89. Columbia.edu (December 1995). Retrieved on August 15, 2019.
- Matthew Dallek (December 1995). The Conservative 1960s: From the perspective of the 1990s, it's the big political story of the era. Atlantic Monthly magazine. Retrieved on August 15, 2019.
- Alvin Felzenberg (June 20, 2017). William F. Buckley and John Birch Society: History of Conflict with Robert Welch. National Review. Retrieved on August 17, 2019.
- Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, April 19, 1960.
- Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, December 5, 1959.
- Reelection of Javits Favored by Goldwater. The New York Times (July 19, 1962). Retrieved on August 17, 2019.
- Scranton Assails 'Smear" Campaign; Says Goldwater Supporters Question His Patriotism. The New York Times (July 8, 1964). Retrieved on August 17, 2019.
- The New York Times, April 14 and 15, 1961.
- Time, April 21, 1961.
- The New York Times, April 15, 1961.
- Tom Wicker, review of the Rick Perlstein book (2001). Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus. Thefreelibrary.com. Retrieved on August 15, 2019..
- Look magazine, March 13, 1962.
- America's Unelected Rulers. SlideShare.net. Retrieved on August 14, 2019.
- The Black Panthers: an expose of a communist front which is engaging in guerrilla warfare against high schools and universities. Conservative Society of America (1969). Retrieved on August 16, 2019.
- A Methodist Declaration of Conscience on Racial Segregation, Archives.livedtheology.org; no longer on-line.
- Shreveport Journal, November 6, 1967, p. 1.
- Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, November 7, 1972 and November 2, 1976.
- Kent Courtney. Mylife.com. Retrieved on August 15, 2019.
- Phoebe Courtney. Openlibrary.org. Retrieved on April 15, 2019.
- Kent Harbinson Courtney. Ancestry.com. Retrieved on August 15, 2019.
- Federal Bureau of Investigation file: HQ 94-57456,#6 (October 24, 1962).
- The Oklahoman, June 8, 1962.
- Time, December 8, 1961.
- Conservative Society of America newsletter, September 24, 1966.