Lister Hill

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Joseph Lister Hill

In office
January 11, 1938 – January 3, 1969
Preceded by Dixie Bibb Graves
Succeeded by James Browning Allen

Chairman of the
Senate Labor Committee
In office
January 3, 1955 – January 3, 1969
Preceded by Howard Alexander Smith
Succeeded by Ralph Yarborough
In office
January 3, 1941 – January 3, 1947
Leader Alben Barkley
Preceded by Sherman Minton
Succeeded by Kenneth Wherry

U.S. Representative for Alabama's 2nd district
In office
August 14, 1923 – January 11, 1938
Preceded by John R. Tyson
Succeeded by George M. Grant

Born December 29, 1894
Montgomery, Alabama
Died December 20, 1984 (aged 89)
Montgomery, Alabama
Resting place Greenwood Cemetery in Montgomery
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Henrietta Hill
Alma mater University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa) (BA)

University of Alabama Law School University of Michigan (Ann Arbor)
Columbia University

Military Service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1917–1919
Battles/wars World War I

Joseph Lister Hill (December 29, 1894 – December 20, 1984), often referred to as J. Lister Hill or Lister Hill, was a Democratic United States Senator from 1938 to 1969 for his native Alabama. He is best known for his namesake health legislation, the Hill-Burton Act. Prior to his Senate tenure, he was from 1923 to 1938 the U.S. Representative for Alabama's 2nd district.

From 1941 to 1947, Hill was the Senate Majority Whip, and he chaired the Senate Labor Committee from 1955 to 1969.[1] At the time of his retirement, Hill was the fourth-most senior senator. He was succeeded by fellow Democrat James Browning Allen (1912–1978).

Hill organized a statewide political machine which emphasized on and appealed to left-wing New Deal economics, making Alabama the most liberal state of the Deep South for several decades as segregationist white voters during the time supported welfare programs. The strategy in merging liberal and racist elements of the party has been a consistent national Democrat strategy.


Hill was born in the capital city of Montgomery, the son of the distinguished surgeon, Dr. Luther Leonidas Hill, Jr. (1862-1946). He was named after Joseph Lister, the father of antiseptic surgery.[2] Following his graduation from the private all-male Starke University School in Montgomery, he entered at the age of sixteen the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, from which he received a Bachelor of Science and his law degree. He founded the Student Government Association at the University of Alabama.[1]

He also studied law at the University of Michigan Law School at Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Columbia University Law School in New York City. He was admitted to the Alabama bar in 1916 and launched his practice in Montgomery. He was the president of the Montgomery Board of Education from 1917 to 1922. He fought in the United States Army during World War I.[3]

Political life

On August 14, 1923, Hill won the special election for Alabama's 2nd congressional district to fill the vacancy created by the death of John Russell Tyson (1856-1923). Hill was the chairman of the House Committee on Military Affairs. On January 10, 1938, Hill was appointed to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Senator Dixie Bibb Graves (1882-1965), the former First Lady of her state under Governor David Bibb Graves (1873-1942). The term ended on January 3, 1939. Hill was subsequently elected to the Senate as a Democrat on April 26, 1938. He was reelected in 1944, 1950, 1956, and 1962,[1]

A moderate-to-liberal, largely populist Democrat, Hill is best known for the Hospital and Health Center Construction Act of 1946, known as the Hill-Burton Act. He also sponsored the Hill-Harris Act of 1963 to establish facilities for the intellectually disabled and the mentally ill. Additionally, he was recognized as the most instrumental man in Congress in gaining greatly increased support for medical research at the nation's medical schools and other research institutions.

In the House, Hill voted against a 1937 anti-lynching bill along with William B. Bankhead and future Senate colleague John Sparkman.[4]

Hill also sponsored the Rural Telephone Act, the Rural Housing Act, the Vocational Education Act, the National Defense Education Act of 1958, and the Library Services Act. He persisted in obtaining federal funds for rural libraries [5]

In 1954, Hill, like most southern lawmakers, signed the Southern Manifesto, which condemned the unanimous United States Supreme Court opinion in Brown v. Board of Education ordering school desegregation, but Hill remained a close friend of Justice Hugo Black, a former U.S. Senator from Alabama who voted for the Brown decision. Hill voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which established the Civil Rights Commission. It was signed into law by Republican U. S. President Dwight Eisenhower.[6]

Hill broke with most southern colleagues by his support for federal control of offshore oil, with revenue to be earmarked for education. Most southern lawmakers favored the states exerting more control over offshore oil.

Hill was the Senate Majority Whip from 1941 to 1947. As the chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, which handled legislation on veterans' education, health care, hospitals, libraries, and labor-management relations. He was a ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a member of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.

In the 1950s, Hill criticized President Eisenhower's attempts to reduce hospital funding under his Hill-Burton Act. Hill supported rural electrification, the Tennessee Valley Authority, which includes Alabama in its jurisdiction. He supported federally subsidzed railroad freight rates.[7]

On September 4, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Nurse Training Act and commended Senator Hill for his efforts in pioneering the legislation.[8]

1962 campaign

In 1962, Hill sought his last term in office but faced an unusually strong Republican opponent in James Douglas Martin (1918-2017), a petroleum products distributor from Gadsden. Like Hill, Martin supported the Tennessee Valley Authority, a New Deal project begun in 1933. Martin noted that the original sponsor of the interstate development agency was the Moderate Republican U.S. Senator George Norris of Nebraska. Martin proposed in the campaign that the TVA headquarters to be relocated from Knoxville Tennessee, to its original point of development, Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Hill worked to deepen Mobile Ship Channel in Mobile on the Gulf Coast.. He supported building of the Gainesville Lock and Dam in Sumter County, and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, which linked the Tennessee River with the Gulf of Mexico. In the campaign against Martin, Hill said, "If Alabama is to continue the progress and development she has achieved, she cannot do so by deserting the great Democratic Party."[9]

Hill pledged to seek renewed funding for the Redstone Arsenal and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, and accused Eisenhower of having neglected the space program while the former Soviet Union was placing Sputnik into the atmosphere in 1957. Strongly endorsed by organized labor, Hill accused the Republicans of exploiting the South to enrich the North and the East and attacked the legacy of former President Herbert Hoover and the earlier "evils" of Reconstruction. Hill predicted that Alabama voters would bury the Republicans "under an avalanche."[10]

The 1962 midterm elections were overshadowed by the Cuban Missile Crisis. Martin joined Hill in endorsing the quarantine of Cuba but insisted that the problem was an outgrowth of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961. Hill said that then Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev had "chickened out" because "the one thing the communists respect is strength."[11] The New York Times speculated that the blockade ordered by Kennedy may have spared Hill from defeat considering the closeness of the vote between the two candidates.[12]

Despite the postwar bipartisan consensus for foreign aid, Martin hammered away at Hill's backing for such programs. He decried subsidies to foreign manufacturers and workers at the expense of Alabama's then large force of textile workers: "These foreign giveaways have cost taxpayers billions of dollars and turned many areas of Alabama into distressed areas." Martin also condemned aid to communist countries and the impact of the United Nations on national policy. He questioned Hill's congressional seniority as of little use when troops were dispatched in the fall of 1962 to compel the desegregation of the University of Mississippi at Oxford.[13]

The Hill-Martin race drew considerable national attention. The liberal columnist Drew Pearson wrote from Decatur, Alabama, that "for the first time since Reconstruction, the two-party system, which political scientists talk about for the South, but never expect it to materialize, may come to Alabama."[14]'The New York Times viewed the Alabama race as the most vigorous off year effort in modern southern history but predicted a Hill victory on the basis that Martin had failed to gauge "bread-and-butter" issues and was perceived by many as an "ultraconservative."[15]

Hill defeated Martin by 6,019 votes, 201,937 (50.9 percent) to 195,134 (49.1 percent). Turnout dropped sharply in 1962 compared to 1960, when presidential electors dominated the ballot, and the state split between Kennedy-Johnson and unpledged electors who ultimately voted for segregationist U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr., of Virginia. Nearly 250,000 who had cast ballots in the 1960 U.S. Senate election won by the Democrat John Sparkman did not cast ballots in 1962. Hill won thirty-seven of the state's sixty-seven counties.[16] Martin's strong showing enabled him to be elected in 1964 to Alabama's 7th congressional district seat in the House of Representatives.


In 1969, Hill was awarded the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences. He received honorary degrees from thirteen colleges and universities, including the University of Alabama and Auburn University. He was a Methodist, a Freemason, a United States Army veteran of World War I, and a member of the American Legion.

Hill died in Montgomery on December 20, 1984, and is interred there at Greenwood Cemetery. Hill is the namesake of the small unincorporated community of Listerhill in Colbert County in northwestern Alabama. His great-grandson, Joseph Lister Hubbard, is an attorney and a former state representative for District 73 in Montgomery, having held that office between 2010 and 2014. He was also the Democratic nominee for state attorney general of Alabama in 2014 but was defeated by the Republican Luther Strange.[17]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress - Retro Member details; Hill, Joseph Lister, accessed March 28, 2021}}
  2. Luther Leonidas Hill Jr. (1862-1946) - Find A Grave Memorial, accessdate=March 28, 2021}}
  3. Joseph Lister Hill (1894-1984) - Find A Grave Memorial, accessed March 28, 2021}}
  4. TO PASS H. R. 1507, AN ANTI-LYNCHING BILL.. Retrieved April 17, 2021.
  5. C. E. Lipscomb, "Lister Hill and his influence, Journal of the Medical Library Association, Vol. 90 (2002) p. 109–110.
  6. HR. 6127. CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1957. -- Senate Vote #75 -- Aug 7, 1957.
  7. Billy Hathorn, "James Douglas Martin and the Alabama Republican Resurgence, 1962–1965," Gulf Coast Historical Review, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Spring 1993), p. 55.
  8. 557 - Remarks Upon Signing the Nurse Training Act of 1964.. American Presidency Project (September 4, 1964).
  9. "James Douglas Martin and the Alabama Republican Resurgence," p. 55.
  10. The Mobile Register, October 2, 25 and 27, 1962; Walter Dean Burnham, "The Alabama Senatorial Election of 1962: Return of Inter-Party Competition," Journal of Politics, Vol. 26 (November 1964), p. 811.
  11. Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, October 12, 1962, p. 1832; Mobile Register, October 24, 1962; The Huntsville Times, October 26 and November 2, 1962.
  12. The New York Times, November 7, 1962, p. 44.
  13. The Mobile Register, October 26, 30, and November 1, 1962; Alexander P. Lamis, The Two-Party South (New York, 1984), p. 77.
  14. The Huntsville Time, October 24, 1962.
  15. The New York Time, October 31, 1962, p. 14.
  16. State of Alabama, Secretary of State, General election returns, November 6, 1962.
  17. :Hubbard running for Alabama attorney general," The Tuscaloosa News, February 6, 2014.

External links