Theodore Bilbo

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Theodore Bilbo

Theodore Gilmore Bilbo was a Democrat Senator and Klansman from Mississippi. Bilbo served as a governor of Mississippi from 1916 to 1920 and 1928 to 1932, and as a U.S. senator from 1935 to 1947. A towering figure among white supremacist and segregationist politicians, Bilbo praised Nazi racial philosophy and was famous for his extreme and inflammatory rhetoric. In a 1938 filibuster against anti-lynching legislation, Bilbo said on the Senate floor that the bill would “open the floodgates of hell in the South” by encouraging Black men to rape white women.

Bilbo was a leader among other racist Democrats, such as the Exalted Cyclops Robert Byrd and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the latter of which called him "a real friend of liberal government."[1] He claimed himself to be "100 percent for Roosevelt...and the New Deal."[2]

In his book When Jim Crow Met John Bull, Graham Smith referred to a letter Bilbo received from the Exalted Cyclops Robert Byrd when on the 1945 controversy raging over the idea of racially integrating the military.

Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.
He had earlier written Bilbo:
I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side
Bilbo told Meet the Press in an August 9th, 1946 interview:
No man can leave the Klan. He takes an oath not to do that. Once a Ku Klux, always a Ku Klux.[3]

In 1946, after four white men beat a Black Army veteran for attempting to register to vote, Senator Bilbo delivered a radio address urging every “red-blooded Anglo-Saxon man in Mississippi to resort to any means to keep hundreds of Negroes from the polls in the July 2nd primary.” He continued, “And if you don’t know what that means, you are just not up on your persuasive measures.” Southern senators successfully defended Bilbo against an NAACP-led effort to remove him from office for inciting violence against Black voters.

Before succumbing to cancer at age 69, Bilbo spent the last weeks of his life writing a book, Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization, in which he outlined his fears of “race-mixing” and advocated for the relocation of [[African Americans to West Africa. (He had proposed a relocation bill in the Senate in 1938, but it failed.) Bilbo never repudiated his racist views and remained an influential figure among leading segregationists in the South long after his death.