William Rainach

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William Monroe "Willie" Rainach​


Louisiana State Representative
for Claiborne Parish​
In office
1940​ – 1948​
Preceded by Marshall E. Woodard
Succeeded by John Sidney Garrett​

Louisiana State Senator​ for
Bienville and Claiborne parishes
In office
1948​ – 1960​
Preceded by George T. Norton ​
Succeeded by James T. McCalman​

Born July 13, 1913​
Kentwood, Tangipahoa Parish
Louisiana, USA
Died January 26, 1978​ (aged 64)
Homer, Claiborne Parish​
Resting place Arlington Cemetery in Homer​
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Mabel Fincher Rainach ​
Children William Rainach, Jr.

Rex Dean Rainach
Mary Elizabeth Rainach Wilson

Alma mater Summerfield High School

Southern Arkansas University Strayer's Business College
Louisiana State University

Occupation Businessman
Religion Southern Methodist

William Monroe Rainach, Sr., known as Willie Rainach (July 13, 1913 – January 26, 1978), was a Louisiana state legislator from rural Summerfield in Claiborne Parish who led the "Massive Resistance" to school desegregation during the last half of the 1950s. He served Claiborne and neighboring Bienville Parish in the northern portion of his state for three terms in the Louisiana State Senate from 1948 to 1960.Earlier, he represented Claiborne Parish in the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1940 to 1948. When he left the House, the seat was taken by John Sidney Garrett (1922-2005) of Haynesville in northernmost Claiborne Parish, who twenty years later would serve a term as House Speaker. In 1959, Rainach unsuccessfully sought the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, then equivalent to election in Louisiana at a time when few Republicans even contested public office.

Background

Rainach was born as William Odom in Kentwood, a rural town in Tangipahoa Parish east of Baton Rouge. His mother died in the influenza epidemic of 1917-1918, when Rainach was only four years of age.. His father placed Rainach and three other sons in the Southern Baptist orphanage in Lake Charles in Calcasieu Parsh. He and a foster sister, Leona Aron Rainach, were then adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Albert M. Rainach of Summerfield. Rainach was such an excellent primary pupil that he completed grades one through four in two years. He graduated from Summerfield High School and attended from 1932 to 1933 what is now Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia in Columbia County, Arkansas. He then enrolled at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, but there is no record in A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography as to whether he graduated.

Rainach wanted to be a baseball player, but in 1924, he was struck by a bat and later lost his sight in one eye because of the injury. Coincidentally, one of his 1959 political rivals, Bill Dodd, did achieve his own goal of playing semi-professional baseball for a time.

In 1939, Rainach organized the Claiborne Electric Cooperative, Inc., based in the parish seat of Homer, which brought the first electricity to farms in northwest Louisiana. He founded Claiborne Butane in Homer in 1945 and was the company president from 1948 to 1977. In 1967, he became the president of the Arcadia Butane Co., Inc., in Arcadia, the seat of Bienville Parish. The Rainachs lived on the 450-acre Middlefork Farm r Summerfield.

"Right-to-work" legislation

In the 1954 legislative session, Rainach led the successful attempt to pass Louisiana's first-to-work]] law, which was strongly opposed by organized labor. The law was passed but repealed in 1956. Then two decades later, right-to-work was re-instituted in Louisiana in 1976 in the second administration o Governor Edwin Edwards. For some twenty years, Louisiana and Oklahomahad been the only southern states that could compel an unwilling worker in a unionized workplace to join the union against his choice. Oklahoma adopted a right-to-work law in 2001.

The right-to-work issue in the legislature was overshadowed thereafter by looming school desegregation though the first schools, starting in New Orleans were integrated in 1960.

White Citizens' Councils

"I do not feel the two societies should mix. I wish it were possible for whites and blacks to live together, but it just isn't." — William M. Rainach

At his own expense, Rainach founded the first Citizen's Council in Claiborne Parish. He was also the founder and president of the Association of Citizens' Councils of Louisiana (ACCL) from 1955 to 1959. He founded and chaired the Citizens' Councils of America from 1956 to 1958. The first Citizens Council had been launched in Indianola, Mississippi. Its goals were listed as follows: "to protect and preserve by all legal means our historical southern social traditions in all their aspects... to spell out expressly that the states have the sovereign right to regulate education, health, morals, and general welfare in fields not specifically related to the federal [national] government."

Rainach envisioned the councils as a balance to the NAACP. He worked to ensure that parish voter registrars followed strict registration procedures and remove African-American from the rolls. By 1956, the ACCL claimed between 50,000 and 100,000 members. The Louisiana Joint Legislative Committee, which Rainach chaired, described a plan in 1954 to "provide the ways and means whereby our existing social order shall be preserved and our institutions and ways of life maintained." The committee pushed for the maintenance of segregation in all areas of society but with greatest emphasis on public schools and voter registration. Local registrars began to clear the rolls through voter purges of those who had not cast a ballot in the preceding two years.

Rainach told an audience in Minden in his neighboring Webster Parish that the civil rights movement involves "political power, and political power is made up of votes. Therefore, the key to victory lies in the polls." Rainach questioned why Webster Parish had 1,773 African-American registered voters in 1956, while his neighboring Claiborne Parish had none. This difference in voter tabulations led to the dismissal of Webster Parish Voter Registrar Winnice P. Clement by the state board of registration, but incoming Governor Earl Long, a fierce opponent of Rainach, reversed the directive, and Mrs. Clement retained her post.

Rainach was the primary supporter of the Louisiana "pupil placement law" which made parish school superintendents responsible for assigning individual students to their schools. Liberals contended that the law was a subterfuge to maintain segregation. "I believe that segregation must be maintained throughout the width and breadth of our great state," Rainach proclaimed. Part of Rainach's strategy was to purge the rolls of black voters, an important part of Governor Long's coalition. Rainach said that some 100,000 black voters at the time were illegally registered because they could not interpret the United States Constitution. Black registration fell afterwards from 161,410 to about 130,000 because of purges in several north Louisiana parishes.

By the time of the 1966 elections, large numbers of blacks were registered and voting for the first time in the Deep South from Louisiana to South Carolina. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 employed the use of federal examiners, if needed, to halt local officials from preventing the registration of blacks.

Rainach was the state's most visible defender of segregation through his role as the first and only chairman of the Louisiana Joint Legislative Committee on Segregation (1954–1959). He challenged the authority of the United States Supreme Court to strike down segregation. The joint committee released a summary, Subversion in Racial Unrest. His efforts were, however, repudiated in the New Orleans federal court, which declared state segregation laws unconstitutional.

Rainach noted that Article III of the U.S. Constitution gives the Congress the power to remove certain matters from the review of the high court. At that time, Congress had not yet struck against school segregation: it was the Supreme Court which had done so. In 1959, Rainach delivered a racially inflammatory speech before the legislature in which he professed to "love the nigger, but I know he can't run this country. The breeding in him does not allow him to run a civilization, and I won't let our civilization go to ruin." Like his segregationist associate from Plaquemines Parish, Leander Perez, Rainach believed that racial integration would led to communism.

When Rainach telephoned Caddo Parish Sheriff J. Howell Flournoy to inform Flournoy that one of his African-American deputies had spoken in support of racial integration, Flournoy dismissed the deputy.[1]

After desegregation, public schools in Claiborne Parish, which included the principal towns of Homer and Haynesville quickly became majority black in student composition because many white families left the system and either moved out of the parish, opted for private schools, or, later, home schooling. Rainach was the founder in fact of the private Claiborne Academy. The parish population itself was 47 percent black in the 2000 census and nearly 52 percent black in the 2010 count.

Earl Long scolds Rainach

Governor Earl Long, considered more libertarian on racial matters than many Louisiana politicians of his era but uncouth in language, lectured Rainach in a well-known exchange: "Willie, one of these days you gonna retire and go back home. You'll take off your boots, wash your feet, stare at the moon, and get close to God. Then will you realize that niggers is [sic] human beings too." Long further defended his own racial policies: If the nation "[w]ould leave us alone and quit brainwashing the colored people, we'd solve this ourselves. Yes, I like colored people, and I know there ain't many of them can vote for me either. Now I ain't saying this for votes. I am the best friend the colored man, and the poor white man, and the middle class. You just check. You just check."

Gubernatorial prmary of 1959

Three political scientists from LSU described Rainach, accordingly, as he sought the governorship:

Although Rainach's legislative record shows him to have been consistently opposed to the Long program, there is little to indicate that his conservatism was calculated to make a major place for him in the political circles traditionally opposed to the Longs. His effective appeal is... as a past national president of the White Citizens' Council. [He] served as the chairman of the joint legislative "watchdog" committee on segregation from its inception until he ran for governor. From these positions, he was able to command something of an organization and to project himself as the premier guardian of "the southern way of life" on every occasion possible. Whether the single issue of preserving segregation could... carry a man to the governor's office... was a subject for considerable discussion during the primary campaign.

Rainach carried the support of the since defunct Shreveport Journal, which referred to his legislative leadership and record in making the endorsement. The Journal said that Rainach had taken a "clear-cut stand on every major issue" of the day, including right-to-work legislation, fiscal responsibility, and support for segregation.

Rainach's campaign manager was his legislative colleague, John Sidney Garrett. His candidate for lieutenant governor was Cy David Francis Courtney (1924-1995), a New Orleans lawyer and a younger brother of another conservative activist, Kent Courtney. The unsuccesful Rainach choices for the new positions of comptroller and state insurance commissioner, respectively, were future U.S. Representative Joe Waggonner of Bossier Parish and Hardy Nathaniel Goff (1910-1978) of Alexandria, respectively.

In one of his closing newspaper advertisements, Rainach described the gubernatorial race, accordingly:

This is a fight to curb Louisiana's disastrous financial policies... This is a fight to preserve states' rights... to protect the individual rights of the laboring man... to return home rule to our towns and parishes... but even more than that, this is a crusade for our children. We cannot... We must not leave them a heritage of integration to struggle against!... Only one candidate has the determination, the will, and the ability to turn back northern Radicals and the NAACP.

An even stronger segregationist than Rainach was also in the race: A. Roswell Thompson, a taxicab operator from New Orleans and a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

In the Democratic primary held on December 5, 1959, Rainach finished a relatively weak third with 143,095 votes (17 percent). A runoff election was held on January 9, 1960, between former Governor Jimmie Davis (213,551 or 25.3 percent) and the more liberal candidate, New Orleans Mayor deLesseps Story Morrison, Sr. (1912-1964), who received 278,956 or 33.1 percen of the ballots cast. Two other candidates, the outgoing auditor Bill Dodd of Baton Rouge and former Governor James Albert Noe, Sr., of Monroe split another 22 percent of the vote. Rainach, outgoing Governor Long, and Joe D. Waggonner all endorsed Davis, who in the runoff defeated "Chep" Morrison, 487,681 (54.1 percent) to 414,110 (45.9 percent). Bill Dodd endorsed Morrison for his own reasons.

Years after that election, Rainach declared that he should have endorsed neither Davis nor Morrison: "If I knew what I know now, I would have sat it out," he told The Shreveport Times. It was the closest he came to criticism of Governor Davis. In the general election held on April 19, 1960, Davis overwhelmed Republican nominee, Francis Carroll Grevemberg, 82 to 17 percent.

Unpledged elector candidate

As a former senator, Rainach, along with future Governor David C. Treen and Leanderr Perez, was an an unsuccessful unpledged presidential elector candidate in 1960. Though he was a delegate to the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, California, Rainach said that he would have supported the Republican presidential nominee, Richard Nixon had Nixon not yielded on the conservative platform drafted by the delegates at the convention in Chicago, Illinois, which was acceptable to southern conservatives. Rainach added that if the unpledged electors had gained sufficient support across the South, he would have urged negotiations among the electors themselves. He indicated that having the United States House of Representatives chose a president in a deadlock would have meant an automatic Kennedy victory because the majority of state delegations were in Democrat hands.[2]

LeRoy Smallenberger of Shreveport, the 4th congressional district GOP chairman in 1960 and thereafter the state party chairman, agreed with Rainach's analysis of the GOP and the unpledged elector slate. Smallenberger said that the original Republican platform was conservative but was moved to the political center when Richard M. Nixon offered concessions to Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York in a bid for greater support on the East Coast. Smallenberger, a native of Peoria, Illinois, was later appointed as a federal bankruptcy judge in the future Nixon presidential administration.

In several north Louisiana parishes, the main competition in the 1960 general election was between Nixon and the unpledged electors, with the state and nationally victorious Kennedy/Johnson ticket not bothering to contest the region.

Conflict within the Citizens' Council

As founder of the White Citizens' Council, Rainach became disgruntled with Ned Touchstone, publisher of the council's official journal, The Councilor, and Courtney F. Smith, Jr. (1925-2013),[3] an official of the Shreveport Citizens Council. He accused the pair of grandstanding for public attention. Touchstone fired back that Rainach was known for "inaction." Early in 1964, Rainach defied the Democratic Party and endorsed the Republican gubernatorial nominee, Charlton Lyons of Shreveport, in the general election held on March 3, 1964. Lyons was then handily defeated by John J. McKeithen. The council also quarreled over the direction of The Councilor. Touchstone and Smith were removed from the Citizens’ Council board of directors. Touchstone and Smith, however, continued the publication of The Councilor into the late 1960s and early 1970s. Increasingly, The Councilor stressed race, anti-Semitism, and an assortment of conspiracy theories.[4]

Rainach's suicide and legacy

In 1959, Rainach received the "Americanism Award" from the Caddo-Bossier chapter of the newly formed Young Americans for Freedom. He was a member of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, the Louisiana Forestry Association, the Louisiana Independent Royalty Owners and Oil Producers Association, and the American Defense Preparedness Association.In 1974, he was named "Man of the Year" by the Homer Lions International. . Rainach, who had been in ill health, shot himself in the right temple with a.38 caliber pistol on a Thursday morning, January 26, 1978, in his backyard. His body was found by the maid. His wife, Mable Justin Fincher Rainach (May 26, 1915 – January 15, 1995), was shopping in Homer at the time. The coroner ruled the death a suicide. His suicide may have been personal in regard to his declining health. He never sought office again after his gubernatorial bid.[5]

Services for Rainach were held on January 27, 1978, at the Trinity Southern Methodist Church, a conservative body in Claiborne Parish that had broken with the United Methodist Church. In addition to his wife, Rainach was survived by two sons, William Monroe "Bill" Rainach, Jr. (born 1940), of Summerfield and later Bossier City and Rex Dean Rainach, Sr., (born 1946) of Baton Rouge, and a daughter, Mary Elizabeth Rainach Wilson (September 11, 1944 – November 3, 1982).

William and Mable Rainach and their daughter are interred at Arlington Cemetery off Louisiana Highway 146 in Homer.

Rainach viewed himself as a "classical liberal"

Unlike many other southern politicians who once supported segregation and later renounced that view — Russell Long, J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., John J. McKeithen, Joe Waggonner, Robert Byrd, and George Wallace, for example — Rainach never abandoned his belief in racial separatism.

In a 1974 interview with The Shreveport Times, Rainach rejected the appellation "conservative" though it had long been used by the media to describe his political philosophy. The Times described Rainach as:

...the antithesis of the image his cause would suggest. He speaks softly, deliberately, weighing words carefully, and citing historical events, both ancient and modern, as he responds to questions. He rejected the label of 'conservative', preferring to be called a 'classical liberal.' Rainach explained, "In the days of Paine and Jefferson, the classical liberal stood for freedom of the individual as opposed to government control. ... I'm not anti-Negro, but I still feel the same way about it. I don't hate Negroes — I didn't hate them then — some of our most valued employees here at the company are Negroes, and I would never want to hurt them. But I do not feel the two societies should mix. I wish it were possible for whites and blacks to live together, but it just isn't.

The actor James Harper was cast as the historical Rainach in the 1989 film, Blaze, with Paul Newman portraying Governor Earl Long.

References

  1. Adam Fairclough (1995). Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915–1972, 2nd, Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press. 
  2. "Demo Platform Lashed by Former State Senator," Minden Herald, October 6, 1960, p. 1.
  3. Courtney Smith's obituary. The Shreveport Times (August 31, 2013). Retrieved on August 25, 2019.
  4. Rebecca Bruckmann. Citizens' Councils, Conservatism and White Supremacy in Louisiana, 1964-1972. European Journal of American Studies" in journals.openedition.org. Retrieved on August 24, 2019.
  5. Garrick Feldman (February 16, 2010), "Justice Jim fought tough final battle," The Arkansas Leader.