Woodrow Wilson Dumas

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Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Dumas

Mayor-President
of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA
In office
January 1, 1965​ – December 31, 1980​
Preceded by Jack Christian​
Succeeded by James Patrick "Pat" Screen, Jr.​

Member of East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council​
In office
January 1, 1953​ – December 31, 1964​
Preceded by
Succeeded by Gaston Gerald​

Born December 9, 1916
Opelousas, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana​
Died November 5, 1993 (aged 76)​
Resting place Azalea Rest Cemetery in Zachary, Louisiana
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Carol Epperson Dumas​
Children Diane I. Dumas

Woodrow Huntley Dumas​

Residence Baker, East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana​
Alma mater
Occupation Standard Oil Company employee​
Religion United Methodist

Woodrow Wilson Dumas, known as W. W. Dumas or Woody Dumas (December 9, 1916 – November 5, 1993), was from 1965 to 1980 Democratic Mayor-President, a combined municipal-parish position, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.[1]

Background

Dumas was born in Opelousas in St. Landry Parish in south Louisiana. He was named for Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. President at the time of his birth. In 1924, the Dumas family moved to Baton Rouge, where he excelled in baseball and football in high school. He served in the United States Navy on a submarine during World War II and the Korean War and was a member of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He was also active in the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the Fraternal Order of Eagles, and the United Methodist Church.[2]

Dumas moved to Baker, a small city north of Baton Rouge, to play semi-professional baseball.[3] Several other Louisiana politicians, including state Representatives Lantz Womack of Winnsboro and L.D. "Buddy" Napper of Ruston and former Lieutenant Governor Bill Dodd, also played semi-pro ball. In Baker, he married the former Carol Epperson (February 23, 1917 – June 21, 2014)[4] and was employed by Standard Oil Company.[5]

The couple had two children, the late Diane I. Dumas (born 1942) of Zachary, also in East Baton Parish, and Woodrow Huntley Dumas (1950-2012), a businessman and stained glass artist from Cottage Grove, Oregon. Some of W. H. Dumas' work is displayed in East Baton Rouge Parish government buildings.[6]

Baton Rouge municipal service

In 1952, Dumas was elected as the Ward II representative on the 12-member Metro Council and served from 1953-1964. He was succeeded on the council by Gaston Gerald of Greenwell Springs, who was later a state senator.

To win the mayor-presidency, Dumas unseated the incumbent fellow Democrat Jack Christian, a former automobile dealer from Vicksburg, Mississippi, and later Baton Rouge. Much of Dumas' four terms as mayor-president was devoted to the development of the downtown municipal complex.[3] On Dumas' watch, the Baton Rouge city-parish budget grew from $15.3 million to $89 million annually.[5] However, he was also involved in several civil rights controversies.​

In 1968, Dumas was reelected mayor, when he defeated the Republican nominee, Crayton Green "Sparky" Hall (c. 1925-2014), a native of Columbus, Georgia, reared in Leesville, Louisiana, who was then a project engineer for the Ethyl Corporation of Baton Rouge. Hall soon left the GOP to become the founding chairman of the Libertarian Party in Louisiana. He left that chairmanship in 1985 and relocated to North Carolina, where he died in Hendersonville, still active as a libertarian at the age of eighty-nine.[7]

In 1969, Dumas imposed a curfew during a disturbance that seemed likely to spread throughout his city. Governor John J. McKeithen deployed 250 Louisiana National Guard troops to maintain order. The unrest resulted when a white Baton Rouge patrolman, Ray Breaux, shot to death in the back a 17-year-old fleeing African-American suspect. Dumas called on Baton Rouge NAACP president Emmitt Douglas to speak via radio to urge calm. Douglas called for more black police officers and integrated patrol cars. Dumas promised Douglas that Breaux would be suspended pending an investigation. After a grand jury exonerated Breaux, Douglas accused Dumas of betrayal. Dumas cited civil service rules which protected the officer. Thereafter, Dumas adopted a hard line toward protesters, having told officers that "We will back you 100 percent. Police officers will no longer take abuse and vilification from anyone."[8] Meanwhile, Douglas was indicted for incitement to riot under a new Louisiana law patterned after the national Civil Rights Act of 1968.[8] In another racial incident in January 1972, three Muslim activists and a police officer were killed during a riot on North Boulevard in Baton Rouge.[5]

When Republican gubernatorial nominee David C. Treen criticized Dumas' handling of the 1972 riot, which was prompted by a splinter group of Black Panthers, Dumas, a supporter of fellow Democrat Edwin Edwards, said that Treen was too uninformed to offer any comment. "My advice to Mr. Treen is before he opens his mouth, he ought to put his mind in gear," retorted Dumas.[9]

Mayor Dumas joined with state highway department director Ray W. Burgess (1921–2006), African American attorney Murphy Bell, and others to assist in the renovation of Sweet Olive Cemetery, the oldest black cemetery in Baton Rouge, which in the 1960s had been nearly abandoned. Located at South 22nd Street between North Boulevard and Louisiana Avenue, the structure is a haven of black history.[10]

On July 4, 1976, national Bicentennial Day, Dumas dedicated the former Baton Rouge Downtown Airport, a general aviation facility never upgraded for continued use, as the new Independence Park. Some former airport land was later transferred for the use of the Louisiana State Police.[11]

In 1976, Dumas organized a Baton Rouge celebration commemorating the American General Claire Chennault of the "Fighting Tigers" of World War II. Chennault's second wife and widow, Anna Chennault, was present, as were Governor Edwin Edwards and his then wife, Elaine Edwards.[12]

In his last election as mayor-president in 1976, Dumas defeated the Democrat Pete Heine, the mayor of Baker from 1964 to 1976 and again from 1981 to 1992, and the Republican choice, Jack Breaux, the mayor of Zachary (no relation to U.S. Senator John Breaux).​

In 1990, Dumas was an honorary pallbearer at the funeral of Edward Grady Partin, the controversial business agent of the Teamsters union in Baton Rouge, who immunized testimony in 1964 had sent Jimmy Hoffa to prison for jury tampering.[13]

Failed comeback bid

Dumas was succeeded as mayor in January 1981 by the Democrat James Patrick "Pat" Screen, Jr. (1943–1994), a former Louisiana State University quarterback.[14][15] In 1988, at the age of seventy-two, Dumas came out of political retirement to challenge fellow Democrat Tom Ed McHugh for the mayor-presidency. He polled 29,109 (29.9 percent) to McHugh's 38,629 (39.7 percent). In third place was state Senator Mike Cross, who received 12,741 (13.1 percent). Freshman state Representative Carl Crane, one of two Republicans in the race, polled only 4,554 votes (4.7 percent.[16]

In the general election which corresponded with the George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis presidential contest, McHugh defeated Dumas, 79,134 (55.5 percent) to 63,519 (44.5 percent).[17] McHugh was elected again as a Democrat in 1992 and as a Republican convert in 1996.​

Dumas died at the age of seventy-six after a long struggle with cancer.[3] Dumas is remembered through the 18-hole Dumas Golf Course and the Dumas Memorial Golf Tournament held each April at Greenwood Community Park in Baker.[18]

Dumas' papers are in the Dumas Room in the River Center Library (formerly the Centroplex Library).[5]

References

  1. Who’s Who in City-Parish Government. Ebr.lib.la.us. Retrieved on November 27, 2009.
  2. Woodrow Wilson Dumas. politicalgraveyard.com. Retrieved on November 27, 2009.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 About Woody Dumas. ebr.lib.la.libguides.com. Retrieved on November 27, 2009.
  4. Net Detective and People Search by Name
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Woodrow Dumas Papers. Ebr.lib.la.libguides.com. Retrieved on November 27, 2009 (no longer on-line).
  6. Woodrow H. Dumas obituary, The Baton Rouge Advocate, October 4, 2012.
  7. Crayton Green "Sparky" Hall. Henderson Times-News. Retrieved on August 31, 2014.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Adam Fairclough. Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972. Google Books. ISBN 978-0-8203-3114-0. Retrieved on November 27, 2009. 
  9. The Minden Press-Herald, January 14, 1972, p. 1.
  10. Carol Anne Blitzer. Resting in peace: Group has worked for years to preserve historic Sweet Olive Cemetery. The Baton Rouge Advocate, October 29, 2001. Retrieved on November 27, 2009.
  11. Paul Freeman, Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields: Louisiana: Baton Rouge. members.tripod.com. Retrieved on November 27, 2009.
  12. Louisiana Historical Photographs Collection of the State Library. louisdl.louislibraries.org. Retrieved on November 27, 2009.
  13. Obituaries: Barlow and Related Families. Baton Rouge State-Times, March 12, 1990, p. 6. Retrieved on May 7, 2010.
  14. Pat Screen. findagrave.com. Retrieved on November 27, 2009.
  15. The author has been unable to determine if Dumas ran in 1980 and was defeated by Screen or if Dumas stepped down, only to try for a comeback eight years thereafter.
  16. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Return: East Baton Rouge Parish, October 1, 1988.
  17. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, November 8, 1988
  18. Greenwood Community Park. brec.org. Retrieved on November 27, 2009.

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