James Eastland

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James Oliver "Jim" Eastland

In office
Jauary 3, 1943 – December 27, 1978
Preceded by Wall Doxey
Succeeded by Thad Cochran

President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
July 28, 1972 – December 27, 1978
Deputy Hubert Humphrey (1977–1978)
Preceded by Allen J. Ellender
Succeeded by Warren Magnuson

Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee
In office
June 30, 1941 – September 28, 1941
Appointed by Paul Burney Johnson, Sr.
Preceded by Pat Harrison
Succeeded by Wall Doxey

Mississippi State Representative
for Sunflower County
In office
Preceded by William D. Cook
Succeeded by Elwin B. Livingston

Born November 28, 1904
Doddsville, Sunflower County, Mississippi
Died Greenwood, Mississippi
Resting place Forest Cemetery, Forest, Mississippi
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Coleman Eastland
Children Woods Eastland

Sue Terney
Nell Amos
Anne Howdeshell

Alma mater University of Mississippi
Vanderbilt University
University of Alabama
Occupation Attorney
Cotton planter
Religion United Methodist

James Oliver Eastland (November 28, 1904 – February 19, 1986) was a Mississippi politician most remembered for his defense of segregation during his career in the United States Senate, first in the summer of 1941 and then from 1943 until his retirement in December 1978. He has been called the "Voice of the White South" and the "Godfather of Mississippi Politics." A Democrat, Eastland was known as the symbol of Southern resistance to racial integration during the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s.[1] However, years later it was revealed that he had been a donor to the NAACP because of his personal friendship with state president Aaron E. Henry (1922-1997).[2]

The son of a prominent attorney, politician and cotton planter, Eastland was born in Doddsville, a rural community in Sunflower County. He attended public schools in Forest in Scott County, where his family had moved. He studied periodically at the University of Mississippi, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.. He completed his legal education, however, through the study of law under his father's tutelage. He was admitted to the bar in 1927 and launched his practice in Sunflower County. He also took over the management of his family's cotton plantation. He became active in politics and served as a state representative from 1928 to 1932.[3]

U.S. Senator Byron Patton "Pat" Harrison (1881-1941) died in office, and Governor Paul Burney Johnson, Sr. (1880-1943), appointed Eastland to fill the vacancy on the condition that he not run later in the year in the special election. Eastland hence served from June to September. The special election was won by U.S. Representative Wall Doxey (1892-1962). In 1942, Eastland unseated Doxey in the Democratic primary for the first of his six terms in the Senate term. He hence returned to the Senate in 1943. In his last term, he held the honorary position of President pro tempore of the upper legislative chamber. Doxey was named the Senate sergeant-at-arms.[4]

Eastland opposed the unanimous Brown v. Board of Education legal opinion through which the United States Supreme Court declared unconstitutional racial segregation in public education. He was also hostile to allowing African Americans the right to vote. In 1956, Eastland was appointed chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a post that he kept until his retirement; he was the longest-serving chairman in the 20th Century. Re-elected five times, he did not face Republican opposition until 1966, when he trounced the one-term Republican U.S.Representative Prentiss Lafayette Walker (1917-1998). This victory followed the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Walker campaign was an early Republican effort to attract white conservatives to its ranks because recently passed civil rights legislation had enabled African Americans in the South to begin participating in the political process, and most of them became active as Democrat liberals. Former Republican Party state chairman Wirt Yerger had pondered running against Eastland but bowed out after Walker announced his candidacy. Walker ran well to Eastland's right, accusing him of not having done enough to keep integration-friendly judges from being confirmed by the Senate. Years later, Yerger said that Walker's decision to relinquish his House seat after one term for the uncertainty of a Senate campaign was "very devastating" to the growth of the Mississippi Republicans.[5]

In 1972, Eastland was reelected with 58 percent of the vote in his closest contest ever. His Republican opponent that year Gil Carmichael, an automobile dealer from Meridian, did not benefit from U.S. President Richard M. Nixon landslide reelection, who polled 78 percent of Mississippi's popular vote. However, Nixon had worked "under the table" to support Eastland, a long-time personal friend. Nixon and other Republicans provided little support for Carmichael, a Moderate Republican, to avoid alienating conservative Southern Democrats, who increasingly supported Republican positions on many national issues.[5]

Two Mississippi Republicans, both former Democrats, in 1972 were elected to the U.S. House, Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, both considered conservatives at the times of their election but later in the Moderate Republican camp as U.S. senators. Eastland did not endorse the liberal Democratic presidential candidate, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. Four years later, Eastland supported the candidacy of fellow Southern Democrat Jimmy Carter of Georgia, against Nixon's short-term successor Gerald Ford and U.S. Senator Bob Dole, the Kansas Republican who ran for vice president[5]

Eastland wanted to seek a seventh term in 1978 but was discouraged from doing so by his friend Aaron Henry, who questioned whether black voters would support Eastland. After leaving the Senate, Eastland said that he had no further desire to be involved in politics and did not miss being a senator. He said that he always voted his convictions. Eastland died in a hospital in Greenwood, Mississippi, at the age of eighty-one and is interred at Forest Cemetery in Forest, west of the capital city of Jackson.[3]

Coincidentally, from 1973 to 1978, Eastland was a mentor of then Senator Joe Biden of Delaware,[6]chosen as the most liberal President in history in 2020.

See also


  1. Robert Shogan (February 20, 1986). Ex-Mississippi Sen. Eastland Dies at Age 81. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on February 21, 2021.
  2. Mississippi's duo: James Eastland and John Stennis - Mad Politics: The Bizarre, Fascinating, and Unknown of American Political History. fascinatingpolitics.com (June 23, 2019).
  3. 3.0 3.1 Marjorie Hunter (February 20, 1986). James O. Eastland Is Deat at 81; Leading Senate Foe of integration. The New York Times. Retrieved on February 21, 2021.
  4. Doxey, Wall. Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved on February 21, 2021.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Billy Hathorn, "Challenging the Status Quo: Rubel Lex Phillips and the Mississippi Republican Party (1963-1967)," The Journal of Mississippi History, XLVII, No. 4 (November 1985), pp. 240-265,
  6. R. Cort Kirkwood (April 13, 2019). Letters: Biden worked hard to block forced busing; sought Eastland's help. thenewamerican.com. Retrieved on February 21, 2021.