James Eastland

James Eastland

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James Eastland was born in Doddsville, Mississippi on 28th November, 1904. He attended the University of Mississippi, Vanderbilt University and the University of Alabama before being admitted to the bar in 1927.

A member of the Democratic Party, Eastland was a member of State house of representatives (1928-32) before being elected to the United States Senate in 1941. He was not a candidate in 1942 but was reelected in 1948, 1954, 1960, 1966 and 1972.

Eastland was strong opponent of African American civil rights and a leading supporter of Jim Crow laws. In May, 1954, Eastland told the Senate that: "Segregation is desired and supported by the vast majority of the members of both of the races in the South, who dwell side by side under harmonious conditions."

James Eastland died in Doddsville, Mississippi, on 19th February, 1986.

The southern institution of racial segregation or racial separation was the correct, self-evident truth which arose from the chaos and confusion of the reconstruction period. Separation promotes racial harmony. It permits each race to follow its own pursuits, and its own civilization. Segregation is not discrimination. Segregation is not a badge of racial inferiority, and that it is not is recognized by both races in the Southern States. In fact, segregation is desired and supported by the vast majority of the members of both races in the South, who dwell side by side under harmonious conditions.

The negro has made a great contribution to the South. We take pride in the constant advance he has made. It is where social questions are involved that Southern people draw the line. It is these social institutions with which Southern people, in my judgment, will not permit the Supreme Court to tamper.

Let me make this clear, Mr. President: There is no racial hatred in the South. The Negro race is not an oppressed race. A great Senator from the State of Idaho, Senator William E. Borah, a few years ago said on the floor of the Senate: "Let us admit that the South is dealing with this question as best it can, admit that the men and women of the South are just as patriotic as we are, just as devoted to the principles of the Constitution as we are, just as willing to sacrifice for the success of their communities as we are. Let us give them credit as American citizens, and cooperate with them, sympathize with them, and help them in the solution of their problem, instead of condemning them. We are one people, one nation, and they are entitled to be treated upon this basis."

Mr. President, it is the law of nature, it is the law of God, that every race has both the right and the duty to perpetuate itself. All free men have the right to associate exclusively with members of their own race, free from governmental interference, if they so desire. Free men have the right to send their children to schools of their own choosing, free from governmental interference and to build up their own culture, free from governmental interference. These rights are inherent in the Constitution of the United States and in the American system of government, both state and national, to promote and protect this right.

Lyndon B. Johnson: Jim, on this investigation - this Dallas situation - what does your committee plan to do on it? ...

James Eastland: We plan to hold hearings and just make a record of what the proof is. That's all. Show that this man was the assassin... We've had a great number of Senators that have come to us to request it, beginning with Morse... Now if you want it dropped, we'll drop it.

Lyndon B. Johnson: I had this feeling - this is very confidential and I haven't proposed it to anybody and I don't know that I would - but we've got a pretty strong states' rights question here and I've had some hesitancy to start having a bunch of Congressional inquiries into violation of a state statute, and it might...

James Eastland: You see, we've got a bill in to make it a federal...

Lyndon B. Johnson: I know it, but you haven't got any law and it might set a precedent that you wouldn't want to have. I talked to some of the fellows about it day before yesterday. Russell was down here for luncheon.

James Eastland: Now, there's one of them that's urged it.

Lyndon B. Johnson: Now my thought would be this, if we could do it - we might get two members from each body. You see, we're going to have three inquiries running as it is.

James Eastland: Well, I wouldn't want that. That wouldn't do.

Lyndon B. Johnson: And if we could have two Congressmen and two Senators and maybe a Justice of the Supreme Court take the FBI report and review it... I think it would - this is a very explosive thing and it could be a very dangerous thing for the country. And a little publicity could just fan the flames. What would you think about if we could work it out of getting somebody from the Court and somebody from the House and somebody from the Senate and have a real high-level judicial study of all the facts?

James Eastland: Well, it would suit me all right. Now you'd have - there's going to be some opposition on the committee...

Lyndon B. Johnson: If it is all right with you, I'm not worried about your committee. I know what you can handle.

Profile: James O. Eastland

Congress passes the Civil Rights Act (CRA) of 1957, the first such law to pass Congress since the federal civil rights laws of 1875. The law allows the US attorney general to bring suits to address discrimination and voter intimidation against African-Americans and other minorities. The CRA is the jumping-off point of successive legislative attempts to grant equal rights and protections for minority citizens. President Eisenhower was never a vocal supporter of civil rights, believing that such changes had to come from within the “heart” and not be imposed by legislation from Washington. However, he does support the CRA, and helped push it through Congress against entrenched resistance, largely but not entirely from Southern Democrats determined to protect segregationist practices even after the landmark Brown v. Board decision (see May 17, 1954). The CRA originally created a new division within the Justice Department to monitor civil rights abuses, but Senate Democrats, led by Lyndon Johnson (D-TX), worked to water down the bill in order to keep Southern Democrats and more liberal Democrats from the west and northeast from tearing the party apart along ideological lines. Johnson, along with Senator James O. Eastland (D-MS), rewrote the CRA to take much of its power away. The final version does grant new protections for African-American voters, pleasing the liberals of the Democratic Party, but contains almost no enforcement procedures for those found obstructing African-Americans’ attempts to vote, thus mollifying the conservative wing of the party. Eisenhower himself admitted that he did not understand parts of the bill. African-American leader Ralph Bunche, a prominent US diplomat, calls the act a sham and says he would rather have no bill than the CRA. But Bayard Rustin, a leader of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), says the bill has symbolic value as the first piece of civil rights legislation passed in 82 years. [History Learning Site, 2012 American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

James Eastland

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.

James Eastland - History

Vice President Joe Biden talked about his mentor James O. Eastland at a rally for Democrat Doug Jones in Birmingham, Ala., in 2017. Photo by Ashton Pittman.

Long-time cotton planter James O. Eastland puffed on a bulging cigar in the U.S. Senate dining hall in Washington, D.C., during dinner one evening, or as the balding 73-year-old senator called it, "sup'uh." In a few short months, the powerful Mississippi Democrat would retire, closing the book on a political career that he began and grew by using overtly racist appeals and outspoken opposition to civil rights.

On that evening in 1978, though, the powerful Dixiecrat would once again offer counsel to one of his favorite young mentees. Soon after 35-year-old Delaware freshman Sen. Joseph Biden joined him, Eastland sensed something was amiss.

"Son, what's the matt'uh?" Eastland asked a visibly dejected Biden.

Biden, a member of the prestigious Senate Judiciary Committee that Eastland chaired, explained that he faced tough re-election odds in November, and feared he might lose his seat.

"What ole Jim Eastland can do for you in Del'uh'wah?" offered Eastland, whose history of explicit white-supremacist rhetoric included warnings years earlier that integration would lead to "mongrelization" and a lowering of educational standards.

"Well, some places you can help, Mr. Chairman, and some places you'd hurt," Biden replied, knowing Eastland's endorsement would, if anything, cost him votes in the more liberal northeast.

"Well, I'll come to Del'uh'wah and campaign for you or agin' you, whichever will help the most," the man known back home as "Big Jim" replied knowingly.

'He Called Me Son'

Former Vice President Biden shared that story at a campaign stop for Alabama Democrat Doug Jones in October 2017, telling a Birmingham crowd of more than 1,000 that it illustrates "what the system needs today."

"Even in the days when I got here, the Democratic Party still had seven or eight old-fashioned Democratic segregationists," Biden told those gathered, many of whom were African American. "You'd get up there and argue like the devil with them, and then you'd go down and have lunch or dinner together. We were divided on issues, but the political system worked."

Fewer than two months before Biden's rally with Jones, white supremacists carrying swastikas, Confederate flags and tiki torches had marched on the college town of Charlottesville, Va., where they unleashed deadly racist violence, with one killing Heather Heyer after driving into a crowd of counter-protesters. The president of the United States defended them, saying there were "fine people on both sides."

When Biden announced his third bid for president late last month, he invoked those dark moments to make his case against Donald Trump.

"With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it," Biden said in his announcement video. "And in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime. I wrote at the time that we're in the battle for the soul of this nation. Well, that's even more true today. We are in the battle for the soul of this nation.

"I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time. But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation—who we are—and I cannot stand by and watch that happen."

Yet at the rally for Jones, who prosecuted two klansmen for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that left four black girls dead, Biden extolled the virtues of old-school political camaraderie that allowed northeastern liberal men to break bread with unrepentant southern segregationists in pre-party-switch times—framing it as an antidote to Trumpism. More than just a nostalgic paean to the ways of days gone by, though, Biden was paying homage to men who helped guide his early Senate career.

"(Eastland) never called me 'senator," Biden told the Jones supporters. "He called me 'son.'"

The Scranton, Pa., native who would someday serve as the vice president to America's first black president spent his first term relying on the counsel and mentorship of not only Eastland, but also Mississippi's other powerful segregationist Dixiecrat: U.S. Sen. John C. Stennis.

'Godfather of Mississippi Politics'

Born in Forest, Miss., Eastland was part of a family steeped in the mythmaking of the so-called "Lost Cause" of the Confederacy that falsely recast the South's role in the Civil War as one of gallantry and honor—a fight not to defend the institution of human slavery, but to preserve white southerners' "way of life." The family's history primed its descendants to accept this mythological rewrite the Eastlands had moved to Forest only after Union Army Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman razed their farm eight miles north in Hillsboro.

Former U.S. Sen. James Eastland, sometimes called “The Godfather of Mississippi Politics,” was a Dixiecrat known for his staunch support of segregation. He was also an early supporter of young Joe Biden. Photo courtesy Charles Tasnadi via AP

Eastland's mother, Alma Austin Eastland, "was weaned on firsthand reports of Yankee brutality and bitter and one-sided, often misguided, even hysterical accounts of 'Negro rule' during Reconstruction," historian J. Lee Annis wrote in his 2016 book, "Big Jim Eastland: The Godfather of Mississippi Politics."

Alma's father, Capt. Richmond Austin, had served under Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg and then in the cavalry under Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who became the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War ended. Austin passed a whitewashed portrayal of that heritage on to his daughter, who then passed it on to her son, the future U.S. senator.

Not content with just instilling her family's racist heritage in its next generation, though, Alma Austin Eastland became the president of the Scott County chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, an organization which has long worked to romanticize realities of slavery, the war and Reconstruction. The UDC led efforts to ban books that either portrayed the North and President Abraham Lincoln positively or that cast the South in an unsavory light by, for example, accurately identifying slavery as the true "cause" for which Confederate states seceded and fought.

To wild success, they pushed for history textbooks in public schools that were not just sympathetic to the South, but Lost Cause propaganda designed to indoctrinate future generations of children with Dixie fantasy. The materials painted an insufferably dishonest portrait of an Old South in which happy slaves served kindly masters, and public scorn and condemnation awaited the supposedly few slave owners who dared to mistreat the humans they kept as property.

Just as visible as the myths their textbooks inculcated in the minds of children nationwide for much of the 20th century, though, are the gangly Confederate statues that litter public squares, graveyards, college campuses and courthouse lawns across the South—looming reminders of the endurance of old-fashioned white supremacy and, with each second they continue to stand, the tacit acceptance of it that still holds sway in the communities where they remain.

As president of the UDC's Scott County chapter, Alma Austin Eastland used her fundraising prowess to help make sure that, for more than a century after its 1917 dedication, Mississippi lawmakers would walk past a monument dedicated to the "Women of the Confederacy" every day. The monument, which features two women gathered around a dying Confederate soldier, still stands in front of the steps outside the Mississippi Capitol building today.

The Daughters of the Confederacy "aspired to transform military defeat into a political and cultural victory, where states' rights and white supremacy remained intact," historian Karen Cox explained in her 2003 tome, "Dixie's Daughters."

The future Sen. Eastland drank his mother's version of history up. In the mid-1950s, as the Montgomery Bus Boycott drove a new wave of civil-rights activism more than a year after the Supreme Court's Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision had mandated an end to segregation in public schools, Eastland revealed his belief that the South had, in fact, won the war, albeit belatedly.

Yes, there was the brief Reconstruction period, during which time freed black men had full voting rights and even held high office in Mississippi, he admitted, but that ended in 1877. In Reconstruction's wake had emerged not only a bloody reign of racial terror and oppression, but organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the racist Jim Crow laws that Eastland and other southern politicians spent the mid-20th century supporting.

The emergence of the Civil Rights Movement and the orders to desegregate constituted a "Second Reconstruction," Eastland told supporters at the time. The long-suffering South, though, would ultimately win the same kind of cultural victory through persistence.

"How long did it take the South to win the war?" Eastland asked a crowd in the 1950s, as Annis recounts it. "Eleven years, wasn't it?"

Eastland was referring to the time between the end of the Civil War and the end of Reconstruction. The war ended in 1865, and Reconstruction ended 12 years later in 1877. (His math was a little off.)

As a liberal senator before segregationists switched to the GOP, Joe Biden’s (left) friendships extended to not only conservatives, but notorious racist Dixiecrats like former Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina (right). Photo courtesy Scott Applewhite via AP

The Southern Manifesto

Today, Biden says that he believes the segregationists he served with, like Eastland, Stennis and South Carolina Dixiecrat-turned Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond, changed before the end of their lives. W. Ralph Eubanks, a professor at the University of Mississippi Center for Southern Studies, told the Jackson Free Press that he is not so sure that is true.

"I think a lot of it is Joe Biden's affability," Eubanks said. "He wants to love everybody. It is, in some ways, admirable. I mean, you just think, 'Gosh, this is just really admirable that this is a politician that really crosses the aisle.'"

Eubanks pointed to Biden's praise of Thurmond at his 2003 funeral. "I looked into his heart, and I saw a man, a whole man," Biden told the mourners who had gathered. "I tried to understand him. I learned from him. And I watched him change oh so suddenly. Like all of us, Strom was a product of his time. But he understood people. He cared for them. He truly wanted to help. He knew how to read people, how to move them, how to get things done."

"He really says Strom had really changed," Eubanks said of Biden. "I'm not sure Strom really changed. He was forced to 'change.' The laws changed."

After Democratic President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Thurmond left the party, saying it had "abandoned the people," and joined the GOP. He campaigned for that year's Republican nominee for president, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, who had opposed the law.

In the spring of 1956, both of Mississippi's senators gathered around a mahogany table and signed onto the Southern Manifesto, denouncing the Supreme Court's desegregation orders as a "clear abuse of judicial powers." Though Stennis kept a lower profile than Eastland on matters of race, he helped write the document, which segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina first drafted. Publicly, Eastland's bombastic rhetoric exceeded Stennis', with Eastland warning shortly before the Brown v. Board decision that integration would result in lower education standards.

Stennis and Eastland often aligned in their response to civil-rights efforts. After white supremacists murdered 14-year-old African American Emmett Till, claiming he had whistled at a white woman, Eastland and Stennis responded to the outcry by publicly revealing that the victim's father, Private Louis Till, had been court-martialed, convicted, and hanged a decade earlier for the murder of one Italian woman and the rape of two others. Those revelations, Annis writes in "Big Jim," did nothing to assuage the nationwide horror that photos published in Jet Magazine showing Till's disfigured body had inspired.

'A Liberal Trainwreck'

One aspect of the civil-rights agenda that Eastland hated most was the use of busing to send children to school across district lines in order to make schools more integrated.

"Forced busing to achieve racial balance ordered by federal courts is reprehensible, cruelly seeking to make our schoolchildren the victims of a problem of historical dimension," The Pittsburgh Press reported Eastland saying in 1973.

Just a few months earlier, a new colleague had joined the Senate who would help him in his fight to dismantle busing laws: Joe Biden.

Though he largely disagreed with his new Dixiecrat colleagues' views on civil rights, Scranton's future most-famous son would soon come to ally with them to fight against the key integration program.

Busing was not used to fight public-school segregation in the South only, and its introduction in the North caused some northern liberals, like Biden, to rethink their support for it and even join anti-busing southern Democrats in that fight, Millsaps civil rights historian Stephanie Rolph told the Jackson Free Press on April 30.

"We kind of see them drop back into a space that they can share with each other," Rolph explained.

During his first two years in office, Biden had generally voted in favor of busing, but soon changed.

Eubanks said he thinks Biden's position changed due to "political expediency." As Biden ran for Senate in 1972, segregationist Dixiecrat George Wallace won the party's Florida primary, spawning a raft of anti-busing legislation. At the same time, busing had become a big issue in Delaware as children were being bused out of the suburbs and into Wilmington and vice versa.

"Southern politicians, who had been pushing against desegregation in the 1950s, realized, 'Oh, OK, now that it's hit the doorstep of the northeasterners, they don't like it any more than we do.' And these political alliances began to form. So that's why you had someone like Joe Biden making alliances with Strom Thurmond, James Eastland and John Stennis," Eubanks said.

By 1975, Biden thought of busing as a "liberal train wreck," as he wrote in his 2007 memoir, and found himself huddled with a group of Dixiecrats, planning how they might introduce anti-busing legislation that could pass in the Senate.

"Guys like Stennis and Eastland have more in common with Biden and people like him than people would normally think, because of this very thing," Rolph said. "And white southerners, especially in the Democratic Party, take a lot of pride in the fact that the North begins to experience some of what they consider to be a violation in the late '60s and early '70s."

In 1976, the Wilmington Evening Journal reported on a speech Biden gave to a group of fifth-graders in Newark, Del., telling them he understood their feelings about busing, but that he hoped they would not blame African American kids for it.

"Kids had no choice in this," he told the white children. "You shouldn't hate black kids. They had nothing to do with it. Black kids don't want to come to your school any more than you want to go to their school."

On two occasions in 1977, Biden wrote Eastland to thank him for his help as he sought to bring anti-busing legislation to the floor. For segregationists like Eastland and Stennis, expressing opposition to "forced busing" was code for their opposition to public-school integration in general.

"I am opposed to the busing of schoolchildren for the sole purpose of overcoming racial imbalance," Stennis wrote in a 1973 letter to a constituent. "This unreasonable busing is injurious to our school children and only benefits some Washington socio-political statistician."

In "Promises to Keep," Biden recalled explaining to an angry crowd of white parents that his opposition to busing was not total. "Look, I told them, I was against busing to remedy de facto segregation owing to housing patterns and community comfort, but if it was intentional segregation, I'd personally pay for helicopters to move the children. There were howls in the crowd," he wrote.

Much of the segregation that cropped up in public schools, though, was the result of white flight, as white peoples abandoned their city neighborhoods and moved to the suburbs to avoid integration, which naturally changed housing patterns.

In Jackson, white flight was devastating to the cause of integration. Anecdotal evidence and national trends suggest integration efforts peaked there in the 1980s. Today, in the Jackson Public Schools District, which is the largest in the state, the most integrated school is 95% black.

Biden's Housing Restrictions

Rolph told the Jackson Free Press that she sees Biden's attempt to divide busing in cases of "de facto" segregation and busing in cases of "intentional segregation" as part of a longstanding effort by some politicians to divide "racism in the north from racism in the south."

"The Civil Rights Movement in the north is much more complicated, because it's tied to economic patterns, it's tied to disenfranchisement," she said. "But (Biden's explanation) also erases the history of deliberate housing restrictions that were put into place as early as the 1920s. So he would have to confront the long-term building of a de facto system of segregation, which is something that we are still trying to dig out of."

At one point, Biden himself lived in a Vermont home that, on the deed, included restrictions that said it could not "be owned or occupied by any Negro or person of Negro extraction," Jet Magazine reported in 1986. His father, Joseph Biden Sr., had purchased the home in 1969, and transferred it to the younger Biden in 1971, just before his first run for Senate. The deed, which had been drawn up in 1940, added that the prohibition "is not intended to include occupancy by a Negro domestic servant . "

James McClellan, a Republican supporter of William H. Rehnquist's nomination as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, invoked the deed during a 1986 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Biden sat on. McClellan said it pointed to Biden's "hypocrisy," after he and other members of the committee questioned a similar deed for a house Rehnquist owned that barred Jews. Biden, though, said he had never seen the deed, and that neither he nor his parents had signed it.

Still, the existence of such a deed aligns with Rolph's point about the complexity of the Civil Rights Movement in the north, contra Biden's suggestion that "intentional segregation" could easily be distinguished from segregation as a result of "housing patterns and community comfort."

"You can say, in that way, that the southern Civil Rights Movement was a clear success—if it was focused on desegregation and voting rights," Rolph said. "If you would say that the northern Civil Rights Movement was about economic equity, equal opportunity, fair housing, that was not as clear-cut. So I think his position kind of reflects an easy out for a number of public figures to say, 'Well, this wasn't done perfectly. It's just the way it shook out.' But that points to a system that was built on supremacy."

Biden's anti-busing efforts earned a rebuke from then-President Jimmy Carter. They never became law.

Still, opposition to busing did not come only from segregationists. In a 1974 letter, 335 black parents joined 1,737 white parents in the rural Marion County, Miss., communities of Bunker Hill and Improve to complain, in a letter to Stennis, that some of their children were being bused between 17 and 49 miles or more away from home, causing them to have to leave earlier in the morning and get home later in the afternoon than other kids. Were it not for busing, they would attend the nearby Improve High School.

"Our school is not against integration," the parents wrote. "We are against the long bus ride to Marion County (High School)."

Indeed, Rolph said, not all objections to busing were rooted in naked racial animus.

"Outside of the South, I think a lot of those objections in places like Boston, for example, came from blue-collar, white working-class families who found it to be a hardship for their kids to be bused 45 minutes away when their parents were working hourly jobs, maybe, in the neighborhood, or near the neighborhood," she said. "Or because they had moved into the neighborhood because the schools were really good, and now that meant nothing."

Those class dynamics cannot be easily separated from race, though, she said.

"I would argue that a lot of this is rooted in racial identity and what it means to be white," she said. "You may be a working-class white person, but you're white, and that gives you access to things that a black working-class family or a black middle-class family may not have access to.

"When busing procedures are put into place in the '70s, really, it is white working-class voters who revolt, because they feel like they are now being discriminated against because they are white. And to send their kids to a school they did not choose, through their choice of neighborhood—that really undermines their work ethic, their ideology and what they believe to be true about success," Rolph added.

'It Set Me Free'

The Dixiecrat mentorship Biden received during his early years in the Senate appear to have left their mark. In 1986, The Morning News reported on Biden's trip to Alabama, where Democratic state Sen. Howell Heflin told the crowd he "understands the South" and its "traditions and values." Biden, the Morning News reported, "even offered the crowd a bit of absolution, telling them that they had confronted their racial problems and dealt with them" and that "apologies were no longer necessary."

"A black man has a better chance in Birmingham than in Philadelphia or New York," Biden said then.

That is a sentiment Eastland, who retired in 1978, surely would have appreciated. He softened his rhetoric on race in later years, even as he donated large amounts of money to segregation academies in the Mississippi Delta.

In 1985, Eastland sent a $500 check to the Mississippi NAACP, an organization he had once railed against, and a letter to its chairman, Aaron Henry, with whom he had struck a friendship.

"Thousands of us have been helped by your gallant, dedicated and persistent leadership that has made recognition of a life that includes all mankind possible," Eastland wrote to Henry.

Big Jim never did apologize for his strong segregationist past, however.

"Our state is over the hump. I think we oughta forget the battles we had," Eastland would say when asked, Annis' book recalls.

Stennis, who had never voted for a civil-rights bill since the day he entered the Senate in 1948, broke with his past when he voted to extend the Voting Rights Act in 1982. The next year, he opposed the bill that created the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday—a bill supported by even South Carolina segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond, another Dixiecrat friend whom Biden had vouched for.

In 2008, Biden told Jackson Free Press editor Donna Ladd that Stennis was a "hell of a guy," and recalled their first meeting, in which Stennis instructed him to sit down at a large mahogany desk, around which were 12 chairs.

"'Son, what made you run for United States Senate?'" Biden recalled Stennis asking him. "Like a damn fool I told him the exact truth without thinking about it. I said, 'Civil rights, sir.'"

"As soon as I did, I swear to God I began to get these beads of sweat on my head, and it was like, 'Oh geez, what have I said?' He looked at me and he said, 'Good, good, good,' and that was the end of the conversation," Biden told Ladd.

From the time he entered the Senate, U.S. Sen. John C. Stennis voted against every civil rights bill that came before his desk until he voted to renew the Voting Rights Act in 1982. Photo courtesy United States Senate

Then, Biden recalled another conversation that took place 18 years later as Stennis was retiring. At that meeting, Stennis put his hand on the same table.

"You see this table and chair? This table was the flagship of the Confederacy from 1954 to 1968," Biden recalled Stennis saying. "Senator (Richard B.) Russell had (representatives from) the Confederate states sit here every Tuesday to plan the demise of the Civil Rights Movement. We lost, and it's good we lost."

"Then he looked at me," Biden continued, "and I got chills when he said: 'It's time this table goes from the possession of a man against civil rights to a man for civil rights.' I said, 'Mr. Chairman, I'm honored,' and we spoke a few more seconds. When I got to the door, he said, 'One more thing, Joe.' He turned in his wheelchair, and he said, 'The Civil Rights Movement did more to free the white man than the black man.' I said, 'How's that, Mr. Chairman?' He went like this." Biden held his fist over his heart and quoted Stennis: "'It freed my soul. It freed my soul.'"

"Stennis offers no apologies for once fighting the lost racial causes of his beloved Mississippi. . And as that career comes to a close, the 87-year-old patriarch of the Senate feels no need to offer excuses for having 'done my duty,'" the report reads.

In that same report, Biden praised Stennis as "the epitome of the good and the virtue that the Senate" should stand for.

No Democrat has won Stennis' seat since his last re-election in 1982. Only one Democrat has come within fewer than 10 points of winning it—Democrat Mike Espy in last year's special election who would have been the first African American to hold a U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi since Reconstruction, had he won.

This year, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, a supporter of the current Mississippi flag, which bears within it the emblem of the Confederacy, approved a new license plate. The plate gives drivers the option of displaying the "Mississippi Stennis Flag."

Laurin Stennis proposed her new design to help the state shed the imagery of its past—a history marked and shaped by the hands and votes of her own grandfather, who inked the Southern Manifesto.

The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Follow State Reporter Ashton Pittman on Twitter @ashtonpittman. Email story tips to [email protected] . Read Donna Ladd's full 2008 interview with Joe Biden in Jackson at jacksonfreepress.com/biden.

CORRECTIONS: A prior version of this story referred to W. Ralph Eubanks as an historian at the University of Mississippi he is a professor of southern studies at the UM Center for Southern Studies. Also, Sen. Joe Biden was 35 years old in 1978, not 40.


James O. Eastland, for 36 years a conservative United States Senator from Mississippi who served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee for 22 years, died today in Greenwood-LeFlore County Hospital in Greenwood, Miss. He was 81 years old.

A hospital spokesman said Mr. Eastland had died of ''multiple medical problems complicated at the end by pneumonia,''

A wealthy Mississippi plantation owner, Senator Eastland was best known nationally as a symbol of Southern resistence to racial desegregation in most of his years in the Senate.

Indeed, the major civil rights bills enacted by Congress, principally in the 1960's, became law only by various maneuvers that bypassed the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he ruled with an iron hand before his retirement from Congress in 1978.

Opposition to Integration

Mr. Eastland was appointed to the Senate in 1942 to fill a vacancy created by the death of Senator Pat Harrison. The tall, round-faced Southerner, whose trademark was a big cigar, lost little time in staking out his segregationist stand, frequently rising on the floor to complain about possible ''mongrelization'' of the races.

A year later, in his successful bid for a full six-year term, he often appeared in Mississippi courthouse squares, promising the crowds that if elected he would stop blacks and whites from eating together in Washington. He often spoke of blacks as 'ɺn inferior race.''

But in his final years in the Senate, with stumbling blocks to desegregation collapsing and with the black vote becoming an important factor in his native Mississippi, Senator Eastland sought to shed his segregationist image. His move came too late.

In 1978, shortly before announcing his retirement, he met with Aaron E. Henry, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Mississippi, to discuss the possibility of black support in the event he sought re-election. Later Bid for Black Support

Mr. Henry said later that he had told the 73-year-old Senator: ''Your chances of getting support in the black community are poor at best. You have a master-servant philosophy with regard to blacks.''

At that point, Mr. Henry said, ''The old man just burst into tears.''

Not long afterward, Mr. Eastland announced his retirement and, at the end of that Congressional term, returned to his 5,800-acre Delta cotton plantation on the outskirts of the little town of Doddsville in Sunflower County.

At the time of his retirement he had served for six years as President pro tem of the Senate, a post that made him third in the line of succession to the Presidency under three Presidents: Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter.

His final years were relatively quiet, with few public or political appearances. In his rare speeches he would wax nostalgic and sometimes shed a few tears. His once-powerful political organization had collapsed.

As his health declined, he had to give up his daily Scotch and water and the cigar was seldom lit. 'I Voted My Convictions'

Some months ago, Mr. Eastland was asked if he missed political life. He replied: ''Not a bit. Not a bit.'' Asked if he would change anything he had done in his long political career, he said, ''I voted my convictions on everything.''

Those convictions were not limited to his public opposition to desegregation. He also was a stern enemy of communism, both real and imaginary.

In addition to his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he once served as chairman of an Internal Security Subcommittee, using this as a forum to wage unrelenting warfare against what he regarded as the threat of communism in government, schools, newspapers and the arts. He once conducted an investigation of major newspapers, including The New York Times, accusing them of being sympathetic to communism. The inquiry was abandoned.

Another of his prime targets was the Supreme Court, which he sometimes described as ''the greatest single threat to our Constitution.'' He charged that Court decisions, in the years in which Earl Warren served as Chief Justice, favored the Communist Party. Senator Eastland also accused the nation's political liberals of trying to undermine the Constitution and bring socialism to this country.

While he was a lifelong Democrat, he was frequently at odds with the national Democratic Party. He was a severe critic of President Johnson's Great Society programs of the middle 1960's. ɾnd of an Era in Mississippi'

In some of his years in the Senate, his chief press spokesman was Larry Speakes, another Mississippi native who is now chief spokesman at the White House. Mr. Speakes said today that Mr. Eastland's death marked ''the end of an era in Mississippi politics,'' and added: '⟾w men, if any, have placed a more indelible stamp on the state's history.''

Many old friends had expected a 15-story Federal building in the state capital, Jackson, to be named for Mr. Eastland after his retirement from the Senate. But there was black opposition to naming the building for the former Senator.

Finally, last summer, the Federal building was named for Dr. A. H. McCoy, a black dentist who was an early civil rights worker. Several months later a much smaller building nearby, currently a post office but soon to house Federal courts, was named for Senator Eastland. The dedication ceremony was his last major public appearance. He had become little more than a symbol of a vanished age of white supremacy.

It was into that sternly enforced segregation environment that James Oliver Eastland was born on Nov. 28, 1904, in Doddsville. The family later moved to another small town, Forest. Early Rise in Politics

He attended the University of Mississippi, Vanderbilt University and the University of Alabama. After studying law, he was admitted to the Mississippi bar in 1927. A year later, at the age of 24, he was elected to the State House of Representatives, serving until 1932.

After leaving the State Legislature, Mr. Eastland devoted his time to managing his huge cotton plantation but returned to politics when named to the United States Senate.

Surviving are his wife, Elizabeth one son, Woods Eastland of Indianola, Miss. and three daughters, Sue Terney of Indianola, Nell Amos of Dallas, and Anne Howdeshell of Memphis.

The funeral is to be Friday morning in the Methodist Church in Ruleville, Miss., with graveside services later that day at the Eastland family plot in Forest.

Eastland, James (1827&ndash1911)

James Eastland, soldier and legislator, was born on November 1, 1827, in Madison County, Alabama, the son of Alfred and Eliza Wright (Petty) Eastland. The family lived in Tennessee. Around 1843 he moved to Scott County, Mississippi, where he worked as a clerk. In December 1846 he enlisted in an army company there. In January 1847, after mustering into service, he sailed from New Orleans and arrived at the mouth of the Rio Grande for service in the Mexican War. He was a sergeant in the Army of the Rio Grande under Gen. Zachary Taylor and was discharged at Vicksburg at the end of the war. Afterward, he worked as superintendent of construction on the Vicksburg and Meridian Railroad near Brandon, Mississippi. In 1849–50 he was a clerk in a store in Westville. In 1850–51 he was a trader with Indians for Barrington and McAllister in Washington County, Arkansas. On October 30, 1856, Eastland married Emily Butler, daughter of Landon Carter and Elizabeth (Byrn) Butler.

The couple moved to Texas in a train of 100 wagons, settled in Pert in 1856, farmed, raised cattle, and operated a corn mill. Eastland taught at Flinn's Schoolhouse for five months. The Eastlands established Clear Springs Academy for their children and others of the community. In 1862 Eastland was made captain of Company F, Sixteenth Cavalry, Walker's Texas Division. The unit saw action in Louisiana and Arkansas. Bad health forced Eastland to resign in the winter of 1863, and he was discharged at Alexandria, Louisiana. In 1872 he was elected representative of Anderson County. He served in the House of Representatives of the Thirteenth Legislature and was reelected to the Fourteenth Legislature. The Eastlands had ten children. Eastland died on January 13, 1911, and is buried at Olive Branch Cemetery at Brushy Creek, Texas.

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About James Eastland, U.S. Senator

James Oliver Eastland (November 28, 1904 – February 19, 1986) was an American politician from Mississippi who briefly served in the United States Senate as a Democrat in 1941 and again from 1943 until his resignation December 27, 1978. From 1947 to 1978, he served alongside John Stennis, also a Democrat. At the time, Eastland and Stennis were the longest-serving Senate duo in American history, though their record was subsequently surpassed by Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings of South Carolina, who served together for 36 years. Eastland was also the most senior member of the Senate at the time of his retirement in 1978. He compiled a conservative record in support of the conservative coalition.

Eastland was born in Doddsville, the son of Woods Caperton Eastland, a cotton planter, and Alma Teresa (Austin) Eastland. In 1905 he moved with his parents to Forest where he attended public schools. A lawyer in rural Mississippi, he served one term in the state House of Representatives from 1928 to 1932. In the 1930s, he took over the family's Sunflower County plantation, which eventually grew to nearly 6,000 acres (24 km2). Even after entering politics, he considered himself first and foremost a cotton planter.

Eastland was first appointed to the Senate in 1941 by Governor Paul B. Johnson, Sr., following the death of Senator Pat Harrison, but Eastland did not run in the special election for the seat later in the year it was won by 2nd District Congressman Wall Doxey. In 1942, Eastland was one of three candidates who challenged Doxey for a full term. Even though Doxey had the support of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mississippi's senior U.S. Senator, Theodore G. Bilbo, Eastland defeated him in the Democratic primary. In those days, winning the Democratic nomination was tantamount to election in Mississippi, and Eastland returned to the Senate on January 3, 1943.

FDR and Eastland developed a working relationship that enabled Eastland to oppose New Deal programs unpopular in Mississippi while he supported FDR's agenda on many other issues. This type of arrangement became the norm with presidents of both parties during his tenure in the Senate. As a result he was able to provide federal largess for Mississippi (including the Tennessee–Tombigbee Waterway and federal relief after Hurricane Camille) throughout his career.

In 1963, Eastland campaigned in Mississippi for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Paul B. Johnson, Jr., of Hattiesburg, the son of the governor who had first appointed Eastland to the Senate. Republican state chairman Wirt Yerger, a businessman from Jackson, criticized Eastland for missing key votes in the Senate while undertaking political duties. Johnson defeated the Republican standard-bearer, Rubel Phillips, a lawyer originally from Alcorn County. In time, however, the GOP gained parity if not supremacy to the Democrats in Mississippi. In 1966, Wirt Yerger resigned as party chairman and considered challenging Eastland for reelection until freshman U.S. Representative Prentiss Walker of Mize entered the race. Years later, Yerger said that Walker's decision to relinquish his House seat after one term for the vagaries of a Senate race against Eastland was "very devastating" to the growth of the Mississippi GOP. Walker was in turn succeeded by long-term Democratic Representative G. V. "Sonny" Montgomery of Meridian.

He was re-elected five times, facing substantive GOP opposition only twice. Prentiss Walker, the first Republican to represent Mississippi at the federal level since Reconstruction, ran against him. 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. As is often the case when a one-term representative runs against a popular incumbent senator or governor, Walker was soundly defeated.

In 1972, Eastland was reelected with 58% of the vote in his "closest" contest ever. His Republican opponent, Gil Carmichael, an automobile dealer from Meridian, might have been aided by President Richard Nixon's landslide reelection in forty-nine states, including 78% of Mississippi's popular vote. However, Nixon worked "under the table" to support Eastland, who was a long-time personal friend. Nixon and other Republicans provided little support for Carmichael to avoid alienating conservative Southern Democrats though the GOP did work to elect two House candidates who later became influential U.S. senators, Trent Lott and Thad Cochran. Eastland recognized that Nixon would handily carry Mississippi and did not endorse the national Democratic candidate, George McGovern of South Dakota. Four years later, Eastland supported the candidacy of fellow Southern Democrat Jimmy Carter of Georgia, rather than Nixon's heir, Gerald R. Ford, Jr.

In 1956, Eastland was appointed as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Under the Senate's seniority rules, he was next in line for the chairmanship and there was no significant effort to deny him the post, which he held until his retirement.

During his last Senate term, he served as President pro tempore of the Senate since he was the longest-serving Democrat in the Senate.

Views on civil rights and race

Eastland is best known for his strong support of states' rights and for his opposition to the civil rights movement.

When the Supreme Court issued its decision in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas 347 US 483 (1954), Eastland, like most Southern Democrats, denounced it. In a speech given in Senatobia, Mississippi on August 12, 1955, he said: "On May 17, 1954, the Constitution of the United States was destroyed because of the Supreme Court's decision. You are not obliged to obey the decisions of any court which are plainly fraudulent sociological considerations."

Eastland did not mince words when it came to his feelings about the races mingling. He testified to the Senate 10 days after the Brown decision came down:

The Southern institution of racial segregation or racial separation was the correct, self-evident truth which arose from the chaos and confusion of the Reconstruction period. Separation promotes racial harmony. It permits each race to follow its own pursuits, and its own civilization. Segregation is not discrimination. Mr. President, it is the law of nature, it is the law of God, that every race has both the right and the duty to perpetuate itself. All free men have the right to associate exclusively with members of their own race, free from governmental interference, if they so desire.[citation needed]

When three civil rights workers Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman went missing in Mississippi on June 21, 1964, he reportedly told President Lyndon Johnson that the incident was a hoax and there was no Ku Klux Klan in the state, surmising that the three had gone to Chicago:

Johnson once said that, "Jim Eastland could be standing right in the middle of the worst Mississippi flood ever known, and he'd say the niggers caused it, helped out by the Communists."

Eastland, along with Senators Robert Byrd, John McClellan, Olin D. Johnston, Sam Ervin, and Strom Thurmond, made unsuccessful attempts to block Thurgood Marshall's confirmation to the Federal Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. Often, offensive statements related to race were attributed to Eastland during this period even though they may have been made by other speakers. Although Eastland was a staunch segregationist, he refrained from the most extreme rhetoric that characterized other civil rights opponents.

Eastland, like most of his southern colleagues, opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Its passage caused many Mississippi Democrats to openly support Barry Goldwater's presidential bid that year, but Eastland did not publicly oppose the election of Lyndon Johnson. In fact, four years earlier he had quietly supported John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign. Although Goldwater was heavily defeated by incumbent Lyndon Johnson, he carried Mississippi with 87% of the popular vote (his best showing in any state) due to his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Eastland was often at odds with Johnson's policy on civil rights, but their friendship remained close and Johnson often sought Eastland's support and guidance on other issues, such as the failed Chief Justice nomination of Abe Fortas in 1969.[6] In the 1950s, Johnson was one of three Senators from the South who didn't sign the Southern Manifesto, as did Eastland and most Southern Senators.

Contrary to popular opinion, Eastland did not use the appointment of Harold Cox to a federal judgeship as leverage against John F. Kennedy's appointment of Thurgood Marshall to a federal judgeship. Cox was nominated by Kennedy more than a year before Marshall even came up for consideration, and his nomination resulted from a personal conversation between Cox and Kennedy. The president, not wanting to upset the powerful chairman of the Judiciary Committee, generally acceded to Eastland's requests on judicial confirmations in Mississippi, keeping white segregationists in control of the Federal courts in the state.

During his later years, Eastland avoided associating himself with racist stands in the face of increasing black political power in Mississippi. During this period Eastland hired black Mississippians to serve on the staff of the Judiciary Committee. Eastland noted to aides that his earlier position on race was due primarily to the political realities of the times, i.e., as a major political figure in a southern state in the 1950s and 1960s. He considered running for reelection in 1978 and sought black support. He won the support of civil rights leader and NAACP president Aaron Henry, but he ultimately decided not to seek re-election in 1978. Due in part to the independent candidacy of Charles Evers siphoning off votes from the Democratic candidate, Republican 4th District Representative Thad Cochran won the race to succeed him. Eastland resigned two days after Christmas to give Cochran a leg up in seniority. After his retirement, he remained friends with Aaron Henry and sent contributions to the NAACP, but he publicly stated that he "didn't regret a thing" in his public career.

Eastland served on a subcommittee investigating the Communist Party. As chairman of the Internal Security Subcommittee, he subpoenaed some employees of The New York Times, which was at the time taking a strong position on its editorial page that Mississippi should adhere to the Brown decision. The Times countered in its January 5, 1956 editorial:

Our faith is strong that long after Senator Eastland and his present subcommittee are gone, long after segregation has lost its final battle in the South, long after all that was known as McCarthyism is a dim, unwelcome memory, long after the last Congressional committee has learned that it cannot tamper successfully with a free press, The New York Times will be speaking for [those] who make it, and only for [those] who make it, and speaking, without fear or favor, the truth as it sees it.

Eastland subsequently allowed the subcommittee to become dormant as issues such as the threat of Communism receded.

In his last years in the Senate, Eastland was recognized by most Senators as one who knew how to wield the legislative powers he had accumulated. Many Senators, including liberals who opposed many of his conservative positions, acknowledged the fairness with which he chaired the Judiciary Committee, sharing staff and authority that chairmen of other committees jealously held for themselves. He maintained personal ties with stalwart liberal Democrats such as Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden and Phil Hart, even though they disagreed on many issues. Following Johnson's retirement from the White House, Eastland frequently visited Johnson at his Texas ranch.

Eastland died on February 19, 1986. The law library at Ole Miss is named after Eastland. This has caused some controversy in Mississippi given Eastland's earlier racist positions, but the University benefited financially from Eastland's many friends and supporters, as it has done from other political figures of Eastland's era.

Senate President pro tempore

James Eastland is the most recent President pro tempore to have served during a vacancy in the Vice Presidency. He did so twice during the tumultuous 1970s, first from October to December 1973, following Spiro Agnew's resignation until the swearing-in of Gerald Ford as Vice President, and then from August to December 1974, from the time that Ford became President until Nelson Rockefeller was sworn in as Vice President. During these periods Eastland was second in the presidential line of succession, behind only Speaker of the House Carl Albert.

On January 21, 1948, Senator James Eastland of Mississippi led a successful campaign to block an anti-lynching bill, which would have held members of lynch mobs and local law enforcement officers accountable for their role in racial terror lynchings. Before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing, Senator Eastland—an ardent segregationist and supporter of white supremacy—proclaimed that “time has cured” lynchings and refused to acknowledge the role that law enforcement had played for decades in the lynchings of thousands of Black Americans.

Senator Eastland, a wealthy plantation owner who served as U.S. senator from Mississippi from 1942 to 1978, built his political career on promoting white supremacy, defending racial segregation, and blocking civil rights bills. His campaign to block anti-lynching legislation in the Senate was supported by dozens of Southern white politicians who successfully filibustered every anti-lynching bill since the first one was introduced in 1918.

At the January 21 hearing, Senator Eastland launched unfounded attacks on the constitutionality of the bill, which would make lynching a federal crime, and disparaged the U.S. Supreme Court as “not judicially honest.” In contending there was no need for an anti-lynching bill, Senator Eastland incorrectly declared that “we don’t have any lynchings now.” Though the number of racial terror lynchings had declined by 1948, more than four dozen lynchings were recorded during the 1940s, including at least six in the senator’s home state.

Senator Eastland’s attempt to downplay the history and continuing threat of lynching was particularly blatant given that Mississippi is among the states with the highest number of documented racial terror lynchings from 1877 to 1950, and considering Senator Eastland’s own family ties to that violence. In 1904, the same year Eastland was born, his father, Woods Eastland, led a lynch mob that captured and brutally lynched a Black man named Luther Holbert and an unidentifiable Black woman without trial or due process of law. The two lynching victims were mutilated and burned alive before a crowd of 600 picnicking spectators, and no one was ever punished for their deaths. Mr. Holbert had been accused of killing the future senator’s plantation-owning uncle, for whom he was named.

As the federal government refused to protect Black Americans, racial terror lynchings remained an ongoing threat to Black communities for nearly a century. Victims of racial terror lynchings were hanged, shot, stabbed, drowned, and burned alive, killed by mobs who never faced prosecution for their actions. It was not uncommon for lynch mobs to seize their victims from jails, prisons, courtrooms, or police custody, and in many cases, law enforcement officials were complicit or active participants in lynchings.

The anti-lynching bill that came before the Senate in 1948 proposed to hold law enforcement accountable for lynchings of people who were in the custody of law enforcement. Due to the efforts of Southern white politicians like Senator Eastland, this bill failed. Out of more than 200 anti-lynching bills introduced inCongress, only three passed the House and none passed the Senate until 2019.

In 2005, the Senate formally apologized for failing to pass anti-lynching legislation, but in 2020, an anti-lynching bill that overwhelmingly passed in the House was stalled and ultimately blocked in the Senate by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Representative Bobby Rush re-introduced anti-lynching legislation in January 2021.

James Oliver Eastland

James Oliver Eastland (1904-1986) was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1928. Eastland was appointed to fill the U.S. Senate seat of Byron Harrison upon his death in June 1941, and was elected to that seat in 1942. He served as Senate President Pro Tempore 1972-1978 and chair to the Judiciary Committee. Twice in the 1970s he was second in the line of presidential succession. Sen. James O. Eastland retired in 1978 and is buried here in the Eastern Cemetery.

Erected 2010 by Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Cemeteries & Burial Sites. In addition, it is included in the Mississippi State Historical Marker Program series list. A significant historical month for this entry is June 1941.

Location. 32° 21.909′ N, 89° 27.444′ W. Marker is in Forest, Mississippi, in Scott County. Marker is on Old State Highway 21 south of North 10th Street, on the right when traveling west. Marker located at northeast end of cemetery. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Forest MS 39074, United States of America. Touch for directions.

Other nearby markers. At least 2 other markers are within 8 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup (approx. 1.2 miles away) Lake Railroad Depot (approx. 7.7 miles away).

Luther Holbert and Wife: Burned at Stake for Allegedly Murdering Two Men

Luther Holbert and his wife, both African-Americans, were burned at the stake by a mob of more than 1,000 people for killing James Eastland, a prominent white planter, and John Carr, another black man on the Eastland plantation, two miles from Doddsville, Mississippi. The lynching of Holbert and his wife resulted in eight people losing their lives and over 200 men and two packs of bloodhounds chasing across four counties to find the accused.

The killing of Eastland, Carr, and Winters occurred on a Wednesday at the Eastland’s plantation. Holbert and Winters were in Carr’s cabin when Eastland entered and ordered Holbert to leave the plantation. It was alleged that during this time, Holbert opened fire on Eastland, fatally wounding him and killing Carr. Eastland returned the fire and killed Winters. News of what had taken place traveled fast. A Doddsville posse was immediately formed and headed straight toward Eastland’s plantation.

The posse arrived in town shooting at every negro insight, an unknown negro was killed. But by the time the posse had arrived Holbert and his wife had fled. Other posses were formed at Greenville, Ittaben, Cleveland and other points and the pursuit of Holbert and his wife started with horses and bloodhounds. The chase, which started on Wednesday morning, was continued until late into the night, when Holbert and his wife, were worn out from traveling over 100 miles on foot through canebrakes and swamps, they were found asleep in a heavy belt of timber three miles east of Sheppardstown and captured. The two were taken back to Doddsville and burned at the stake by a large mob in the shadow of a black church. There was never an indication that Holbert’s wife had any part of the crime.

The newspapers read:
When the two Negroes were captured, they were tied to trees and while the funeral pyres were being prepared, they were forced to hold out their hands while one finger at a time was chopped off. The fingers were distributed as souvenirs. The ears of the murderers were cut off. Holbert was beaten severely, his skull was fractured and one of his eyes, knocked out with a stick, hung by a shred from the socket. “Some of the mob used a large corkscrew to bore into the flesh of the man and woman. It was applied to their arms, legs and body, then pulled out, the spirals tearing out big pieces of raw, quivering flesh every time it was withdrawn.”

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