Political scope has changedPublished 10:46pm Tuesday, August 16, 2011
The political picture of Alabama 50 years ago was quite different from the one you see today. In 1961 we were on the cusp of beginning a decade of turmoil and political strife. The 1960s were dominated by George Wallace and the race issue. The early fall of 1961 was the quiet before the storm. Bear Bryant won his first national championship that fall. John Kennedy was president. Our entire congressional delegation was made up of all Democrats.
Fast forward 50 years and what a sea of change. Not only has our delegation on the Potomac been completely reversed on a partisan page, so has the entire Deep South. In 1961 all 11 of our members of congress were all white male Democrats. Today eight out of nine of our senators and congressmen are Republicans. In addition, two of our nine members are female and one of the females is an African American.
In 1961 there was a distinct path to congress. Practically every one of our congressmen and senators took the same path to political power and a Washington career.
First, they were all born and raised in Alabama. They were also born and grew up in the same county from which they were elected to congress. They attended the University of Alabama and became members of a fraternity, which was a member of the political party known as the Machine at the Capstone.
They then went on to law school at the University of Alabama and came back home to practice law in their hometown until they had an opening to run for congress.
At that time our two senators, Lister Hill and John Sparkman, were the most powerful and revered tandem in the nation.
They had seniority, power and prestige. Both chaired major committees and were held in very high esteem in Washington.
Sparkman and Hill were both men of substance and character. Both epitomized the aforementioned route to power described earlier. However, they came from different roots.
Lister Hill was the scion of a wealthy and prominent Montgomery family.
John Sparkman was 10 years younger than Hill but took the same University of Alabama, Machine path to power. Unlike Hill, who was born into privilege, Sparkman was the perfect Horatio Alger story. He was born on a small farm in Morgan County and worked his way through school shoveling coal for the furnaces that warmed the campus.
He was president of the student government and of his fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha. He was also a Phi Beta Kappa.
Before I leave Sparkman, it should be noted that the swtate’s second largest city is now Huntsville. In 1946, when Sparkman went to the Senate, Huntsville was a sleepy cotton town with about 15,000 people.
This growth and prosperity is due to the Redstone Arsenal and NASA. John Sparkman is the reason that Huntsville became the research center for NASA and home of the Redstone Arsenal.
It would not be improper or unfitting if the folks in Madison County were to decide to name their city Sparkmanville rather than Huntsville.