John Sparkman

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The Honorable
John Sparkman
Alabama Sen. John Sparkman.jpg
United States Senator
from Alabama
In office
November 6, 1946 – January 3, 1979
Preceded by George R. Swift
Succeeded by Howell Heflin
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
In office
January 3, 1975 – January 3, 1979
Preceded by J. William Fulbright
Succeeded by Frank Church
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
In office
January 3, 1967 – January 3, 1975
Preceded by A. Willis Robertson
Succeeded by William Proxmire
Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Small Business
In office
January 3, 1955 – January 3, 1967
Preceded by Edward John Thye
Succeeded by George Smathers
In office
February 20, 1950 – January 3, 1953
Preceded by Edward John Thye
Succeeded by George Smathers
11th Majority Whip of the United States House of Representatives
In office
January 1, 1946 – November 6, 1946
Leader John W. McCormack
Preceded by Robert Ramspeck
Succeeded by Leslie C. Arends
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Alabama's 8th district
In office
January 3, 1937 – November 6, 1946
Preceded by Archibald Hill Carmichael
Succeeded by Robert E. Jones, Jr.
Personal details
Born John Jackson Sparkman
December 20, 1899
Hartselle, Alabama, USA
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Huntsville, Alabama
Resting place Maple Hill Cemetery in Huntsville, Alabama
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Ivo Sparkman
Alma mater University of Alabama
University of Alabama School of Law
Religion Methodist[1]
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Unit Student Army Training Corps, World War I

John Jackson Sparkman (December 20, 1899 – November 16, 1985) was an American politician from the U.S. state of Alabama. A Southern Democrat, Sparkman served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate from 1937 until 1979. He was the Democratic Party's nominee for Vice President as Adlai Stevenson's running mate in the 1952 U.S. presidential election.

Early life and education

Sparkman, a son of Whitten Joseph and Julia Mitchell (Kent) Sparkman, was born on a farm near Hartselle, in Morgan County, Alabama.[2] He grew up in a four-room cabin with his eleven brothers and sisters. His father was a tenant farmer and doubled as the county's deputy sheriff. As a child, John Sparkman worked on his father's farm picking cotton.[3]

He attended a one-room elementary school in rural Morgan County, then walked four miles every day to his high school.[4] Sparkman graduated from Morgan County High School in 1917 and enrolled in the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.[5] During World War I, he was a member of the Students Army Training Corps .[6] Sparkman worked shoveling coal in the university's boiler room to help pay for his education.[7] He worked on the The Crimson White (the university's newspaper), becoming the paper's editor-in-chief, and served as his class's student-body president.[8] Sparkman was awarded a teaching fellowship in history and political science,[9] he became a founding member of the Gamma Alpha Chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha in 1921, and was chosen as the university's "most outstanding senior" the same year.[8] He received his Bachelor of Arts in 1921, and his bachelor of laws from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1923. In 1924, Sparkman earned his master's degree in history, writing his master thesis titled "The Kolb-Oates Campaign of 1894," on former Confederate colonel William C. Oates's 1894 campaign for Governor of Alabama.[10]

Legal career

From left: President Harry S. Truman, Senator Sparkman (1952 Vice Presidential nominee) and Adlai Stevenson II (Governor, 1952 Presidential nominee) in the Oval Office

Sparkman briefly worked as a high school teacher before he was admitted to the Alabama State Bar in 1925. He commenced his practice in Huntsville.[11] He was also an instructor at Huntsville College from 1925 to 1928.[12] He was appointed as a U.S. Commissioner (magistrate judge) for Alabama's northern judicial district, serving from 1930 to 1931.[2]

Sparkman was involved in many civic organizations, including serving as the district governor of the Kiwanis Club of Huntsville in 1930,[13] and later serving as the president of the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce.[14] A Freemason, he was life member of Helion Lodge#1 in Huntsville.[15] He was also member of the Huntsville Scottish Rite bodies and a recipient of the Knight Commander Court of Honor (KCCH).

Political career

In 1970 Wernher von Braun (right) was honored for his career in Huntsville, Alabama, with the celebration of "Wernher von Braun Day." Among those participating were Sparkman (center) and Alabama Governor Albert Brewer (left).

After Representative Archibald Hill Carmichael announced his retirement in 1936, Sparkman ran in the Democratic primary for the open seat. A teacher of the Big Brother Class at the First Methodist Church in Huntsville, his campaign was successfully launched through fundraising, campaigning and advertising by students in his Sunday class.[14] Sparkman was elected to the United States House of Representatives in the 1936 election, defeating Union Party candidate, architect Harry J. Frahn[16] with 99.7% of the vote.[17] He was reelected in 1938, 1940, 1942, and 1944, serving in the 75th, 76th, 77th, 78th, and 79th Congresses. In 1946 he served as House Majority Whip.[18] He was reelected in the 1946 House election to the 80th Congress and on the same date was elected to the United States Senate in a special election to fill the vacancy caused by the death of John H. Bankhead II, for the term ending on January 3, 1949. Sparkman resigned from the House of Representatives immediately following the election and began his Senate term on November 6, 1946. He served until his retirement on January 3, 1979, having not sought reelection in 1978.

He was chairman of the Select Committee on Small Business (81st, 82nd, and 84th through 90th Congresses), co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Inaugural Arrangements (86th Congress), chairman of the Committee on Banking and Currency (90th and 91st Congresses), co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Defense Production (91st and 93rd Congresses), Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs (92nd and 93rd Congresses), and a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations (94th and 95th Congress).

The 1943 Sparkman Act, which allowed women physicians to be commissioned as officers in the armed forces, was named for him, after lobbying by Dr. Emily Dunning Barringer.

In 1949, Sparkman was instrumental in convincing the United States Department of the Army to transfer the missile development activities from Fort Bliss, Texas, to Redstone Arsenal. This brought Wernher von Braun and the German Operation Paperclip scientists and engineers to Huntsville, forming the foundation to what eventual became the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

Sparkman was a representative of the United States at the Fifth General Assembly of the United Nations in 1950.[1]

In 1952, he was the Democratic Party's nominee for Vice President, running on the ticket of Adlai Stevenson. However, the election was won by the Republican candidate, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Sparkman was slated against Richard M. Nixon, a senatorial colleague from California.

In 1956, Sparkman was one of 82 representatives and 19 senators who signed the Southern Manifesto in opposition to the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education and racial integration. In 1956, the Democrats did not renominate Sparkman as Stevenson's vice presidential running mate, opting instead for U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver of neighboring Tennessee (partly because he had refused to sign).[19] He voted against HR 6127, the Civil Rights Act of 1957.[20]

Later elections

In 1960, Sparkman defeated the Republican Julian E. Elgin of Montgomery, who received 164,868 votes (29.8 percent) in the Senate contest. Six years later, Elgin ran again against Sparkman as an Independent but polled few votes. In 1966, Sparkman defeated another Republican, John Grenier, the former state GOP chairman and an attorney from Birmingham, who polled 39 percent of the vote.

Initially Grenier had planned to run for governor in 1966, and James D. Martin was poised to oppose John Sparkman, as Martin had four years earlier against Sparkman's colleague, J. Lister Hill. However, The New York Times predicted toppling the "tight one-party oligarchy" would be a herculean task. Though Sparkman trailed in some polls, The Times speculated that he would rebound because Alabamians were accustomed to voting straight Democratic tickets.[21]

In his last Senate race in 1972, Sparkman easily defeated President Nixon's former Postmaster General, the Republican businessman Winton M. Blount of Montgomery, originally from Union Springs. Blount, running without a specific endorsement from President Nixon, first had to dispatch Republican intraparty rivals James D. Martin and state Representative Bert Nettles.[22]

On October 30, 1977, Sparkman became the longest serving senator in Alabama state history.[23]

On November 16, 1985, John Sparkman died of a heart attack at Big Springs Manor Nursing Home in Huntsville, Alabama. He was eighty-five.[24] Survived by his wife and daughter, he was interred in Huntsville at the historic Maple Hill Cemetery.

Sparkman High School in Harvest, Alabama, Sparkman School in Somerville, Alabama, Sparkman Drive in Huntsville are all named in his honor.

Electoral history

1972 Alabama United States Senatorial Election

John Sparkman (D) (inc.) 62.3%
Winton M. Blount (R) 33.1%

1966 Alabama United States Senatorial Election

John Sparkman (D) (inc.) 60.1%
John Grenier (R) 39%

1960 Alabama United States Senatorial Election

John Sparkman (D) (inc.) 70.2%
Julian Elgin (R) 29.8%

1954 Alabama United States Senatorial Election

John Sparkman (D) (inc.) 82.5%
J. Foy Guin, Jr. (R) 17.5%

1952 United States Presidential Election (Vice President's seat)

Richard Nixon (R) 55.2%
John Sparkman (D) 44.3%
Charlotta Bass (Progressive) 0.2%
Enoch Holtwick (Prohibition) 0.1%

1948 Alabama United States Senatorial Election

John Sparkman (D) (inc.) 84%
John G. Parsons (R) 16%

1946 Alabama United States Senatorial Election

John Sparkman (D) Unopposed


  1. 1.0 1.1 Samford University (April 21, 2013). "John Jackson Sparkman 1899-1985".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 University of Alabama at Birmingham; Temnant S. McWillfams, James A. Lopez (July 1982). "Public Career of John Sparkman" (PDF).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Alabama Department of Archives and History (March 14, 2007). "JOHN SPARKMAN The following biographical sketch was compiled at the time of induction into the Academy in 1969".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Associated Press (November 16, 1985). "FORMER SENATOR, VP CANDIDATE DEAD AT 86".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Samuel L. Webb (January 24, 2008). "John J. Sparkman".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Rome News-Tribune (August 3, 1954). "Steady Rise Has Marked John Sparkman's Career".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. University of Georgia Press (2008). Carry It On: The War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, 1964-1972.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 The Gadsden Times (April 10, 1966). "Senator Sparkman Man Of The Hour".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. United States Government Printing Office (September 20, 1994). "DEDICATION OF THE JOHN J. SPARKMAN CENTER FOR MISSILE EXCELLENCE".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Lynda Brown (1998). Alabama history: an annotated bibliography.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Alabama State Bar (April 20, 2013). "John J. Sparkman (1899-1985)".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. United States Government Printing Office (2005). Andrew R. Dodge, Betty K. Koed (ed.). Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-2005.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Kiwanis Club Huntsville, Alabama (April 21, 2013). "Past Presidents Kiwanis Club of Huntsville" (PDF).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. 14.0 14.1 The Associated Press (August 3, 1952). The Palm Beach Post (ed.). "From Log House To Senate Sparkman Story".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Universal Masonry Famous Masons".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Alabama Department of Archives and History (September 13, 2012). "THE ALABAMA HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION Historical Marker Program Colbert County".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Clerk of the United States House of Representatives (December 18, 1936). "STATISTICS OF THE CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION ON NOVEMBER 3, 1936" (PDF). Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. United States House of Representatives Office of the Historian. "Democratic Whips (1899 to present)".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Crime Fighting Senator Kefauver Dies Unexpectedly" The Associated Press, as reported in the Reading Eagle, Reading, Pennsylvania, August 10, 1963. Accessed July 18, 2012.
  21. The New York Times, October 2, 1965, p. 1; October 14, 1965, p. 40
  22. Billy Hathorn, "A Dozen Years in the Political Wilderness: The Alabama Republican Party, 1966–1978", Gulf Coast Historical Review, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Spring 1994), pp. 33-34
  23. "STATES IN THE SENATE Alabama". April 21, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Associated Press (November 18, 1985). Bangor Daily News (ed.). "John Sparkman, former senator".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Writings by Sparkman

  • Sparkman, John. "Checks and balances in American foreign policy." Ind. LJ 52 (1976): 433. online
  • Sparkman, John. "The Problems of Multi-State Taxation of Interstate Commerce Income." American Bar Association Journal (1960): 375-378.
  • Sparkman, John. "Multinational Corporation and Foreign Investment, The." Mercer L. Rev. 27 (1975): 381.

External links

A history of Senator Sparkman's career in the House of Representatives was written in 1990 by Dr. Henry Walker.

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Archibald Hill Carmichael
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Alabama's 8th congressional district

Succeeded by
Robert E. Jones, Jr.
United States Senate
Preceded by
George R. Swift
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Alabama
Served alongside: J. Lister Hill, James B. Allen,
Maryon Pittman Allen, Donald W. Stewart
Succeeded by
Howell T. Heflin
Political offices
Preceded by
Robert Ramspeck
House Majority Whip
Succeeded by
Leslie Cornelius Arends
Preceded by
Edward J. Thye
Chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee
Succeeded by
George Smathers
Preceded by
A. Willis Robertson
Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee
Succeeded by
William Proxmire
Preceded by
J. William Fulbright
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Succeeded by
Frank Church
Party political offices
Preceded by
Robert Ramspeck
House Democratic Whip
Succeeded by
John William McCormack
Preceded by
Alben W. Barkley
Democratic vice presidential nominee
Succeeded by
Estes Kefauver