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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George A. LeMaistre, April 29, 1985. Interview A-0358. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Alabama politicians strategize at the Spanish Inn

LeMaistre describes a group of law students who met to discuss politics in the 1920s and 1930s at a place called the Spanish Inn. They maintained their ties to one another, and number of them went on to successful political careers. Their goal was to reapportion representation in Alabama to wrest power from "the black belt." LeMaistre notes that until representation was reapportioned according to population, it was hard to get anything done in the legislature.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George A. LeMaistre, April 29, 1985. Interview A-0358. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Yeah, and we're talking about the late 20s and early 30s.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Almost 15 years before that. That group was very much interested in student politics, but they just kinda carried that over into public affairs.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
I guess the distinguishing quality of that group was that they kept in contact. As one would graduate, he'd go down home and start doing the same there that he had done here, working up a group to go out and solicit votes and influence elections. If you were to take the people who were involved in political elections, particularly the senatorial elections, from 1945 on to 1960, you'd see that everyone of those boys who who had been at the Spanish Inn was active somewhere. Some of them had their own jobs—people like Bob Jones and Carl Elliott and Kenneth Roberts. They had already been elected but the others maintained close contact with each other and with the people they intentionally set out to influence. They went out to change politics and apparently they did a pretty good job.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Now when you say "to change politics," what were they changing? Any basic philosophy?
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
They didn't have any big issues. I don't think they were going out to disfranchise the blacks or anything like that. What they were doing was trying to get the power away from the black belt. The people of that area had just about said who would and who would not hold public office in this state and they could pretty well make it stick, because the voting was all warped in their favor.
ALLEN J. GOING:
They controlled the legislature and wouldn't reapportion.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
I don't recall when the first reapportionment was, even though the constitution calls for it every ten years, there hadn't been a reapportionment for fifty or sixty years before the first.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Folsom tried it.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
He tried it and failed, and the Justice Department filed a suit.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Yeah, it wasn't until up into the 1960s.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
You recall that they ordered the legislature to provide for some sort of reapportionment, and instead of doing that they came up with a scheme to have everyone run from the state at large.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Wasn't that when Alabama lost a congressman?
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Right, they had to redistrict then.
ALLEN J. GOING:
After the 1960 census.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
I think it was. They lost one then and we've lost one since then. We had nine, that brought it down to eight, and now we have seven. But the legislature never did take the initiative and re-district the congressional districts.
ALLEN J. GOING:
That generalization hasn't been made about Alabama that the conservatives commonly referred to as the "black belt," and "big mules" had that tight grip on the legislature but not so much on the two senators or certainly not all the congressmen and not even the governor.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Well, if you'll recall in those days Barbour County had two senators . .
ALLEN J. GOING:
State senators.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Tuscaloosa had two senators. Birmingham with a population five times as great as the two of them also just had two senators. So representation was nowhere near proportional or equally divided. It wasn't until after the one man-one vote decision that we really got anythng done by the legislature.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Yeah, that's right. I was trying to think in terms of right there at about 1929 or 30. This group was beginning to graduate and go out to the state. That came right at the time of the controversy around Heflin.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
That was two years after Heflin had deserted the party.
ALLEN J. GOING:
In 1928.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
He tried to come back in, but they actually read him out; wouldn't let him qualify.
ALLEN J. GOING:
He couldn't run in the primary. That would have been in 1930 when he would have been up for re-election.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Then when the depression came along, this group of—most of them young lawyers—really didn't have enough practice to keep them busy. So they managed to stay busy politicing. They would work at this sort of thing. Each one of them would get himself some little job. Kenneth Roberts, as I remember, had an assistant district attorney job or something like that, Bob Jones had a little county judge thing or something of that sort. Just enough to keep the body and soul together, but it wasn't long before they were getting themselves into position to run for office. Of course running for office was the best way to become known. There was no way to raise money like they do now, and set up an advertising campaign. You announced and then just went out and tried to shake every hand in the county. I would guess that the budget that Roberts and Jones and Carl Elliott used to run for office the first time was probably the cheapest race they ever ran. Later on each one would try to raise money to stave off opposition or something of that sort. I would guess also that that young group of recent Alabama graduates was about as influential a group as was ever turned out here over a period of two or three years.