Steve Flowers is Alabama’s premier political journalist and commentator. He is also considered by many to be the preeminent authority on Alabama politics and Alabama political history.

May 4, 2016

Weekly Column This Week in Alabama Politics

At this time of year Washington, D.C. is a beautiful place to visit. The city is aglow with the blooming of the cherry blossom trees. The cherry blossoms offer a glorious scene as you stroll down the mall and look toward our nation’s capital. This scene has been glimpsed by tourists and visitors for over a century.

Each year the National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates a 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Japan to the United States. The current Cherry Blossom Festival has grown tremendously. It is now one of our nation’s greatest springtime celebrations. The first festival was held in 1927, and it has continued to grow over the years. The festival grew to two weeks beginning in 1944. In 2012, the festival expanded to five weeks to honor the 100 year anniversary of the gift of the trees.

Over the years, millions have participated in the events and viewed the flowering cherry trees. Today more than 1.5 million people visit Washington to admire the blossoming cherry trees in our nation’s capital.

Last April I spent several days walking the Potomac and enjoying the festival and cherry blossoms. It was indeed a magnificent sight. As I walked past the Jefferson Memorial and into the heart of the blossoms that surround the tidal basin, my mind wandered back in time and I began to think about the blossoming relationship that the gift of the trees signified between Japan and the U.S. In 1915, we reciprocated by giving the Japanese an equal number of dogwood trees. Little did we know that 24 years later the Japanese would attack us on a Sunday morning in December of 1941.

World War II was the most epic war in our nation’s history. Our nation united like no time in our history in response to the war. The World War II years and the two decades after the War was a magical time to serve in Congress. Many of the images we have of Congress were established during the decades of 1941-1961. Many of the legendary icons of congressional history reigned during this time.

Congressional power was immense during those years and at the front and center of this pinnacle of power was our Alabama delegation. We were the most powerful state in the nation when it came to leadership and seniority. Our representatives and senators not only had power based on their seniority, they were also very well respected and erudite gentlemen.

Gentlemen is the proper description because all ten members of our congressional delegation were men. Both senators and all eight of our congressmen were white male Democrats. If you look back to an early spring day in 1964, you would see a senatorial team from Alabama that was the envy of every state in the nation. Our senatorial duo of Lister Hill and John Sparkman was unparalleled.

Strolling along the Potomac from Alabama at that time was an eight member congressional delegation that boasted of over 120 years of seniority in Washington. These gentlemen were similar in backgrounds. It is as though they were born planning their paths to Congress. Amazingly all eight graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law and were all attorneys by profession.

On a Sunday afternoon in mid-April you would likely see some of our delegation casually strolling by the Jefferson Memorial toward the tidal basin admiring the brilliant cherry blossoms in bloom. Among the group were the likes of George Andrews, George Grant, Albert Rains, Bob Jones, Carl Elliot, Armistead Seldon, Kenneth Roberts and George Huddleston.

Little did they know that six months later their stellar congressional careers would be snuffed out by straight ticket republican voting in Alabama. The tidal wave that swept them out of office was spawned by Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1964. White Southerners were so incensed that they voted not only for Goldwater but every other Republican on the ballot. All of our delegation voted against the Civil Rights Act. However, it did not matter. White southern voters took no prisoners. African Americans did not vote in 1964. Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act the next year in 1965.

The only members of our delegation to survive the Goldwater landslide tidal wave were Bob Jones, Armistead Selden and George Andrews. If Hill or Sparkman had been on the ballot that year they would probably not have persevered the onslaught. Alabama lost over 100 years of seniority in one fell swoop.

See you next week.