The year was 1962. John Kennedy was President. Camelot was in full bloom. Forgotten was the fact that Kennedy’s father Joseph, who had vowed to buy the Presidency for his son, had in fact done just that. In collusion with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, they had shifted just enough votes in Chicago wards to tilt the pivotal swing state of Illinois to Kennedy over Nixon. The entire election hinged on Illinois. It was days before the final count was in because Daley had to make sure he had enough votes before they counted Nixon out.

The Congress was democratically controlled only because the south was solidly Democratic. The bloc of senators and congressmen from the south were all Democratic and because of their enormous seniority they controlled both houses of congress, especially the senate. The issue of Civil Rights was a tempest set to blow off the Capitol dome. Kennedy was under intense pressure to pass major civil rights legislation. However, he was up against a stone wall to get it past the powerful bloc of southern senators. The southerners did not have the number of votes, but they definitely had the power and resolve.

Race was the only issue in the south. George Wallace was riding the race issue to the Governor’s office for his first term in 1962. The white southern voter was determined to stand firm against integration and was poised to cast their vote for the most ardent segregationist on the ballot.

Our congressional delegation was all Democratic. All nine congressmen and both senators, John Sparkman and Lister Hill, had come to Washington during the Roosevelt New Deal era and were considered somewhat progressive. They had been the authors of legislation to help poor southern whites. They were all instrumental in providing health care for the rural south, federal aid for college education and, of course, the coveted TVA for rural north Alabama.

Sparkman and Hill had a combined 40 years of senate service. Lister Hill had gone to the U.S. Senate in 1938. He had served four six-year terms and had become a national celebrity during his 24 years in the senate. He was up for election to his fifth six-year term. It was expected to be a coronation. He was reserved, aristocratic and almost felt like he was above campaigning. Hill was also soft on the race issue. He was a progressive who refused to race bait.

Out of nowhere a handsome, articulate, young Gadsden businessman named Jim Martin appeared on the scene. Martin was 42, born in Tarrant City, and a decorated WWII officer who fought with Patton’s 3rd Army in Europe. He entered as a private and became an integral part of Patton’s team as an intelligence officer and rose to the rank of major. After the war, Martin went to work for Amoco Oil, married a former Miss Alabama named Pat from Clanton, and settled in Gadsden where he bought an oil distributorship and became a successful businessman.

Martin was a business Republican and active in the State Chamber of Commerce. When the State Chamber Board went to Washington to visit the congressional delegation, they were treated rudely by our Democratic delegation who were still voting their progressive New Deal, pro union philosophy. Martin left Washington and decided that Alabama at least needed a two-party system and that he would be the sacrificial lamb to take on the venerable Lister Hill as the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate. Martin received the nomination during the convention and the David vs. Goliath race was on.

By late summer, some state newspapers could feel that Martin had some momentum. He was being perceived as the conservative and Hill the liberal. However, every Alabama courthouse was Democratic, along with all sheriffs, probate judges, and statewide elected officials. Therefore, it was hard to imagine that the tradition of voting Democratic would change, but the winds of segregation where strong.

When the votes were counted in November of 1962, Martin had pulled off the biggest upset in the nation. NBC’s team of Huntley and Brinkley reported the phenomenon on the nightly news. The solid Democratic south has been penetrated by a conservative Republican. Eisenhower called Martin to congratulate him.

However, things were happening in rural North Alabama similar to what had occurred in Chicago two years earlier. Martin had won by 6,000 votes but three days later boxes mysteriously appeared with just enough votes to get Hill the belated victory. The entire country and most Alabamians knew that Jim Martin had been counted out. There were boxes that came in from counties where he received zero votes.

Jim Martin would have been the first Republican senator from the south in a century. Some people speculate that he would have been the vice presidential candidate with Nixon in 1968. Most people acknowledge that Martin received the most votes in that 1962 race but nevertheless he was the John the Baptist of the southern Republican sweep of 1964 and the father of the modern Republican Party in Alabama.