A good many of you were intrigued by last week’s column on Jim Martin, the father of the modern Republican Party in Alabama, especially young readers who were not around in 1962 when Martin made his famous race for the U.S. Senate against Lister Hill.

As mentioned last week, the entire South was Democratic, more out of tradition and protocol than philosophy. Both the Democratic and Republican Parties took the South for granted in national elections because we were automatically in the barn, although philosophically we were more aligned with the Republican Party and our members of Congress voted similarly to the Republicans.

It reminds me of an old fable by Hans Christian Andersen, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” because in 1962 the South was as unaware as the Emperor. They were really Republican but were too blindly loyal to their southern tradition of voting Democratic. This loyalty had been spawned by years of passed on distrust of the radical Republican Reconstruction yoke invoked on their fathers and grandfathers. Jim Martin was the quiet voice bold enough to stand up and say that the Emperor has no clothes. He was saying, don’t you all know we are national Republicans. Martin was a voice in the wilderness or, as I referred to him last week, the John the Baptist of the southern Republican Party. Martin’s 1962 journey was a preview of what was to come two years later.

In 1964, the Deep South took the plunge and came to Jesus that year. The race issue catapulted the conversion throughout Alabama and all of the Deep South. Our nine member congressional delegation, with 156 years of seniority, was wiped out by straight ticket Republican voting. We had a new slate of Republican congressmen, one of whom was Jim Martin. If Lister Hill had been on the ballot that day the thrashing he would have received from Jim Martin would have been so bad they could not have found enough votes to steal the election.

Jim Martin, as mentioned last week, was a true Horatio Alger story. He was born in Jefferson County, joined the Army as a private, served in Patton’s 3rd Army and rose to major by the end of the war as an intelligence officer. After the war he settled in Gadsden, married a Miss Alabama and became successful in the oil business. In 1962 he was 44 years old and was active in the Associated Industries of Alabama. The business community challenged Martin to make the race for the Senate against the venerable Lister Hill. It seemed like a kamikaze mission, but the young Jim Martin, who believed we needed a two-party system in Alabama, agreed to be the sacrificial lamb.

Martin was handsome and articulate. He caught on but it was not until mid October that the press suggested he might upset the 24 year veteran Democratic icon Lister Hill. If there had been sophisticated polling in that day, as there is today, they would have known early that it was a horserace.

When the votes were counted, Martin had beaten Hill in every county in South Alabama, including Mobile and Hill’s home county of Montgomery. However, the more progressive region of North Alabama saved Hill. The next day, the national media reported that Martin had defeated Hill by 6000 votes, but mysteriously boxes appeared out of the hill country of North Alabama three days later that gave the final victory to Hill. Martin had been counted out. George Wallace later told Martin where and how 22,000 votes had changed hands.

Martin went to Congress in 1964 and could have stayed forever. However, he chose to run for Governor in 1966 against Lurleen Wallace. Race was the only issue in Alabama that year and Wallace owned that issue. Martin was a segregationist but he was no match for Wallace on that topic. Martin lost to the Wallaces. However, if he had run for the Senate against John Sparkman that year he would have won.

Since that time Martin has served with distinction for ten years as the State Conservation Director under both Governor’s Guy Hunt and Fob James. He is father of the successful Forever Wild conservation program. He and his wife Pat are enjoying their retirement years in their beloved Gadsden.