James Eastland

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James Eastland
James O Eastland.jpg
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
July 28, 1972 – December 27, 1978
Deputy Hubert Humphrey (1977–1978)
Preceded by Allen J. Ellender
Succeeded by Warren G. Magnuson
Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary
In office
January 3, 1957 – December 27, 1978
Preceded by Harley M. Kilgore
Succeeded by Ted Kennedy
United States Senator
from Mississippi
In office
January 3, 1943 – December 27, 1978
Preceded by Wall Doxey
Succeeded by Thad Cochran
In office
June 30, 1941 – September 28, 1941
Appointed by Paul B. Johnson, Sr.
Preceded by Pat Harrison
Succeeded by Wall Doxey
Member of the Mississippi House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born James Oliver Eastland
(1904-11-28)November 28, 1904
Doddsville, Mississippi, U.S.
Died February 19, 1986(1986-02-19) (aged 81)
Doddsville, Mississippi, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Coleman Eastland
Children Four
Education University of Mississippi
Vanderbilt University
University of Alabama
Profession Attorney
Cotton planter

James Oliver Eastland (November 28, 1904 – February 19, 1986) was an American politician from Mississippi who served in the United States Senate as a Democrat in 1941; and again from 1943 until his resignation on December 27, 1978. From 1947 to 1978, he served alongside John C. Stennis, also a Democrat. At the time, Eastland and Stennis were the longest-serving Senate duo in American history, though their record was subsequently surpassed by Strom Thurmond and Ernest Hollings of South Carolina, who served together for thirty-six years. Eastland was also the most senior member of the Senate at the time of his retirement in 1978. He was a supporter of the Conservative coalition, and was best known nationally as a symbol of Southern support for racial segregation.[1]

Early life[edit]

Eastland was born in Doddsville, in the Mississippi Delta, the son of Woods Caperton Eastland, a lawyer and cotton planter, and Alma Teresa (Austin) Eastland. In 1905 he moved with his parents to Forest, the county seat of Scott County, Mississippi. His father Woods Eastland was active in Democratic Party politics and served as a district attorney. The son attended the local segregated public schools.

Eastland attended the University of Mississippi (1922-1924), Vanderbilt University (1925-1926), and the University of Alabama (1926-1927). He studied law in his father's office, attained admission to the bar in 1927, and practiced in Sunflower County. Active in politics as a Democrat, he was elected to one term in the state House of Representatives, and served from 1928 to 1932.


In the 1930s, Eastland took over management of his family's Sunflower County plantation; he eventually expanded it to nearly 6,000 acres (24 km2). Even after entering politics, he considered himself first and foremost a cotton planter. Cotton plantations were adopting mechanization but he still had many African-American laborers on the plantation, most of whom worked as sharecroppers.

Political career[edit]

Eastland was appointed to the US Senate in 1941 by Governor Paul B. Johnson Sr., following the death of Senator Pat Harrison. Johnson first offered the appointment to Eastland's father, who declined and suggested his son. Johnson appointed James Eastland on the condition that he would not run for office later that year in the special election to fill the seat. Eastland kept his word, and the election was won by 2nd District Congressman Wall Doxey.

In 1942, Eastland was one of three candidates who challenged Doxey for a full term. Doxey had the support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mississippi's senior US Senator, Theodore G. Bilbo, but Eastland defeated him in the Democratic primary. At the time, Mississippi was effectively a one-party state, dominated by conservative white Democrats since the disfranchisement of African Americans with the passage of the 1890 state constitution. The state used poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses to exclude African Americans from the political system. Therefore, winning the Democratic nomination was tantamount to election.

Eastland returned to the Senate on January 3, 1943. Roosevelt and Eastland developed a working relationship that enabled Eastland to oppose New Deal programs that were unpopular in Mississippi, while he supported the President's agenda on other issues. Eastland was effective in developing that type of arrangement with presidents of both parties during his long tenure in the Senate. Also effective because of his seniority, he gained major federal investment in the state, such as infrastructure construction including the Tennessee–Tombigbee Waterway and federal relief after disasters such as Hurricane Camille.

Early 1947 saw a renewed effort by the Truman administration to promote civil rights with activities such as President Truman addressing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and delivering an address to Congress entirely dedicated to the subject.[2] Eastland, among many other southerners who saw the civil rights backing of the administration as an attack on their way of life, addressed the Senate floor a week after Truman's speech on the matter, saying Southerners were expected to "remain docile" in light of their laws and culture being destroyed "under the false guise of another civil-rights bill."[2] Six weeks before the 1948 United States Presidential election, Eastland predicted the defeat of the incumbent President Harry Truman, telling an audience in Memphis, Tennessee that voting for him was a waste.[3] After President Truman's victory in the aforementioned election, Eastland "remained publicly undaunted."[3]

In 1956, Eastland was appointed as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he served in this position until his retirement from the Senate. He was re-elected five times. He did not face substantive Republican opposition until 1966, as party politics were realigning after passage of civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965. In 1966, freshman Representative Prentiss Walker, the first Republican to represent Mississippi at the federal level since Reconstruction, ran against Eastland. The Walker campaign was an early Republican effort to attract white conservatives to its ranks, because recently passed civil rights legislation had enabled African Americans in the South to begin participating in the political process, and most of them became active as liberals in the Democratic Party.

Former Republican Party state chairman Wirt Yerger had considered running against Eastland but bowed out after Walker announced his candidacy. Walker ran well to Eastland's right, accusing him of not having done enough to keep integration-friendly judges from being confirmed by the Senate. As is often the case when a one-term representative runs against a popular incumbent senator or governor, Walker was soundly defeated. Years later, Yerger said that Walker's decision to relinquish his House seat after one term for the vagaries of a Senate race against Eastland was "very devastating" to the growth of the Mississippi Republicans.[4]

Eastland announced his support for United States Deputy Attorney General Byron White to replace the retiring Charles Evans Whittaker as Associate Justice on March 30, 1962, Eastland stating that White would be an able justice.[5] White took office the following month.

Eastland introduced an amendment that he stated would nullify the Supreme Court prayer decision on June 29, 1962.[6]

In September 1963, Eastland, Stennis, and Georgia Senator Richard Russell jointly announced their opposition to the ratification of the nuclear test ban treaty.[7] The opposition was viewed as denting hopes of the Kennedy administration to be met with minimal disagreement during the treaty's appearance before the Senate.[8]

In 1972, Eastland was reelected with 58 percent of the vote in his closest contest ever. His Republican opponent, Gil Carmichael, an automobile dealer from Meridian, was likely aided by President Richard Nixon's landslide reelection in 49 states, including taking 78 percent of Mississippi's popular vote. However, Nixon had worked "under the table" to support Eastland, a long-time personal friend. Nixon and other Republicans provided little support for Carmichael to avoid alienating conservative Southern Democrats, who increasingly supported Republican positions on many national issues.

The Republicans worked to elect two House candidates, Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, both of whom later became influential U.S. Senators. Recognizing that Nixon would handily carry Mississippi, Eastland did not endorse the Democratic presidential candidate, George McGovern of South Dakota, who was considered a liberal. Four years later, Eastland supported the candidacy of fellow Southern Democrat Jimmy Carter of Georgia, rather than Nixon's successor, President Gerald R. Ford. Eastland's former press secretary, Larry Speakes, a Mississippi native, served as a press spokesman for Gerald Ford and Ford's running mate, US Senator Robert J. Dole.

During his last Senate term, Eastland served as President pro tempore of the Senate, as he was the longest-serving Democrat in the Senate.

In January 1970, after G. Harrold Carswell was accused of harboring both sexist and racist beliefs, Eastland told reporters that he believed this was the first instance of a Supreme Court nominee being challenged on his views on the legal rights of women.[9] In November, along with fellow southerners Strom Thurmond and Sam J. Ervin Jr., Eastland was one of three Senators to vote against an occupational safety bill that would establish a federal supervision to oversee working conditions.[10]

In April 1971, Eastland introduced a six‐bill package intended to adjust the Internal Security Act of 1950 in addition to plugging loopholes noted by various decisions made by the Supreme Court, Eastland noting that his proposed version of the Internal Security Act would give the Subversive Activities Control Board more efficiency.[11]

In October 1971, after President Richard Nixon nominated Lewis F. Powell and William Rehnquist to the Supreme Court,[12] Eastland announced his intent to hasten the hearings of Rehnquist and Powell while admitting his doubts that hearings would begin the following week given the Senate being in recess.[13]

In June 1976, Eastland joined a coalition of Democratic politicians that endorsed Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter for the presidency.[14] The New York Times assessed Stennis and Eastland as jointly "trying to pull Mississippi out for Mr. Carter" in their first campaign for a national Democrat in decades.[15]

On May 18, 1977, Eastland made a joint appearance with President Jimmy Carter on the Rose Garden in support of proposed foreign intelligence surveillance legislation. Eastland said the legislation was "vitally needed in this country" and that he was satisfied with its bipartisan support.[16]

Senate President pro tempore[edit]

Eastland is the most recent President pro tempore to have served during a vacancy in the Vice Presidency. He did so twice during the tumultuous 1970s, first from October to December 1973, following Spiro Agnew's resignation until the swearing-in of Gerald Ford as Vice President, and then from August to December 1974, from the time that Ford became President until Nelson Rockefeller was sworn in as Vice President. Then, Eastland was second in the presidential line of succession, behind only Speaker of the House Carl Albert.

Opposition to civil rights[edit]

Eastland is known for having opposed integration and the American Civil Rights Movement, which became increasingly active in the mid-20th century. When the Supreme Court issued its decision in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas 347 US 483 (1954), ruling that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, Eastland, like most Southern Democrats, denounced it. In a speech given in Senatobia, Mississippi on August 12, 1955, he announced:

On May 17, 1954, the Constitution of the United States was destroyed because of the Supreme Court's decision. You are not obliged to obey the decisions of any court which are plainly fraudulent sociological considerations.[17]

Eastland testified to the Senate ten days after the Brown decision:[18]

The Southern institution of racial segregation or racial separation was the correct, self-evident truth which arose from the chaos and confusion of the Reconstruction period. Separation promotes racial harmony. It permits each race to follow its own pursuits, and its own civilization. Segregation is not discrimination... Mr. President, it is the law of nature, it is the law of God, that every race has both the right and the duty to perpetuate itself. All free men have the right to associate exclusively with members of their own race, free from governmental interference, if they so desire.

Civil rights workers Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman, went missing in Mississippi on June 21, 1964, during the Freedom Summer efforts to register African American voters. Eastland tried to convince President Lyndon Johnson that the incident was a hoax and there was no Ku Klux Klan in the state. He suggested that the three had gone to Chicago:[19]

Johnson: Jim, we've got three kids missing down there. What can I do about it?

Eastland: Well, I don't know. I don't believe there's ... I don't believe there's three missing.

Johnson: We've got their parents down here.

Eastland: I believe it's a publicity stunt...

Johnson once said:

Jim Eastland could be standing right in the middle of the worst Mississippi flood ever known, and he'd say the niggers caused it, helped out by the Communists.[20]

Senator Eastland with President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968.

Eastland, like most of his southern colleagues, opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited segregation of public places and facilities. Its passage caused many Mississippi Democrats to support Barry Goldwater's presidential bid that year, but Eastland did not publicly oppose the election of Johnson. Four years earlier he had quietly supported John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign, but Mississippi voted that year for unpledged electors. Although Republican senator Barry Goldwater was strongly defeated by incumbent Johnson, he carried Mississippi with 87.14 percent of the popular vote, which constitutes the best-ever Republican showing in any state since the founding of that party.[21] In 1964 almost all blacks in Mississippi remained excluded from voting, thus Goldwater's mammoth win essentially constituted the vote of the white population.

Eastland was often at odds with Johnson's policy on civil rights, but they retained a close friendship based on long years together in the Senate. Johnson often sought Eastland's support and guidance on other issues, such as the nomination of Abe Fortas in 1968 as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Solid South opposed him.[22] In the 1950s, Johnson was one of three Senators from the South who did not sign the Southern Manifesto of resistance to Brown v. Board of Education, but Eastland and most Southern Senators did, vowing resistance to school integration.

Contrary to popular opinion, Eastland did not use the appointment of Harold Cox to a federal judgeship as leverage against John F. Kennedy's appointment of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court. Cox was nominated by Kennedy more than a year before Marshall came up for consideration, and his nomination resulted from a personal conversation between Cox and Kennedy. The president, not wanting to upset the powerful chairman of the Judiciary Committee, generally acceded to Eastland's requests on judicial confirmations in Mississippi, which resulted in white segregationists dominating control of the federal courts in the state.

Eastland, along with senators Robert Byrd, John McClellan, Olin D. Johnston, Sam Ervin, and Strom Thurmond, made unsuccessful attempts to block confirmation of Thurgood Marshall, an African American, to the Federal Court of Appeals and the US Supreme Court.

During his later years, in the face of increasing black political power in Mississippi, Eastland avoided associating with racist positions. He hired black Mississippians to serve on the staff of the Judiciary Committee. Eastland noted to aides that his earlier position on race was caused primarily by the political realities of the times, when a major political figure in a Southern state was expected to endorse such positions.[citation needed]

When he considered running for reelection in 1978, Eastland sought black support. He won the support of Aaron Henry, civil rights leader and president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but he ultimately decided not to seek re-election. Partly because of the independent candidacy of Charles Evers siphoning off votes from the Democratic candidate, Republican 4th District Representative Thad Cochran won the race to succeed Eastland. Eastland resigned two days after Christmas to give Cochran a leg up in seniority. After his retirement, he remained friends with Aaron Henry and sent contributions to the NAACP, but he said that he "didn't regret a thing" in his public career.


Eastland served on a subcommittee in the 1950s investigating the Communist Party in the United States. As chairman of the Internal Security Subcommittee, he subpoenaed some employees of The New York Times to testify about their activities. The paper was taking a strong position on its editorial page that Mississippi should adhere to the Brown decision, and claimed that Eastland was persecuting them on that account. The Times said in its January 5, 1956 editorial:

Our faith is strong that long after Senator Eastland and his present subcommittee are gone, long after segregation has lost its final battle in the South, long after all that was known as McCarthyism is a dim, unwelcome memory, long after the last Congressional committee has learned that it cannot tamper successfully with a free press, The New York Times will be speaking for [those] who make it, and only for [those] who make it, and speaking, without fear or favor, the truth as it sees it.

Eastland subsequently allowed the subcommittee to become dormant as communist fears receded.

Relationship with FBI[edit]

Official U.S. Senate portrait of Senator James Eastland

Eastland was a staunch supporter of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and shared intelligence with the FBI, including leaks from the State Department. An investigation initiated by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and executed by former FBI agent Walter Sheridan traced some of the unauthorized disclosures to Otto Otepka of the State Department Office of Security.[23]

Hoover received intelligence that Eastland was among members of congress who had received money and favors from Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic. Eastland had regularly defended him from the Senate floor. Hoover declined to pursue Eastland on corruption charges.[24]


In 1974, Eastland led congressional subcommittee hearings into marijuana, the report on which concluded:

...five years of research has provided strong evidence that, if corroborated, would suggest that marijuana in various forms is far more hazardous than originally suspected.[25]

Later years[edit]

In his last years in the Senate, Eastland was recognized by most Senators as one who knew how to wield the legislative powers he had accumulated. Many Senators, including liberals who opposed many of his conservative positions, acknowledged the fairness with which he chaired the Judiciary Committee, sharing staff and authority that chairmen of other committees jealously held for themselves.[citation needed] He maintained personal ties with stalwart liberal Democrats such as Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden and Phil Hart, even though they disagreed on many issues.[citation needed] Following Johnson's retirement from the White House, Eastland frequently visited Johnson at his Texas ranch.

Eastland died on February 19, 1986. The law library at Ole Miss was named after him, which gave rise to some controversy in Mississippi given his opposition to civil rights. The University benefited financially from Eastland's many friends and supporters, as it has done from other political figures of Eastland's era. In 2012 the law library was renamed after best-selling author, activist, and former state legislator John Grisham, who had earned his law degree there.

Portrayal in Popular Culture[edit]

Eastland was portrayed by actor Jeff Doucette in the 2016 HBO film All the Way.[26]


  1. ^ Marjorie Hunter (February 20, 1986). "James O. Eastland is Dead at 81, Leading Senate Foe of Integration". New York Times. 
  2. ^ a b Asch, Chris Myers (2008). The Senator and the Sharecropper: The Freedom Struggles of James O. Eastland and Fannie Lou Hamer. New Press. p. 122. ISBN 978-1595583321. 
  3. ^ a b Asch, Chris Myers (2008). The Senator and the Sharecropper: The Freedom Struggles of James O. Eastland and Fannie Lou Hamer. New Press. p. 124. ISBN 978-1595583321. 
  4. ^ "Challenging the Status Quo: Rubel Lex Phillips and the Mississippi Republican Party (1963-1967)", The Journal of Mississippi History, XLVII, No. 4 (November 1985), p. 256
  5. ^ "EASTLAND BACKS CHOICE; Says White Will Make 'Able Supreme Court Justice'". New York Times. March 31, 1962. 
  6. ^ "Eastland Offers Amendment". New York Times. June 30, 1962. 
  7. ^ "3 SENATORS JOIN FOES OF TEST BAN; View Affirmed by Russell, Stennis and Eastland General Objects". New York Times. September 7, 1963. 
  8. ^ "Senates Oppose N-Treaty". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. September 7, 1963. 
  9. ^ "Carswell Called Foe of Women's Rights". New York Times. January 30, 1970. 
  10. ^ Finney, John W. (November 18, 1970). "SENATE APPROVES COMPROMISE BILL ON SAFETY IN JOBS". New York Times. 
  11. ^ "Eastland Urges Bolstering Of Internal Security Laws". New York Times. April 6, 1971. 
  12. ^ Nixon, Richard (October 21, 1971). "Address to the Nation Announcing Intention To Nominate Lewis F. Powell Jr. and William H. Rehnquist To Be Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States". The American Presidency Project. UCSB. Retrieved March 1, 2016. 
  13. ^ "2 NOMINEES GIVEN CAUTIOUS BACKING". New York Times. October 22, 1971. 
  14. ^ "Democrats Stampede To Rally Behind Carter". The Milwaukee Sentinel. June 11, 1976. 
  15. ^ "PRESIDENTIAL RACE CALLED VERY CLOSE ON EVE OF THE VOTE". New York Times. November 1, 1976. 
  16. ^ Carter, Jimmy (May 18, 1977). "Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Remarks of the President, Attorney General Bell, and Several Members of Congress on Proposed Legislation". American Presidency Project. 
  17. ^ Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954–1965, by Juan Williams, Viking Penguin, January 1, 1987, ISBN 978-0-670-81412-1, p. 38.
  18. ^ Simkin, John (September 1997). "James Eastland". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 18 August 2017. 
  19. ^ WhiteHouseTapes.org :: The secret White House tapes and recordings of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower
  20. ^ Schlesinger, Arthur M. (2002). Robert Kennedy and His Times. Houghton Mifflin Books. p. 234. ISBN 0-618-21928-5. 
  21. ^ Thomas, G. Scott; The Pursuit of the White House: A Handbook of Presidential Election Statistics and History, p. 403 ISBN 0313257957
  22. ^ Laura Kalman (1990). Abe Fortas. Yale University Press. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  23. ^ Weiner, Tim (2013). Enemies. Random House. pp. 228–229. ISBN 0812979230. 
  24. ^ Weiner, Tim (2013). Enemies. Random House. pp. 217–218. ISBN 0812979230. 
  25. ^ Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate (1974). Marihuana-Hashish Epidemic and its Impact on United States Security. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. p. ix. 
  26. ^ "All the Way (2016)". IMDb. 

Further reading[edit]

  • J. Lee Annis, Jr., Big Jim Eastland: The Godfather of Mississippi (University Press of Mississippi, 2016)
  • Chris Myers Asch, "Reconstruction Revisited: James O. Eastland, the Fair Employment Practices Committee, and the Reconstruction of Germany, 1945–1946", Journal of Mississippi History (Spring 2005)
  • Chris Myers Asch, The Senator and the Sharecropper: The Freedom Struggles of James O. Eastland and Fannie Lou Hamer (The New Press, 2008)
  • Transcript, James O. Eastland Oral History Interview I, February 19, 1971, by Joe B. Frantz, Internet Copy, LBJ Library. Accessed April 3, 2005.
  • Finley, Keith M. Delaying the Dream: Southern Senators and the Fight Against Civil Rights, 1938–1965 (Baton Rouge, LSU Press, 2008).
  • Finding-Aid for the James O. Eastland Collection (MUM00117) from the University of Mississippi Library. Accessed August 17, 2006.
  • A Rhetorical Analysis of Senator James O. Eastland's Speeches, 1954–1959 by Patricia Webb Robinson.
  • Menace of Subversive Activity by James Oliver Eastland. Publisher: Congressional Record (1966).

External links[edit]

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Pat Harrison
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Mississippi
June 30, 1941 – September 28, 1941
Served alongside: Theodore G. Bilbo
Succeeded by
Wall Doxey
Preceded by
Wall Doxey
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Mississippi
January 3, 1943 – December 27, 1978
Served alongside: Theodore G. Bilbo, John C. Stennis
Succeeded by
Thad Cochran
Political offices
Preceded by
Allen J. Ellender
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
Succeeded by
Warren G. Magnuson
Preceded by
Harley M. Kilgore
Chairman of Senate Judiciary Committee
Succeeded by
Edward Kennedy
Honorary titles
Preceded by
George Aiken
Dean of the United States Senate
January 3, 1975 – November 28, 1977
with John L. McClellan
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Himself and
John L. McClellan
Dean of the United States Senate
November 28, 1977 – January 3, 1979
Succeeded by
Warren G. Magnuson