Bruce Bennett (politician)

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Bruce Bennett
Attorney General of Arkansas
In office
1957–1960
Preceded by Tom Gentry
Succeeded by J. Frank Holt
In office
1963–1966
Preceded by J. Frank Holt
Succeeded by Joe Purcell
Prosecuting attorney for 13th Judicial Circuit in South Arkansas
In office
1953–1956
Personal details
Born (1917-10-31)October 31, 1917
Helena, Phillips County
Arkansas, USA
Died June 27, 1979(1979-06-27) (aged 61)
El Dorado, Union County, Arkansas
Resting place Arlington Cemetery in El Dorado, Arkansas
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Rebecca E. Bennett
Children James Bruce Bennett
Susan Bennett
Parents Oakley and Anita Bennett
Alma mater Southern Arkansas University

Vanderbilt University Law School

Occupation Attorney

Sought Arkansas governorship in 1960 and 1968

Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Rank Lieutenant colonel; combat pilot
Battles/wars World War II; both theaters
Early in his career, Bruce Bennett sought to pose as a more determined segregationist than Governor Orval Eugene Faubus, who attempted in 1957 to block the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School but was forced to bow to federal court orders.

Bruce Bennett (October 31, 1917 – August 26, 1979) was a Democratic politician from El Dorado, Arkansas, who served as his state's attorney general from 1957–1960 and from 1963–1966. Bennett lost primary elections for governor of Arkansas in 1960 and 1968.[1]

Early years, education, military[edit]

Bennett was born to Oakley Adair Bennett and Anita Bennett in Helena in Phillips County near the Mississippi River in eastern Arkansas. In 1921, the family moved to El Dorado, the seat of Union County, where Bennett attended public schools. He studied pre-law at El Dorado Junior College and the subsequent Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, the seat of Columbia County. In 1940, Bennett joined the United States Army; two years later, he was commissioned a second lieutenant and served fourteen months in Europe. He returned to the United States for pilot training. Toward the end of World War II, Bennett was redeployed to the South Pacific as the commander of a B-29. In thirty missions over Japan, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with three clusters, and a Bronze Star. After the war, Bennett attended Vanderbilt University Law School in Nashville, Tennessee, having procured his degree in 1949.[1]

In 1952 and 1954, Bennett was elected prosecuting attorney of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit in south Arkansas.[1]

Attorney general[edit]

Originally a segregationist, Bennett won his first term as attorney general in 1956, succeeding the two-term Democrat Tom Gentry.[2] That same year, Governor Orval Eugene Faubus defeated segregationist intraparty rival James Douglas Johnson, then an outgoing state senator and later an associate justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. In 1960, Bennett declined to seek a third consecutive two-year term as attorney general and instead challenged Faubus in the primary. Both Johnson in 1956 and Bennett in 1960 accused Faubus of being less than committed to racial segregation, even depicting him as a tool of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and its leader, Daisy Bates. Bennett ran a surprisingly distant third in the primary behind Faubus and the moderate Joe Hardin, a former Arkansas Farm Bureau president.[1][3]

In 1958, Bennett authored a series of bills designed to limit the activities civil rights protestors, whom he considered "the enemies of America.”[1] The bills sought to prevent the NAACP from providing legal counsel or funding lawsuits in Arkansas. Bennett tried to force the NAACP to release its membership list and personnel records to the state, a position struck down in 1958 by the United States Supreme Court in a related case, NAACP v. Alabama. Bennett also procured legislation to prohibit NAACP members from becoming Arkansas state employees. He associated the NAACP with an "international communist conspiracy" and presented such testimony before legislative bodies in Arkansas and Tennessee.[1][4]

Bennett was succeeded as attorney general in 1961 by J. Frank Holt, who stepped down a year later to join Johnson on the Arkansas Supreme Court.[2] In 1966, when Faubus declined to seek a seventh term as governor, Bennett was defeated for renomination for attorney general by Joe Purcell.[1] That same year, the post-Faubus Democrats nominated "Justice Jim" Johnson for governor, ten years after his first attempt to gain the post. Johnson defeated his fellow justice, J. Frank Holt, in the primary. However, in the 1966 general election, Johnson lost to Republican Winthrop Rockefeller, a supporter of civil rights legislation.

In 1966, Joe Purcell succeeded Bennett as attorney general when he defeated a then stronger-than usual-challenge from a Democrat-turned-Republican, Jerry Thomasson of Arkadelphia in Clark County.[5]

One last race[edit]

In 1968, Bennett sought a comeback in the Democratic gubernatorial primary on the theme that Winthrop Rockefeller had become "an expensive luxury which the state of Arkansas can no longer afford," a reference to state financial shortfalls.[6] Bennett finished a weak fourth in the primary, with 65,905 votes (15.7 percent).[7] The winner of the gubernatorial nomination, State Representative Marion H. Crank of Foreman in Little River County, defeated Johnson's wife, Virginia Morris Johnson, the first woman ever to seek the Arkansas governorship, in a heated runoff election.[8] Crank went on to lose narrowly to Rockefeller in November general election.

Later years[edit]

Bennett had helped to found the Arkansas Loan and Thrift Company, which collapsed by scandal from within its ranks. AL&T padded officers’ accounts by soliciting investors for disputed industrial development projects. Company executives profited while investors were ruined by the bankruptcy of the firm in 1967. While attorney general, Bennett protected the company from state regulation in an opinion which declared it beyond the scope of state securities laws. In 1969, Bennett was charged with twenty-eight counts of securities violations, postal fraud, and wire fraud. However, a ten-year struggle with throat cancer prevented him from facing trial.[1]

Bennett is interred at Arlington Cemetery in El Dorado.[1] He was survived by his wife, Rebecca E. Bennett (1918–2008),[9] and two children, James Bruce Bennett (born ca. 1954), an attorney in El Dorado,[10] and Susan Bennett.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Bruce Bennett (1917–1979)". encyclopediaofarkansas.net. Retrieved May 10, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b "Office of Attorney General (of Arkansas)". encyclopediaof arkansas.net. Retrieved May 10, 2010. 
  3. ^ Roy Reed, Faubus: The Life and Times of an American Prodigal, Fayetteviflle: University of Arkansas Press, 1997
  4. ^ Jeff Woods, Black Struggle, Red Scare: Segregation and Anticommunism in the South, 1948–1968, Baton Rouge:Louisiana State University Press, 2004
  5. ^ State of Arkansas, Secretary of State, 1966 general election returns
  6. ^ Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, July 19, 1968, p. 1826
  7. ^ State of Arkansas, Secretary of State, Primary election returns, 1968
  8. ^ "Virginia Lillian Morris Johnson (1928–2007)". encyclopediaofarkansas.net. Retrieved May 10, 2010. 
  9. ^ "Social Security Death Index". ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved May 10, 2010. 
  10. ^ "James Bruce Bennett". pview.findlaw.com. Retrieved May 10, 2010. 

Further reading[edit]

  • "The Life and Times of an American Prodigal" by Roy Reed, published by University of Arkansas Press, 1997.

External links[edit]


Legal offices
Preceded by
Tom Gentry
Arkansas Attorney General

Bruce Bennett
1957–1960

Succeeded by
J. Frank Holt
Preceded by
Jack Holt, Jr.
Arkansas Attorney General
1963–1966
Succeeded by
Joe Purcell