Harold Montgomery

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A. Harold Montgomery, Sr.
Louisiana State Senate District 36 (Bossier and Webster parishes)
In office
1960–1968
Preceded by Herman "Wimpy" Jones
Succeeded by John Willard "Jack" Montgomery, Sr.
In office
1972–1976
Preceded by John Willard "Jack" Montgomery, Sr.
Succeeded by Foster L. Campbell, Jr.
Personal details
Born (1911-04-19)April 19, 1911
Humble, Harris County, Texas, USA
Died December 17, 1995(1995-12-17) (aged 84)
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Azalee Wilson Montgomery (1902–1985) (Married 1945-1985)
Children Harold Montgomery, Jr. (born 1946)
Alma mater University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

University of Colorado

Occupation Businessman, Educator
Religion Methodist
Despite his alliance in his last term with Governor Edwin Washington Edwards, Montgomery was considered among the most conservative members of the Louisiana State Senate.

A. Harold Montgomery, Sr. (April 19, 1911—December 17, 1995), was an agricultural businessman and a Louisiana state senator, who is remembered as an outspoken conservative within his state's dominant Democratic Party. He represented District 36 -- Bossier and Webster parishes and, later, part of Bienville Parish—in three nonconsecutive terms in the Senate, 1960–1968 and 1972–1976.[1]

Education and business ventures[edit]

As with the "S" in Harry S. Truman, the "A" in A. Harold Montgomery stood for nothing. Montgomery was born in Humble, near Houston in Harris County, Texas, to Alley C. and Martha Belle Montgomery. He was one of eight children who moved in 1921 with their parents to tiny Linton in Bossier Parish. The Montgomerys then relocated to Benton, the parish seat, so that the children could receive a better education. He graduated from Benton High School, and with the help of a loan from an older sister, he attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he received bachelor of science and master of science degrees in agriculture. His graduate studies were at the University of Colorado at Boulder.[2]

Montgomery taught agriculture at Haughton High School in Haughton in Bossier Parish east of Shreveport. At that time he met Azalee Wilson (1902–1985), the postmistress at Haughton. After three years in Haughton, Montgomery moved to Ruston, the seat of Lincoln Parish, where he taught vocational agriculture at Ruston High School. He received many honors for his teaching abilities and his love and dedication for his students. He was also known to paddle recalcitrant boys.[2] In 1955, Montgomery attended the White House Conference on Education.[3]

While he was teaching in Ruston, Montgomery became aware that the area needed a feed store to supply his farmer friends. He used his savings to rent a building on West Mississippi Avenue in Ruston that became "Montgomery's Feed and Seed".[2]

"Father of the poultry industry" in Louisiana[edit]

Montgomery also invested in the mass production of broiler chickens. He understood, when others did not, that the production of poultry could be a money-maker for the farmers of north Louisiana and also provide a more ready market for his feed products. At the time, broiler chickens were produced only in small groups of five hundred or fewer because it was thought that the poultry should not be kept continuously in a chicken house. It was believed that the chickens should be let out in a yard for several hours a day to remain healthy. Montgomery realized that placing the chickens in a yard was not economically feasible. So, he raised five thousand birds in an enclosed environment. His foresight earned him the title of "father of the poultry industry" in Louisiana.[2]

Patent on the rotary blade mower[edit]

Montgomery renamed his feed and seed store the "Montgomery Distributing Company", when he began to specialize in gasoline lawnmowers.

Montgomery held the first patent on a rotary blade mower. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, mowers were equipped with a rotating reel assembly that was either pushed by hand or was propelled by a small gasoline engine. This kind of mower worked well in short grass, but it clogged up in tall grass. Montgomery did not invent this mower, but he obtained the patent from a frustrated inventor in Chicago. The first commercially produced rotary mower, the Yazoo Master Mower, was then produced by a small manufacturing plant in Jackson, Mississippi. Montgomery was the Louisiana distributor of Yazoo until 1981, when he closed his lawnmower business in Ruston.[2]

Ranch Azalee[edit]

Montgomery's original house at his Ranch Azalee, purchased in 1953 and formerly known as the Bryan House, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

Through good management and, in Montgomery's belief, divine guidance, his business flourished, and he was financially able to marry Azalee on Valentine's Day, 1945, after an 11-year courtship. The couple had one child, A. Harold Montgomery, Jr., or "Hal" (born 1946). Montgomery thereafter purchased their dream place, a farm south of the village of Doyline in Webster Parish. He named the habitation and land "Ranch Azalee" after his beloved wife. The Montgomerys occupied the estate in May 1953.[2]

Ranch Azalee was formerly known as the Bryan House, having originally begun ca. 1804 by James Jackson Bryan. It was built in the late Federal/Greek revival style of architecture with an open dogtrot core. After Montgomery's death, Ranch Azlee was added in 1999 to the National Register of Historic Places.[4]

Because his business interests and his legislative duties were a considerable distance from Ranch Azalee, Montgomery drove tens of thousands of miles per year. Such a demanding schedule made him a workhorse. It also made him aware of the need for highway improvements in Louisiana.

Election to the Louisiana State Senate[edit]

Montgomery ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in the 1955-1956 Democratic primaries, having been defeated by 192 votes in the runoff election held on February 21, 1956, by Herman "Wimpy" Jones (1905–1967), owner of the Jones Kitchen restaurant (later known as the Southern Kitchen) in Minden. Jones was subsequently the Minden municipal fire marshal[5] in Minden, the seat of Webster Parish. Jones received 6,734 votes (50.7 percent) to Montgomery's 6,542 (49.3 percent).[6] Other candidates in the primary for the Senate seat included former Minden educator Lloyd C. Starr (1899–1982), an Arkansas native who served on the Webster Parish School Board and was an insurance agent. Starr polled 2,039 votes. A fourth candidate, James B. Wells, finished with 917 ballots.[7]

Then Montgomery successfully challenged Jones in the 1959-1960 primary cycle. In the December 7 primary, Montgomery led Jones, 7,929 (46.6 percent) to 6,542 (38.5 percent), but two other candidates polled a critical 2,536 votes (14.9 percent). In the runoff election on January 9, Montgomery easily defeated Jones, 11,116 (66.5 percent) to 5,611 (33.5 percent) and won sixty-eight of the seventy precincts in what is now a revised District 36.[8] In his five state senate campaigns (two unsuccessful), Montgomery never faced a Republican opponent.

In the primary held on December 7, 1963, Jones failed in a comeback attempt against Montgomery. Calling himself an "Independent", Jones endorsed the unpledged elector movement for the 1964 presidential campaign, a position originally held by Montgomery.[9]

Oddly, Montgomery and colleague Danny Roy Moore, who represented Claiborne and Bienville parishes, had side-by-side desks in the far right corner of the Senate chamber. Moore noted too that he and Montgomery were the most conservative members of the chamber during the 1964-1968 term.[10]

According to Montgomery's obituary in the Shreveport Times, he was indeed "known as a staunch conservative. Fellow conservatives loved him, and even those who disagreed with his views respected him. All who knew him either personally or by reputation respected him for his impeccable veracity, honesty, patriotism, fairness, dedication, and his love of God, family, home, and country."[2]

In the 1959 and 1963 gubernatorial election years, Montgomery, like most of his constituents, opposed the candidacy of fellow Democrat deLesseps Story Morrison, Sr., the mayor of New Orleans and later ambassador to the Organization of American States. Montgomery believed that Morrison, as governor, would work to dismantle the segregated school system still in place in the state even though Morrison was openly committed to maintaining segregation. Montgomery supported State Senator William M. Rainach of neighboring Claiborne Parish in the gubernatorial primary. When Rainach finished third in the balloting, Montgomery, like virtually all of Rainach's supporters, backed former Governor Jimmie Davis in the Democratic runoff. Davis then defeated Morrison and thereafter turned aside Republican Francis Grevemberg in the general election held on April 19, 1960.

Montgomery in a 1964 appearance said that the Louisiana legislature is independent only when a two-thirds vote is required for select issues; otherwise the governor's program is nearly always automatically adopted. "The way Louisiana is governed is by the man we elect governor of this state. With a bad governor we'll fail," Montgomery said. His legislative ally, B. H. "Johnny" Rogers of Grand Cane in DeSoto Parish, agreed: "The government of Louisiana cannot be any better than the governor of Louisiana."[11] Rogers urged citizens interested in good government to come to committee hearings in Baton Rouge. In such cases, their mere presence will impress legislators.[11]

Further political developments[edit]

In 1960, Montgomery opposed increases requested by the new Davis administration in the salaries of elected and appointed state officials instead of pay hikes for the lower-income state workers.[12] That same year, he supported legislation to make the dumping of litter or trash along roads in the state or parish road systems a crime punishable by fines of up to $100 or thirty days in jail.[13]

In 1962, Montgomery introduced a resolution in the state Senate which condemned the activities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Louisiana. "We are outraged by the prostitution of the once great FBI, and its present misuse as a political police force, not dissimilar in method and result to the Gestapo or the NKVD", the Soviet secret police. United States Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, not FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, was especially singled out for responsibility. Montgomery in fact admired Hoover for his strongly anticommunist stance.[14]

In 1963, Montgomery had supported Louisiana Public Service Commissioner John McKeithen in the Democratic runoff election against Morrison. Then he quietly supported McKeithen's Republican opponent, Charlton Lyons of Shreveport, in the March 3, 1964, general election. In time, Montgomery and McKeithen seemed consistently at political odds.

The next year, Montgomery was elected chairman of the Louisiana Committee for Free Electors, an organization that grew from a meeting of some two hundred conservative Democrats in Baton Rouge. Two representatives from each congressional district were chosen.[15] The free elector movement, however, was abandoned with the nomination in July 1964 of U.S. Senator Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona as the Republican presidential nominee.[16]

In a state Senate speech, Montgomery excoriated U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson after Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The address highlighted Johnson's long political life and declared him a "political thief", an "habitual liar", and "not worthy of your respect or mine." Montgomery said that Johnson should run for election under the skunk symbol, instead of the Democratic donkey emblem (the rooster in Louisiana).[17] Montgomery's Senate colleague, Jamar Adcock of Monroe, disputed the remarks: "Lyndon Johnson is our president, and I will respect him and the office of President."[17] Montgomery pitched a tent on the state Capitol grounds to protest the public accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act after he learned that the hotel in which he had been staying had admitted an African-American couple.[17][18]

The battle of the Montgomerys, 1967[edit]

McKeithen was a prohibitive favorite for renomination in 1967 and ran unopposed in the February 6, 1968, general election. The governor supported 31-year-old Springhill attorney, John Willard "Jack" Montgomery, Sr., in the senatorial primary against Harold Montgomery. Despite the same surname, the two were not related. The "battles of the Montgomerys" (There was a rematch in 1971.) were the most heated state senate races in the district in many years.

Jack Montgomery's campaign produced a newspaper advertisement listing those Springhill dignitaries behind the young candidate's campaign: John L. Cathcart, former principal of both Minden High School and E.S. Richardson Elementary School in Minden, Springhill High School principal Ed Olive, and D.C. Wimberly, a decorated World War II POW and an elementary school principal in Springhill. Others supporting Jack Montgomery were then Springhill Mayor James Allen and Springhill newspaper publisher Danny Scott (1930–2007).[19] Jack Montgomery questioned why state highway funding for Bossier and, particularly, Webster Parish lagged behind other parishes in the region. In a newspaper advertisement, he cited a study which ranked Bossier in 14th place and Webster in 20th place among the twenty-three parishes of north Louisiana in highway appropriations.[20] Some educators rallied behind Harold in an advertisement claimng to "Keep Good Government", including former Webster Parish school supervisor Ruby M. Craton (1900–1984) of Minden.[21]

In his own advertising, Harold Montgomery touted his 100 percent Senate attendance record, the best score since such records began to be kept in 1958 by the non-partisan Public Affairs Research Council. Montgomery was one of five state senators who claimed a 100 percent "good government" rating from the Chamber of Commerce.[22]

Though Harold had led Jack in the primary contest by 448 votes, Jack easily prevailed in the lower-turnout runoff election, 10,037 (55.1 percent) to 7,177 (44.9 percent). The results were nearly as bad for Harold Montgomery as they had been for "Wimpy" Jones in 1960.[23] Harold Montgomery thereafter concentrated on his business and sought a comeback in 1971.

In a 1975 interview in Alexandria, Harold Montgomery said that he thought that Tom Colten, the Republican mayor of Minden, had done a good job in office, but he never understood Colten's reported favoritism toward Jack Montgomery, a loyal Democrat, in that Harold Montgomery had sometimes supported Republican candidates, including Barry Goldwater.

Harold Montgomery's loss was attributed to the pro-McKeithen sentiment in the district, but also to the impact of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which applied in Louisiana state senate elections for the first time in 1967. Large numbers of previously unregistered African American voters came to the polls, and most of them chose the McKeithen-endorsed Jack Montgomery. Opposing McKeithen in the primary was segregationist U.S. Representative John Richard Rarick of St. Francisville in West Feliciana Parish. Rarick ran so poorly both statewide and in the Bossier-Webster district that his candidacy offered no help for Harold Montgomery's reelection prospects even though Montgomery concentrated on his own race and was not involved in the gubernatorial primary.

The battle of the Montgomerys, 1971[edit]

In 1971, Harold Montgomery challenged the renomination of State Senator Jack Montgomery in the Democratic primary. In a newspaper appeal to voters entitled "Public Feels Cheated", Montgomery decried "the loss of confidence in government, . . . the thievry in office . . . a governor [McKeithen] who appoints political hacks to office" and "the failure of authorities to reign in dope pushers and drunk drivers". Montgomery also criticized "employees who don't work" and "politicians who continually ask for more money without showing any accomplishment in return." He predicted a large turnover in legislative ranks.[24] Harold also won the endorsement of the then conservative Shreveport Journal, a newspaper that later moved far to the left politically before ceasing publication.[25]

Montgomery urged voter to support him -- "the Right Montgomery! -- as he referred to himself. Harold Montgomery narrowly won the primary rematch with Jack Montgomery, 14,595 (51.2 percent) to 13,889 (48.8 percent),[26] and headed back to the state Senate in 1972 to begin his third and final term. Though the vote was close, Harold prevailed district-wide except in Claiborne Parish. After the 1971 primary, neither Harold nor Jack Montgomery again sought public office.

Harold Montgomery allied himself with newly elected Governor Edwin Washington Edwards, who had been Montgomery's state Senate colleague in 1964 and 1965. Edwards had personally befriended Harold Montgomery, and Montgomery was hence eager to get along with the new governor, considering his earlier differences with McKeithen. Edwards was a pallbearer at Montgomery's funeral; Montgomery died in the final months of Edwards' fourth gubernatorial term.

Hal Montgomery said that his father did not approve of Edwards' flamboyant lifestyle but thought that Edwards was "a great governor who did as much for the state as any other who ever held the office." In the late 1970s, Louisiana was leading the nation in industrial recruitment. In the 1980s, as the jobs picture improved nationwide, the state economy took a downturn in Louisiana. Some noted that industrial recruitment was most successful when directed by Lieutenant Governor James Edward Fitzmorris, Jr., whose two terms coincided with Edwards' first terms as governor. Still, Fitzmorris had handled industrial recruitment in the David C. Treen administration as well.

Hal Montgomery said that while his father and Jack Montgomery were "not friends" when the 1967 campaign began, they were "not enemies" after Harold Montgomery's return to the state senate.

Hal Montgomery said that politics was frequently discussed in the Montgomery household when he was growing up in the 1960s, but he never shared his father's interests in politics and government service. As of 2006, Hal Montgomery still operated the hardware store in Ruston.

The Religious Right[edit]

Harold Montgomery for a time supported the Reverend Billy James Hargis' Christian Crusade radio and college ministry, which operated during the 1960s and 1970s from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Hargis often cited Montgomery by name on his radio broadcasts. A forerunner of what became known as the "Religious Right", Hargis and Montgomery also shared a hostility to communism. Hargis ran into morals allegations, which dampened his ministry in 1976. Hargis's son, Billy James Hargis, Jr., still conducts a reduced version of his father's ministry.

Hargis and Montgomery were critical of Martin Luther King's perceived leftist ties within the civil rights movement.

By Montgomery's last Senate term, segregation had legally ended, the issue ceased to be a viable political matter, and Montgomery avoided discussion of racial matters. Instead, he concentrated on getting state projects into northwest Louisiana. And it helped to have a friend in the governor's office during Montgomery's last term in office.

Retiring from the state senate, 1976[edit]

In 1974, Montgomery was an elected delegate to the first of three mid-term conventions of the Democratic National Committee, held in Kansas City, Missouri.[27] Such meetings were also held in 1978 and 1982 but thereafter discontinued.

Montgomery did not seek a fifth term in November 1975, under the state's newly instituted jungle primary. His senate seat in 1976 was taken by a fellow Democrat considered more liberal and populist than Montgomery, Foster L. Campbell, Jr., of Bossier Parish. Like Montgomery, Campbell is a former educator. He held the seat with little difficulty for seven terms (1976–2002), when he resigned to become one of the five members of the elected Public Service Commission. Campbell unsuccessfully sought the governorship in the primary held on October 20, 2007.

Montgomery's old seat is currently held by Democrat-turned-Republican Robert Adley of Benton. Adley, a former member of the Louisiana House of Representatives was a gubernatorial candidate himself in 1995.

The Southern Methodist Church[edit]

For many years, Montgomery loyally supported the First United Methodist Church in Haughton. As United Methodists moved to the theological left, Montgomery in April 1968 helped to organize a conservative Southern Methodist Church in Haughton on U.S. Highway 80 east of Bossier City. The organizing pastor was K.E. Griffith.[28] William Rainach had similarly helped to establish a Southern Methodist congregation in Claiborne Parish. According to Montgomery's obituary, "his deep conservative philosophy was reflected, not only in his political life, but also in his religious life. Those who knew and love him know that 'he told it like it was.'"

Montgomery's obituary and legacy[edit]

In 1968, Montgomery helped to organize this Southern Methodist congregation in Haughton.
Harold Montgomery's grave monument reads, "He Told It Like It Was".
Harold Montgomery Road sign in south Webster Parish

A garrulous, extroverted, "people-type" of person, Montgomery was involved in civic activities: the Webster Parish Cattleman's Association, Masonic lodge, Shriners, and the Minden Lions Club. He was on the board of the Lincoln Bank and Trust Company of Ruston and the former Peoples Bank and Trust Company (later Hibernia) in Minden.[29]

Montgomery died of heart failure while in an advanced stage of Alzheimer's disease. Azalee, who was nine years his senior, had died ten years earlier. At the time of his death, Montgomery had been retired from the state senate for nearly twenty years; yet Edwin Edwards was still governor. Harold and Azalee Montgomery are buried at the Haughton Cemetery (established 1945) in Bossier Parish.

In addition to his son and daughter-in-law, Montgomery was survived by two granddaughters, Leigh Ann and Tara, and three sisters, Audrey Rodes of Benton, Jean Morgan of Lake Charles, and Bobbie Steele of Memphis, Tennessee, and numerous nephews and nieces.

In addition to Governor Edwards, pallbearers included then Republican U.S. Representative Jim McCrery of Shreveport, former state legislative colleague Parey Branton, a Democrat from Shongaloo in Webster Parish, dairyman Roy D. "Don" Hinton (1912–2011) of Minden,[30] and attorney and then Webster Parish Library Board president Henry Grady Hobbs (1923-2012) of Minden,[31] who lost the 1960 and 1967 state House elections to Branton, and Minden banker Ralph Williams.

The Montgomery obituary defines his legacy as one of "love, honor, integrity, and love to God and country. The state and nation share in this legacy. Harold Montgomery was a true southern gentleman and statesman. . . . He loved his God and his family with a deep and profound love. In addition to his love for his family, he loved his state. This love inspired him to ask the people of his district to elect him to be their state senator. They did so, and he served in this capacity for twelve years . . . with honor and distinction."

While Montgomery was still living, the Webster Parish Police Jury (equivalent of county commission in other states) named the "Harold Montgomery Road" in Doyline in his honor. On November 19, 1983, his son Hal Montgomery ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the District 12 seat on the police jury.[32]

Note: Harold Montgomery was not related to former state Representative Billy Montgomery, a Democrat-turned-Republican from Bossier City and Haughton.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Arthur McEnany, senior analyst and law librarian of Louisiana Senate, "Membership in the Louisiana Senate, 1880-2004"
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Obituary of Harold Montgomery, Sr., Shreveport Times, December 18, 1995
  3. ^ Minden Herald and Webster Review, December 8, 1955.
  4. ^ Louisiana historical marker, Ranch Azalee, Harold Montgomery Road, Webster Parish, Louisiana
  5. ^ Social Security Death Index:http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=:2152871&id=I108301375
  6. ^ Minden Press January 17, 1956, p. 1
  7. ^ Louisiana Secretary of State, Baton Rouge, State Senate election returns, 1955 primary
  8. ^ Minden Press-Herald, then Minden Press, December 9, 1959, and January 11, 1960, p. 1
  9. ^ Minden Press, December 9, 1963, p. 1
  10. ^ Statement of Danny Roy Moore, Arcadia, Louisiana, January 5, 2011
  11. ^ a b Harry Taylor (May 1966). "Legislators support med bonds". Shreveport Journal. Retrieved October 25, 2014. 
  12. ^ "Lawmakers Voice Disapointment on Results of 1960 Legislature", Minden Press, July 18, 1960
  13. ^ "Montgomery Seeks Anti-Litter and Park Commission Legislation", Minden Press, June 6, 1960, p. 1
  14. ^ New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 4, 1962
  15. ^ "Jerry P. Shinley Archive". jfk-online.com. Retrieved August 17, 2010. 
  16. ^ Glen Jeansonne, Leander Perez of Louisiana, pp. 322-327, for discussion on free elector movement
  17. ^ a b c "Montgomery blasts Johnson in speech on Senate floor", Shreveport Journal, July 8, 1964, p. 1
  18. ^ Montgomery-tent photo caption, Shreveport Journal, July 9, 1964, p. 4A
  19. ^ Minden Press-Herald, December 14, 1967, p. 2
  20. ^ Minden Press-Herald, December 15, 1967, p. 16
  21. ^ Minden Press-Herald (advertisement), December 8, 1967
  22. ^ Minden Press-Herald (advertisement), October 13, 1967, p. 6
  23. ^ Minden Press-Herald, December 18, 1967, p. 1
  24. ^ Harold Montgomery advertisement, Minden Press-Herald, October 27, 1971, p. 7
  25. ^ Shreveport Journal, November 1, 1971, editorial, p. 4A
  26. ^ Minden Press-Herald, November 8, 1971, p. 1
  27. ^ Minden Press-Herald, August 19, 1974, p. 1
  28. ^ Cornerstone, Southern Methodist Church, Haughton, Louisiana
  29. ^ Bank advertisement, Minden Press-Herald, January 26, 1959
  30. ^ "R. Don Hinton". Shreveport Times, April 18, 2011. Retrieved April 19, 2011. 
  31. ^ "Henry Hobbs obituary". Shreveport Times, January 2, 2013. Retrieved January 3, 2013. 
  32. ^ Marilyn Miller, "Veteran Police Jurors Upset", Minden Press-Herald, November 21, 1983, p. 1
Political offices
Preceded by
Herman "Wimpy" Jones (D)
Louisiana State Senator for the 36th District (Bossier and Webster parishes)

A. Harold Montgomery, Sr., (D)
1960–1968

Succeeded by
John Willard "Jack" Montgomery, Sr. (D)
Preceded by
John Willard "Jack" Montgomery, Sr. (D)
Louisiana State Senator for the 36th District (Bossier, Webster, and Bienville parishes)

A. Harold Montgomery, Sr., (D)
1972–1976

Succeeded by
Foster L. Campbell, Jr., (D)