J. D. DeBlieux

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Joseph Davis "J.D." DeBlieux
Original DeBlieux photo.jpg
Former Louisiana Louisiana State Senator J.D. DeBlieux, Baton Rouge Democrat
Louisiana State Senator from East Baton Rouge Parish
In office
1956–1960
Preceded by Charles F. Duchein
Succeeded by Wendell P. Harris
In office
1964–1976
Preceded by Wendell P. Harris
Succeeded by Thomas H. Hudson
Personal details
Born (1912-09-12)September 12, 1912
Columbia, Caldwell Parish, Louisiana, USA
Died March 13, 2005(2005-03-13) (aged 92)
Mer Rouge, Morehouse Parish, Louisiana
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Dorothy Lepine DeBlieux (1916-1993, married 1948-her death)
Children Paul Louis DeBlieux (1952–1998)
Residence Baton Rouge, East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana (prior to disabililty)
Occupation Attorney
Religion Roman Catholic

Joseph Davis DeBlieux, known as J.D. DeBlieux (September 12, 1912 – March 13, 2005),[1] was a Democratic member of the Louisiana State Senate who represented East Baton Rouge Parish from 1956 to 1960 and again from 1964 to 1976.[2] DeBlieux (pronounced "W") is remembered as a crusader for civil rights in Louisiana politics during the latter years of the era of segregation. During the New Orleans school desegregation crisis of 1959-1960, DeBlieux chaired the Louisiana State Advisory Committee to the newly established United States Civil Rights Commission. He argued for "equal rights for all", not for racial integration per se, as the American South slowly complied with the United States Supreme Court's 1954 decision, Brown v. Board of Education.[3]

Early years, education, military[edit]

DeBlieux was the oldest of fourteen children (seven boys and seven girls) born to Honore Louis "Bubba" DeBlieux, Sr. (1889–1958), and the former Ozet Perot (1895–1981). Honore and Ozet were both natives of Natchitoches Parish: he was from Clarence and she from nearby Campti. The couple married in 1911 in Winnsboro, the seat of Franklin Parish south of Monroe. Honore was a farmer, operated a grocery store, and delivered Monroe News Star newspapers. In 1973, Ozet, whose last child was born in 1939, was named Louisiana "Mother of the Year". The DeBlieux family had just relocated to Columbia, the seat of Caldwell Parish, at the time of J.D.'s birth there. He graduated in 1929 from Caldwell Parish High School, then known as Columbia High School. While in high school, he worked for the Caldwell News.[4]

The DeBlieuxs lived on land adjacent to the Hogan Plantation acquired by future Louisiana Governor John J. McKeithen. McKeithen recalled that the DeBlieux family overcame great odds: "Everything he did, he did on his own. It's a credit to him. I think it's a credit to America that he could do what he did."[5] McKeithen added, "There has never been a man in the legislature more honest than J.D. DeBlieux.".[6]

The family thereafter relocated to Bastrop, the seat of Morehouse Parish in north Louisiana near Monroe. In 1932, DeBlieux received a two-year associate's degree from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, when the institution was Ouachita Parish Junior College. He then transferred to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he procured his Juris Doctor degree in 1936. To earn money for his studies, DeBlieux was an elevator operator at the Louisiana State Capitol and performed many odd jobs over the years.[4]

DeBlieux opened his Baton Rouge general practice in 1936. He declined to take divorce cases or other requests which he thought might be unethical. He opposed advertising by lawyers.[7]

In 1941, DeBlieux was drafted into the United States Army, having served during World War II in the Middle East as a staff sergeant law clerk.[6] From 1949 to 1950, he was an officer of the Baton Rouge American Legion post.[8]

Entering Louisiana politics[edit]

In 1948, DeBlieux ran for the Louisiana House of Representatives from East Baton Rouge Parish but was defeated. In 1952, he ran for the state Senate but lost to Charles F. Duchein (December 23, 1914 – October 19, 1998).[1] It was an anti-Long year in Louisiana, with Robert F. Kennon of Minden, the seat of Webster Parish in northwestern Louisiana, winning the governorship. DeBlieux rebounded to unseat Duchein in 1956, when Earl Kemp Long made his comeback for a second full term as governor.[9] At the time DeBlieux, like Earl Long, was strongly supported by organized labor because of his advocacy of the repeal of the right-to-work law passed during the Kennon administration,[5]

DeBlieux was a Louisiana delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1956, when delegates nominated the Adlai StevensonEstes Kefauver ticket, the first national Democratic ticket since Reconstruction to fail to win Louisiana's electoral votes.[10]

DeBlieux also served for a time on the 144-member Louisiana Democratic State Central Committee, a powerful organization with influence in election procedures and campaigns.[5]

DeBlieux was unseated in the Democratic runoff election in January 1959 by segregationist Wendell P. Harris (March 13, 1917 – February 4, 1994).[1] Under a revised districting plan following the 1960 census, East Baton Rouge Parish gained two additional state Senate seats. DeBlieux entered the 1963 Democratic primaries and managed to unseat Harris, who had been indicted for illegal wiretapping.[11]

In the March 3, 1964, general election, DeBlieux defeated Republican businessman and Illinois native Floyd O. Crawford (1907–1995) of Baton Rouge, 55-45 percent.[12] That fall, Crawford, running with the Barry Goldwater electors, unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Representative James H. Morrison of Hammond. DeBlieux was thereafter reelected to the state Senate in 1968 and 1972.

DeBlieux's support for civil rights caught the eye of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who invited DeBlieux to the White House. DeBlieux had supported the Kennedy-Johnson, Johnson-Humphrey, and Humphrey-Muskie tickets in 1960, 1964, and 1968, but only Kennedy secured Louisiana's then ten electoral votes.

DeBlieux was unlike most of his Senate colleagues. He published his annual income in the newspaper. He tried to prevent Louisiana department heads from soliciting campaign contributions from state employees. He sought to examine the records of state agencies. He opposed an attempt by the Louisiana House to invoke the doctrine of interposition in regard to federal-state relations and authored an unsuccessful amendment that affirmed the state's recogniton of federal constitutional authority.[5] He hired future state district and appellate court judge Henry L. Yelverton of Lake Charles on his Senate staff. Yelverton later said that DeBlieux's public posture was an inspiration for his own.

In 1966, midway in his second term in the state Senate, DeBlieux waged an intraparty challenge to U.S. Senator Allen J. Ellender of Houma, the seat of Terrebonne Parish in south Louisiana. While DeBlieux challenged the entrenched incumbent from the political left, another candidate, Troyce E. Guice (1932–2008), a conservative businessman then from Ferriday in Concordia Parish in eastern Louisiana, ran to Ellender's right. Ellender polled 484,519 votes (74.2 percent) to DeBlieux's 94,154 (14.1 percent) and Guice's 78,137 (11.7 percent).[13] Ellender was then unopposed in the November 8 general election for the last of his six Senate terms.

In 1968, DeBlieux, with little available funding, waged a losing intraparty challenge to conservative U.S. Representative John Richard Rarick, an Indiana native and a lawyer from St. Francisville in West Feliciana Parish.

Opposing Henson Moore[edit]

DeBlieux was unseated in the 1975 elections, the first held in Louisiana under the jungle primary format, by fellow Democrat Thomas H. Hudson (born 1946) of Baton Rouge, who held the seat for one term. Ironically, he lost the black vote to Hudson because DeBlieux refused to give black ministers funds for their pledged support. "You should be raising money for me and giving me money to help in my election. I shouldn't be giving you money," DeBlieux told the clergymen. He added that he never gave the ministers any funds.[5]

In 1976, shortly after he had left the state Senate, DeBlieux waged a challenge to freshman Republican U.S. Representative W. Henson Moore, III, of Baton Rouge in the Louisiana 6th Congressional District. Moore, who had succeeded Rarick in 1975, was an easy winner even though DeBlieux's candidate for U.S. President, former Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia, won Louisiana's then ten electoral votes. Moore received 99,780 votes (65.2 percent) to DeBlieux's 53,212 (34.8 percent) and won majorities in all precincts in the district except for two boxes in West Feliciana Parish. Moore was the first Louisiana Republican congressional candidate in modern history to run ahead of the presidential electors in the state. Even in areas where the Carter-Mondale ticket won handily, DeBlieux still trailed.[14]

The Sixth District did not return to its Democratic moorings until May 3, 2008, when State Representative Don Cazayoux of New Roads in Pointe Coupee Parish defeated Republican former State Representative Woody Jenkins in a special election created by the resignation of Republican Richard Hugh Baker. Cazayoux was then defeated for a full two-year term in the November 4 general election by Republican State Senator Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge.

Family and legacy[edit]

DeBlieux closed his law practice in December 1997. He was predeceased by his wife of forty-six years, the former Dorothy Lepine (November 18, 1916 – December 30, 1993), and their adopted son, Paul Louis DeBlieux (September 11, 1952 – September 6, 1998),[1] who died of renal failure five days before his 46th birthday.

In his last years, DeBliex moved to a convalescent home in Mer Rouge in Morehouse Parish, where he was tended by a sister, Alma D. Honeycutt (born 1923), a retired postmaster in Mer Rouge. DeBlieux died of Alzheimer's disease. DeBlieux was a distant cousin of Robert DeBlieux, who served as mayor of Natchitoches from 1976 to 1980. An active Roman Catholic who attended mass daily, DeBlieux was once cited for his spiritual convictions by Pope John Paul II.[15]

DeBlieux was a former recipient of the "Racial Justice Award" given by the Baton Rouge chapter of the Young Women's Christian Association.[16] On April 2, 2008, DeBlieux was, along with former Judge and 1952 gubernatorial candidate Carlos Spaht and former Register of the State Lands Ellen Bryan Moore, honored posthumously by the annual Louisiana Governor's Prayer Breakfast. DeBlieux's funeral mass was celebrated on March 16, 2005, at St. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge. The DeBlieuxes are interred in Resthaven Gardens of Memory in Baton Rouge.

Camille F. Gravel, Jr., the Alexandria attorney who was a confidant of three governors and who himself died nine months after DeBlieux's death, referred to his friend, accordingly: "This may sound overblown, but there aren't enough ways for me to describe what a fine man J.D. DeBlieux [was]. He had courage in his handling of public matters..." Gravel, who was with DeBlieux at the 1956 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, recalled that two crosses were burned on DeBlieux's property in Baton Rouge during the desegregation crisis, but DeBlieux stood his ground.[5]

Victor V. Bussie, former president of the Louisiana AFL-CIO, said that DeBlieux would not only vote for liberal measures before the Senate but "speak out, which was very unusual. Some others would vote that way but not carry the fight by speaking out. J.D. did both."[5]

Smiley Anders, the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate columnist, wrote on DeBlieux's death that the former lawmaker was "a small man with glasses and a high voice. But in the state Senate in the 1950s, his was the lone voice crying out for racial justice. Today, it's hard to imagine the kind of courage required to take a stand for civil rights in those days. Segregationists ran the state, and bad things could happen to people who supported ... voting rights for African Americans. J.D.'s support of civil rights didn't help his political career, and no doubt didn't help his law practice. Being ahead of your time can be a costly business. His stubborn advocacy of equal rights for all Louisiana people caused the first crack in the solid wall of segregation. J.D. said what he believed needed to be said, at a time when few people wanted to hear it. His stand was not only right—it was heroic."[17]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Social Security Death Index Interactive Search
  2. ^ http://www.legis.state.la.us/members/s1880-2004.pdf
  3. ^ The New Orleans school crisis: report
  4. ^ a b Third Generation
  5. ^ a b c d e f g George Morris, "A Civil Servant: J.D. DeBlieux fought in the Legislature for civil rights", Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, March 9, 1998
  6. ^ a b DeBlieux obituary, Bastrop Daily Enterprise, March 15, 2005, p. 3
  7. ^ 241 F.2d 494
  8. ^ [1][dead link]
  9. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=FZgEl830BEcC&pg=PA157&lpg=PA157&dq=J.D.+DeBlieux&source=web&ots=OTqdiw5D71&sig=8lxLswO6NYFs5Rp_39J3LnMZSrA&hl=en#PPA157,M1
  10. ^ The Political Graveyard: Index to Politicians: Deana to Deboise
  11. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=7idHI9KdCfwC&pg=PA335&lpg=PA335&dq=j.d.+DeBlieux+photo&source=web&ots=9HgKWhjyzC&sig=gX-i5GclHpJE2F-rkuZDrVHpsBE&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=7&ct=result
  12. ^ State of Louisiana, Election Statistics, December 1963 - March 1964 elections
  13. ^ Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, Senate primaries, 1966
  14. ^ Election statistics, 1976, Louisiana Secretary of State, Baton Rouge
  15. ^ Statement of Alma D. Honeycutt, Mer Rouge, Louisiana, May 5, 2008
  16. ^ Racial Justice Award - Greater Baton Rouge
  17. ^ Smiley Anders, Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, March 14, 2005
Preceded by
Charles F. Duchein
Louisiana State Senator from East Baton Rouge Parish

Joseph Davis DeBlieux
1956–1960

Succeeded by
Wendell P. Harris
Preceded by
Wendell P. Harris
Louisiana State Senator from East Baton Rouge Parish

Joseph Davis DeBlieux
1964–1976

Succeeded by
Thomas H. Hudson