James K. Vardaman

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James K. Vardaman
James Kimble Vardaman.jpg
James K. Vardaman
United States Senator
from Mississippi
In office
March 4, 1913 – March 3, 1919
Preceded by Le Roy Percy
Succeeded by Byron P. Harrison
36th Governor of Mississippi
In office
January 19, 1904 – January 21, 1908
Lieutenant John Prentiss Carter
Preceded by Andrew H. Longino
Succeeded by Edmond Noel
Personal details
Born James Kimble Vardaman
(1861-07-26)July 26, 1861
Jackson County, Texas
Died June 25, 1930(1930-06-25) (aged 68)
Birmingham, Alabama
Resting place Lakewood Memorial Park, Jackson, Mississippi
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Anna Burleson Robinson
Religion Methodist
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Battles/wars Spanish–American War

James Kimble Vardaman (July 26, 1861 – June 25, 1930) was an American politician from the state of Mississippi, serving as Governor of Mississippi from 1904 to 1908 and in the U.S. Senate from 1913 to 1919. Vardaman, known as "The Great White Chief", advocated white supremacy. He said "if it is necessary every Negro in the state will be lynched; it will be done to maintain white supremacy."[1]

Early life[edit]

Vardaman was born in Jackson County, Texas, in 1861.[2] He went on to study law and became editor of a newspaper, the Greenwood Commonwealth (still in publication as of 2014).

Political career[edit]

As a Democrat, Vardaman served in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1890 to 1896 and was speaker of that body in 1894. He was a major in the United States Army during the Spanish–American War and saw service in Puerto Rico.

After two failed attempts in 1895 and 1899, Vardaman won the governorship in 1903 and served one four-year term (1904–1908).

By 1910, his political coalition, comprising chiefly poor white farmers and industrial workers, began to describe themselves proudly as "rednecks", even to the point of wearing red neckerchiefs to political rallies and picnics.[3]

Vardaman, James Thomas Heflin, and Ollie James in 1912

Vardaman advocated a policy of racism against African Americans, even to the point of supporting lynching in order to maintain his vision of white supremacy.[1] He was known as the "Great White Chief".[4]

Vardaman was elected to the U.S. Senate and served one term lasting from 1913 until 1919, having been defeated in his reelection bid in 1918. The main factor in his defeat was his opposition to the Declaration of War which had enabled the United States to enter World War I. Vardaman sought to return to the Senate in 1922, but was defeated in the Democratic runoff by Congressman Hubert Stephens by 9,000 votes.[5]

Notable quotes[edit]

Vardaman was known for his provocative speeches and quotes, once calling Theodore Roosevelt a "little, mean, coon-flavored miscegenationist."[6] In reference to the education of black children, he remarked, "The only effect of Negro education is to spoil a good field hand and make an insolent cook."[7] After Booker T. Washington had dined with Roosevelt, Vardaman said the White House was "so saturated with the odor of the nigger that the rats have taken refuge in the stable."[8] Referring to the appearance of Booker T. Washington in politics, he said: "I am just as much opposed to Booker T. Washington as a voter as I am to the coconut-headed, chocolate-colored typical little coon who blacks my shoes every morning."[9]

Personal life[edit]

He was married to Anna Burleson Robinson. Their son, James K. Vardaman, Jr., served as the Governor of the Federal Reserve System from 1946 to 1958.[10]


He died on June 25, 1930 at the Birmingham Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama at the age of 68.[11]


  1. ^ a b "People & Events: James K. Vardaman". American Experience (PBS). Retrieved 2008-09-21. if it is necessary every Negro in the state will be lynched; it will be done to maintain white supremacy 
  2. ^ Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  3. ^ Albert D. Kirwan, Revolt of the Rednecks: Mississippi Politics 1876–1925 (1951) p. 212
  4. ^ Mullins, Philip. "The Revolt of the Rednecks". The Ancestors Of George & Hazel Mullins. University of Texas at Austin. 
  5. ^ Street, William B. (March 21, 1965). "The Man Who Invented The Redneck". The Commercial Appeal. 
  6. ^ "Theodore Roosevelt and Civil Rights". Theodore Roosevelt Association. Retrieved 2008-09-21. 
  7. ^ Wilkerson, Isabel "The Warmth of Other Suns" (2010) p. 40
  8. ^ Wickham, DeWayne (February 14, 2002). "Book fails to strip meaning of 'N' word". USA Today. It is as noxious today as in 1901 when Mississippi Sen. James Vardaman said after Booker T. Washington had dined with President Theodore Roosevelt that the White House was "so saturated with the odor of the nigger that the rats have taken refuge in the stable." 
  9. ^ "The Authentic Voice". Time. March 26, 1956. 
  10. ^ James K. Vardaman, Jr.: Governor (Board of Governors): 1946 - 1958
  11. ^ "J. K. Vardaman, Ex-senator, Dies. Mississippian Succumbs to Long Illness in a Birmingham Hospital. Was A Former Governor. One of Six Senators Who Voted Against War With Germany. Former Lawyer and Editor.". New York Times. June 26, 1930. Retrieved 2010-03-23. James Kimball Vardaman, former Governor of Mississippi and former United States Senator from that State, familiarly known to thousands as 'the White Chief,' died at a hospital here today after a lengthy illness. His age was 68. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Andrew H. Longino
Governor of Mississippi
Succeeded by
Edmond Noel
United States Senate
Preceded by
Le Roy Percy
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Mississippi
Served alongside: John Sharp Williams
Succeeded by
Pat Harrison