John E. Rankin

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John E. Rankin
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1921 – January 3, 1953
Preceded by Ezekiel Candler
Succeeded by Thomas Abernethy
Personal details
Born John Elliott Rankin
(1882-03-29)March 29, 1882
Itawamba County, Mississippi
Died November 26, 1960(1960-11-26) (aged 78)
Tupelo, Mississippi
Political party Democratic

John Elliott Rankin (March 29, 1882 – November 26, 1960) was a Democratic congressman from the U.S. State of Mississippi who supported racial segregation and, on the floor of the United States House of Representatives, voiced racist views on African Americans,[1] Jews,[2] and Japanese Americans,[3] even accusing Albert Einstein of being a communist agitator.[4]

In 1944, following the Port Chicago disaster, the U.S. Navy asked Congress to give $5,000 to the victim's families. However Rankin insisted the amount be reduced to $2,000 when he learned most of the dead were black sailors, which caused the amount to be negotiated at $3,000.[5]

Early life[edit]

Rankin was born near Bolanda in Itawamba County, Mississippi. He graduated from the University of Mississippi law school in 1910, and practiced in nearby Clay County before becoming prosecuting attorney of Lee County, a position he held until 1915.[6]

Military service[edit]

Rankin served in the United States Army during World War I.[7]

Political career[edit]

Roosevelt signing the Rural Electrification Act in 1935, with Rankin (left) and Senator George W. Norris (right).

Election to Congress[edit]

In 1920, he was elected to the House as a Democrat. He served sixteen consecutive terms (March 4, 1921 – January 3, 1953) as Mississippi's First District Representative.

Rankin coauthored the bill to create the Tennessee Valley Authority and was a supporter of the Rural Electrification Administration. He was a sponsor of Edith Nourse Rogers' Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (also known as the G.I. Bill of Rights). He was a strong supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and advocated economic intervention in poor rural communities. He opposed the creation of the UN, stating, "The United Nations is the greatest fraud in all History. Its purpose is to destroy the United States." He supported racial segregation and opposed civil rights legislation.[8] During World War II, Rankin alleged that the U.S. Army's loss of a certain battle was due to the cowardice of black soldiers. Fellow Representative Helen Gahagan Douglas replied that many black soldiers had been decorated for bravery despite serving in a segregated Army.[9] When African American Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was elected to Congress in 1945, Rankin vowed to never sit next to him.


Rankin chaired the Committee on World War Veterans' Legislation (Seventy-second through Seventy-ninth Congresses[10]) and the Committee on Veterans' Affairs (Eighty-first and Eighty-second Congresses[11]).

House Un-American Activities Committee[edit]

Rankin was a leading member of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). He was active in probing the Communist Party, USA, and the German American Bund, but was criticized for failing to investigate violence and murder perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan. After HUAC's chief counsel Ernest Adamson announced: "The committee has decided that it lacks sufficient data on which to base a probe," Rankin added: "After all, the KKK is an old American institution."[12]


American Jews[edit]

Rankin was antisemitic. William L. Strickland, professor of political science at University of Massachusetts Amherst, says "Rankin was an equal opportunity bigot". Rankin once called the Jewish newspaper columnist Walter Winchell "the little kike",[2][13][14] a moment referenced in the 1947, Academy Award-winning film Gentleman's Agreement, which focuses on the topic of antisemitism.

Rankin claimed that the Immigration and Nationality Act was opposed solely by American Jews:

They whine about discrimination. Do you know who is being discriminated against? The white Christian people of America, the ones who created this nation ... I am talking about the white Christian people of the North as well as the South ... Communism is racial. A racial minority seized control in Russia and in all her satellite countries, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, and many other countries I could name. They have been run out of practically every country in Europe in the years gone by, and if they keep stirring race trouble in this country and trying to force their communistic program on the Christian people of America, there is no telling what will happen to them here.[15]

Rankin notoriously baited Jewish Congressmen, including Adolph J. Sabath and Emanuel Celler. In one exchange, Rankin referred to Celler as "the Jewish gentleman from New York". When Celler protested the comment, Rankin retorted, "Does the member from New York object to being called a Jew or does he object to being called a gentleman? What is he kicking about?"

In late 1945, Albert Einstein backed calls for the United States to break off diplomatic relations with Spain's leader Francisco Franco, because the Spanish dictator had been an ally of Adolf Hitler. Rankin condemned Einstein on the floor of Congress, calling him a "foreign-born agitator" who sought "to further the spread of Communism throughout the world."[4]

An article in an ADL Bulletin, entitled "The Plot Against Anna M. Rosenberg", attributed the attacks on Rosenberg's loyalty to "professional anti-Semites and lunatic nationalists," including the "Jew-baiting cabal of John Rankin, Benjamin H. Freedman and Gerald Smith."[16]

During the 1951 espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the Communist spies charged and convicted of passing information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union, Rankin was condemned by Jewish groups for repeatedly calling the Rosenbergs a pair of "communist kikes".[17]

Japanese Americans[edit]

In his first term as representative, Rankin introduced an anti-miscegenation bill to prevent whites from marrying "Mongolians" and African Americans, and in 1930 he lobbied against Hawaii's bid for statehood on the grounds that it would add "two Jap senators" to Congress.[18] Following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that pulled the U.S. into World War II in December 1941, Rankin more directly expressed his abhorrence of Japanese Americans. On February 19, 1942, Rankin addressed the House on the issue of Japanese American internment, as recorded in the Congressional Record:

I'm for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska, and Hawaii now and putting them in concentration camps. ... Damn them! Let's get rid of them now![3]

Rankin was one of the few Southern congressmen to support West Coast politicians and lobbyists calling for the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans, proposing that every person of Japanese ancestry in the United States be deported at the end of the war before reintroducing a defeated "concentration camp bill" to remove ethnic Japanese from the country and all U.S. territories. As the war progressed, he continued to speak out against Japanese Americans, testifying in favor of labeling Japanese and African American blood donations to prevent them from contaminating white recipients and limiting the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team to labor battalions instead of active combat.[18]

African Americans[edit]

In addition to his 1920 bill attempting to ban interracial marriage, Rankin vehemently opposed key demands for African American civil rights like desegregation and the elimination of poll taxes. He argued that equal opportunity hiring practices "persecuted" whites, anti-lynching bills encouraged rape, and racial equality would destroy "the white man's civilization throughout the world."[18]

Rankin was known to use the slur nigger on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.

In 1945, Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-New York) called for Rankin's impeachment. Although congressmen traditionally did not speak during their first year in office, Powell rose after one of Rankin's outbursts to say that "the time has arrived to impeach Rankin, or at least expel him from the party."[1]

During a debate about the 1949 Peekskill Riots in Cortlandt Manor, Westchester County, New York, Rankin again used the word nigger while addressing the House. A mob of racists and anti-communists had attacked people who were leaving a concert at which the African American entertainer and political radical Paul Robeson had performed. Rankin condemned Robeson, blaming him for inciting the violence, because of Robeson's civil rights activism.[19]

The next person to speak was Representative Jacob Javits (R-New York), who conversely condemned the white mob in Peekskill for violating constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and free assembly.[20] Angered by these comments, Rankin bellowed, "It was not surprising to hear the gentleman from New York defend the Communist enclave." He then wanted it known that the American people were not in sympathy "with that nigger Communist and that bunch of Reds who went up there."[20]

On a point of order, Representative Vito Marcantonio (R-New York) protested to House Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Texas) that "the gentleman from Mississippi used the word nigger. I ask that the word be taken down and stricken from the RECORD inasmuch as there are two members in this house of Negro race." Rayburn claimed that Rankin had said Negro rather than nigger, but Rankin yelled over him "I said Niggra! Just as I have said since I have been able to talk and shall continue to say."[21] Speaker Rayburn defended Rankin, ruling that "the gentleman from Mississippi is not subject to a point of order ... [he] referred to the Negro race and they should not be afraid of that designation."[21]

Senatorial aspirations[edit]

Rankin ran for the Democratic nomination for the Mississippi seat in the Senate that was vacated by the death of Theodore G. Bilbo. He finished last among five major candidates, with over 24,000 votes and 13% of the vote.

Final years and death[edit]

Rankin was defeated for re-election to the House in 1952 by Congressman Thomas G. Abernethy after their districts were joined through redistricting.

Rankin died at his home in Tupelo on November 26, 1960. He is interred in Greenwood Cemetery in West Point, Mississippi.



  1. ^ a b Haygood, Wil. King of the Cats. Houghton Mifflin, NY. 1993, p. 118.
  2. ^ a b Time Magazine
  3. ^ a b "Executive Order 9066 – The internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans" by Maisie & Richard Conrat, published by the Asian American Studies Center, University of California, Los Angeles, P34
  4. ^ a b "Einstein on Politics". History News Network. June 8, 2007. 
  5. ^ Allen, The Port Chicago Mutiny, 67.
  6. ^ Biographical Dictionary of the United States
  7. ^ Vickers, Kenneth Wayne. "John Rankin: Democrat and Demagogue." Master's thesis, Mississippi State University, 1993.
  8. ^ Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson & His Times, 1908–1960 Dallek, R (OUP, 1991) ISBN 0-19-505435-0 p. 505.
  9. ^ Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate Caro, R (New York, Knopf, 2002) ISBN 0-394-52836-0 p. 346.
  10. ^ 1931 to 1947: Encyclopaedia Britannica 1955 Vol 22 p. 845.
  11. ^ 1949 to 1953 Britannia (Ibid)
  12. ^ Inside U.S.A. Gunther, J (London, Hamish Hamilton, 1947 p. 789)
  13. ^ Black Commentator March 26, 2009 Issue 317
  14. ^
  15. ^ Congressional Record, April 23, 1952, p. 4320
  16. ^ Jews Against Prejudice, p. 120
  17. ^ A Fire in Their Hearts, p. 258.
  18. ^ a b c Herzinger, Kyna. "John Rankin". Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 22, 2014. 
  19. ^ Ford, Carin T. (2007). Paul Robeson: I Want to Make Freedom Ring. Enslow Publishers. pp. 97–98. ISBN 978-0766027039. 
  20. ^ a b Duberman, Martin. Paul Robeson, 1989, Peekskill p. 373.
  21. ^ a b United States Congressional Record, September 21, 1949, p 13375

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Ezekiel S. Candler, Jr.
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
Thomas Abernethy