Percy Priest

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James Percy Priest

James Percy Priest (April 1, 1900 – October 12, 1956) was an American teacher, journalist and politician who represented Tennessee in the United States House of Representatives from 1941 until his death.

Background[edit]

Priest was born in Maury County, Tennessee. He attended Central High School in Columbia, and afterward continued his education at State Teachers' College in Murfreesboro (now Middle Tennessee State University), and the former Peabody College in Nashville. He taught school in Culleoka, in his native Maury County, from 1920 until 1926, when he joined the editorial staff of the Nashville Tennessean.

Congress[edit]

In 1940 Priest was encouraged to run for the United States House of Representatives as an independent in Tennessee's 5th congressional district, which was, then as now, based in Nashville. He won in an upset, defeating the incumbent, one-term Democratic Congressman Jo Byrns, Jr. Upon swearing-in he immediately joined the Democratic caucus, and was reelected seven times. The district was renumbered the 6th District in 1943 and became the 5th once again in 1953. He served as the House majority whip between 1949 and 1953. Priest was one of three Democrats in the Tennessee House delegation who did not sign the Southern Manifesto, the others being Joe Evins and Ross Bass.

At the time of his death, Priest was serving as the chairman of the House Commerce Committee and had already secured the Democratic nomination for a ninth term, which had essentially assured him of reelection since no Republican has been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Nashville since Reconstruction.[citation needed]

Death and legacy[edit]

In early October 1956, Priest entered a Nashville hospital for an operation on an ulcer and was reported in satisfactory condition. However, complications developed and he died in the early morning hours of October 12.

Priest was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in Nashville. J. Percy Priest Dam, a United States Army Corps of Engineers hydroelectric and flood control structure just east of Nashville on the Stones River (and easily visible from Interstate 40) is named in his honor, as is Percy Priest Lake (created by the dam) and an elementary school in Forest Hills, a suburb of Nashville.[1]

In August 2010 it was announced that Priest's papers, along with the research files of Rebecca Stubbs, author of the biography J. Percy Priest and His Amazing Race, had been donated to the Tennessee State Library and Archives.[2]

References[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Joseph W. Byrns, Jr.
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 5th congressional district

1941–1943
Succeeded by
Jim N. McCord
Preceded by
W. Wirt Courtney
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 6th congressional district

1943–1953
Succeeded by
James Patrick Sutton
Preceded by
Joseph L. Evins
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 5th congressional district

1953–1956
Succeeded by
J. Carlton Loser
Party political offices
Preceded by
Leslie Cornelius Arends (R-IL)
House Majority Whip
1949–1953
Succeeded by
Leslie Cornelius Arends (R-IL)
Preceded by
John William McCormack (MA)
House Democratic Whip
1949–1953
Succeeded by
John William McCormack (MA)