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, C.S.
Died June 25, 1930(1930-06-25) (aged 68)
Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.
Resting place Lakewood Memorial Park, Jackson, Mississippi, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Anna Burleson Robinson
Religion Methodist
Military service
Nickname(s) "The Great White Chief"
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch Seal of the United States Department of War.png United States Army
Rank Union army maj rank insignia.jpg Major
Battles/wars Spanish–American War

James Kimble Vardaman (July 26, 1861 – June 25, 1930) was an American politician from the U.S. state of Mississippi and was the Governor of Mississippi from 1904 to 1908. A Democrat, Vardaman was a member of the United States Senate from 1913 to 1919. Known as "The Great White Chief", Vardaman advocated white supremacy, saying: "If it is necessary every Negro in the state will be lynched; it will be done to maintain white supremacy."[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Vardaman was born in Jackson County, Texas in July 1861.[2] He went on to study law and became editor of a newspaper, the Greenwood Commonwealth, which is still in publication as of 2015.


Vardaman along with James Thomas Heflin and Ollie James in 1912.
Vardaman during his time as a U.S. senator.


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 U.S. 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 advocated a policy of state-sponsored 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]

Referring to the 1890 Mississippian state constitution, created by southern Democrats to disenfranchise black voters, and which is still in use today, Vardaman said:

There is no use to equivocate or lie about the matter. ... Mississippi's constitutional convention of 1890 was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the nigger from politics. Not the 'ignorant and vicious', as some of the apologists would have you believe, but the nigger. ... Let the world know it just as it is. ... In Mississippi we have in our constitution legislated against the racial peculiarities of the Negro. ... When that device fails, we will resort to something else.[5]

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.[6]


Vardaman was known for his provocative speeches and quotes, once calling Theodore Roosevelt a "little, mean, coon-flavored miscegenationist."[7] 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."[8] 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."[9]

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."[10]

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.[11]


Vardaman died on June 25, 1930 at the Birmingham Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama at the age of 68.[12]


  1. ^ a b Public Broadcasting Service (September 2008). "People & Events: James K. Vardaman". American Experience (Corporation for Public Broadcasting). Retrieved September 21, 2008. 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. ^ McMillen, Neil R. "The Politics of the Disfranchised". Dark Journey: Black Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow. pp. 41–44. Retrieved August 1, 2015. 
  6. ^ Street, William B. (March 21, 1965). "The Man Who Invented The Redneck". The Commercial Appeal. 
  7. ^ "Theodore Roosevelt and Civil Rights". Theodore Roosevelt Association. Retrieved 2008-09-21. 
  8. ^ Wilkerson, Isabel "The Warmth of Other Suns" (2010) p. 40
  9. ^ 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." 
  10. ^ "The Authentic Voice". Time. March 26, 1956. 
  11. ^ James K. Vardaman, Jr.: Governor (Board of Governors): 1946 - 1958
  12. ^ "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