Jesse Monroe Knowles

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Jesse Monroe Knowles
Louisiana State Senator for
Calcasieu and surrounding parishes)
In office
Preceded byGuy Sockrider
Succeeded byClifford L. Newman
Louisiana State Representative for Calcasieu Parish
Preceded by
  • Horace Lynn Jones
  • Lon Tyndall
Succeeded by
Personal details
Born(1919-07-23)July 23, 1919
Merryville, Louisiana, United States
DiedApril 23, 2006(2006-04-23) (aged 86)
Political partyDemocrat-turned-Republican (1980)
Spouse(s)Helen Noel Knowles
OccupationBusiness, supervisor for Amoco

Jesse Monroe Knowles (July 23, 1919 – April 23, 2006) was a businessman, civic leader, and politician, elected as a Democratic Party member to both houses of the Louisiana State Legislature for Calcasieu Parish. He served a total of twenty years in both chambers.

From the late 1960s, the Republican Party had been attracting white southern conservatives into its ranks. In the last weeks of his last term as state senator in 1980, Knowles switched to the GOP. He had supported Republican David C. Treen for governor of Louisiana in 1979 and was appointed to state posts.

From Lake Charles, Knowles was a United States Army Air Forces veteran and a survivor of the Bataan Death March in World War II. He was active in veterans' affairs and groups following his service during the war and served as national president of the 27th Bombardment Group Association.

Early life and education[edit]

Knowles was born in Merryville in Beauregard Parish, but his family moved to Lake Charles in 1935. Knowles graduated from Lake Charles High School (renamed Lake Charles Boston High School after consolidation).

Military service[edit]

In 1939, Knowles enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served in the Pacific Theater of Operations, where he was captured in 1942 >by the Japanese army at Bataan. Surviving the Bataan Death March, he was held in a number of prison camps for more than two years, a total of 1,228 days. He was last held in the camp in Mukden, Manchuria, where he was liberated by United States forces on August 15, 1945. The Death March was featured in a National Broadcasting Company documentary in 1982 entitled The Forgotten Hell.

As a president of the Mayor's Armed Forces Committee in Lake Charles, Knowles had regular contact with the Fort Polk staff in Leesville in Vernon Parish. He urged members of the military to visit Lake Charles. He was a well-known speaker at school programs and veterans' ceremonies.

Knowles served as a commander of his area and district Veterans of Foreign Wars. He was a legislative officer and a junior vice commander of the VFW Post 2130. He was also a member of W. B. Williamson American Legion Post 1, the Disabled American Veterans, and the American Ex-Prisoners of War. He served as a national president of the 27th Bombardment Group Association and was cited as "Man of the Year" by that group. He was a member of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.

After Knowles was discharged from the military, he went to work as a draftsman for Amoco Oil Company. He became a fee land supervisor. Retiring in 1984 after thirty-eight years of service with Amoco, he later worked for the Lake Charles River Pilots.

Entering Louisiana politics[edit]

Knowles had joined the Democratic Party when it held nearly every public office in Louisiana. At the turn of the 20th century, Louisiana and other former Confederate states disenfranchised most blacks by raising barriers to voter registration. This move dramatically weakened the Republican Party in the South.

Knowles was first elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in the 1959-1960 election cycle. In 1964, Knowles was elected as a Democrat to the state Senate, in which he served for four terms. He was once named "Outstanding Legislator" by the Lake Charles Junior Chamber International.

In 1969, Knowles emerged as a leading critic of sex education in public schools, an issue that was controversial in a period of social change. He referred to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, which prepared much of the sex education curriculum then under consideration, as "a communist conspiracy".[1] He supported a measure to withdraw state funds from school districts that followed the suggested SIEUS curriculum. State Senator Edgar G. "Sonny" Mouton, Jr., of Lafayette, said that sponsors of the punitive legislation, including Knowles, were "storm troopers".[1]

In the 1979 nonpartisan blanket primary, Knowles did not seek a fifth state Senate term but instead ran for lieutenant governor in a bid to succeed James E. "Jimmy" Fitzmorris, Jr., of New Orleans, who instead ran unsuccessfully for governor. Another Democrat, Bobby Freeman of Plaquemine in Iberville Parish, was elected as lieutenant governor for the first of two terms.

Early in 1980, Knowles, with just a few weeks remaining in his state senate term, Knowles switched his party affiliation to Republican, and Governor Treen appointed Knowles as the secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Knowles, however, had to retire from office after suffering a heart attack twelve days into his appointment. After he recovered, Governor Treen appointed him to the Louisiana Rice Promotion Board. Knowles was also elected to the board of directors of the Louisiana Rice Council, of which he was later the president.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Sex Education Bill Killed in Senate by Vidrine Talk", Minden Press-Herald, June 10, 1969, p. 1.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Two-member district:

A. C. Clemons
Guy Sockrider

Louisiana State Senator for Calcasieu and surrounding parishes

Jesse Monroe Knowles
(alongside A. C. Clemons in first two terms)
1964 – 1980

Succeeded by
Clifford L. Newman
Preceded by
Two-member district:

Horace Lynn Jones
Lon Tyndall

Louisiana State Representative for Calcasieu Parish

Jesse Monroe Knowles
1960 – 1964

Succeeded by
Mike L. Hogan

Harry Hollins
A. J. "Tubby" Lyons