Jesse Monroe Knowles
|Jesse Monroe Knowles|
|Louisiana State Senator from Calcasieu and surrounding parishes)|
|Preceded by||Guy Sockrider|
|Succeeded by||Clifford L. Newman|
|Louisiana House of Representatives (Calcasieu Parish)|
July 23, 1919|
Merryville, Louisiana, United States
|Died||April 23, 2006(aged 86)|
|Political party||Democrat; Republican convert (1980)|
|Spouse(s)||Helen Noel Knowles|
|Occupation||Business, 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 from Calcasieu Parish, serving a total of 16 years.
From the late 1960s, the Republican Party was attracting white southern conservatives to its ranks. In the last weeks of his last term as state senator, in 1980 Knowles switched to the Republican Party. He had supported Republican David Treen for the Louisiana governorship in 1979, and was appointed to state posts.
From Lake Charles, Knowles was an Air Force 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 he served as national president of the 27th Bombardment Group Association.
Early life and education
Jesse Monroe Knowles was born in Merryville in 1919 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).
In 1939, Knowles enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He served in the Pacific during World War II, where he was captured in 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, the seat of 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
Knowles had joined the Democratic Party, as it was the strongest party in Louisiana at the time. The white Democrats had a bloc of influence in Congress known as the Solid South. At the turn of the 20th century, Louisiana and other former Confederate states disenfranchised most blacks by raising barriers to voter registration, dramatically weakening 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 Louisiana State Senate, where 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". 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".
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. Fitzmorris ran unsuccessfully for governor. Knowles lost. Fellow Democrat Bobby Freeman was elected as lieutenant governor for the first of two terms.
In the 1979 general election, Knowles supported Republican gubernatorial candidate David C. Treen. Early in 1980, Knowles, with just a few weeks remaining in his state senate term, switched his party affiliation to Republican. Governor Treen appointed Knowles, a past chairman of the Louisiana Wildlife Commission, as secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
But, Knowles 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; he later served as president of that group.
- "Sex Education Bill Killed in Senate by Vidrine Talk", Minden Press-Herald, June 10, 1969, p. 1
- Proclamation of Senator Jesse Knowles Day by Calcasieu Parish
- Poem about the Bataan Death March (1/3 of the way down the page)
|Louisiana State Senator for Calcasieu and surrounding parishes
Jesse Monroe Knowles
Clifford L. Newman
Horace Lynn Jones
|Louisiana State Representative for Calcasieu Parish
Jesse Monroe Knowles
Mike L. Hogan