Jim Folsom

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James Elisha "Jim" Folsom, Sr.
42nd Governor of Alabama
In office
January 20, 1947 – January 22, 1951
Lieutenant James C. Inzer
Preceded by Chauncey Sparks
Succeeded by Gordon Persons
In office
January 17, 1955 – January 19, 1959
Lieutenant William G. Hardwick
Preceded by Gordon Persons
Succeeded by John Malcolm Patterson
Personal details
Born (1908-10-09)October 9, 1908
Coffee County, Alabama
Died November 21, 1987(1987-11-21) (aged 79)
Cullman, Alabama
Resting place Cullman Cemetery in Cullman, Alabama
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Sarah Folsom (?-1944; her death)
Jamelle Folsom (1948-1987)
Alma mater University of Alabama

Samford University
George Washington University

Profession Sailor, businessman
Military service
Service/branch United States Merchant Marine
Years of service 1930-1933

James Elisha Folsom, Sr. (October 9, 1908 – November 21, 1987), commonly known as Jim Folsom or Big Jim Folsom, was the 42nd governor of the U.S. state of Alabama, having served from 1947 to 1951, and again from 1955 to 1959.

Background[edit]

Born in Coffee County in southeastern Alabama, Folsom was among the first southern governors to embrace integration and civil rights for African Americans. In his Christmas message on December 25, 1949, he said: "As long as the Negroes are held down by deprivation and lack of opportunity, the other poor people will be held down alongside them".[1]

After service in the United States Merchant Marine in the early 1930s, Folsom became an insurance salesman. He attended the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Samford University in Birmingham, and George Washington University in Washington, D.C.; however he never obtained a college degree.

Before his gubernatorial campaigns he won a race only once: delegate to the 1944 Democratic National Convention. He was a strong supporter of keeping Vice President Henry A. Wallace on the ticket, rather than replacing him with Harry S Truman of Missouri, as it so developed.[2]

Folsom as governor[edit]

Folsom was elected governor for the first time in 1946. He waged a colorful campaign with a hillbilly band and brandished a mop and bucket which he said would "clean out" the Capitol. Despite some scandals in his administration, he was easily elected to a second non-consecutive term in 1954. The Alabama Constitution at that time forbade a governor from succeeding himself, then a common provision in most southern states. Folsom was 6'8" and employed the slogan "the little man's big friend."

In 1958, Governor Folsom commuted a death sentence imposed on James E. Wilson, an African American sentenced to death for a $1.95 robbery. The Wilson case sparked international protests, but some segregationists called for Folsom not to commute the sentence.[3]

On the other hand, Folsom did not intervene in another controversial case, that of Jeremiah Reeves, who was electrocuted the same year, also sparking protests.[4][5]

Two unsuccessful races[edit]

In 1962, Folsom again ran for governor against his one-time protégé George C. Wallace, but he was defeated. A sardonic slogan emerged during that campaign, referring to Folsom's reputation for taking graft: "Something for everyone and a little bit for Big Jim." Folsom sometimes referred to "the emoluments of office" and once told a campaign crowd, "I plead guilty to stealing. That crowd I got it from, you had to steal it to get it.... I stole for you, and you, and you."[6]

Folsom's campaign was also damaged by a television appearance where he appeared to have been seriously intoxicated and unable to remember his own children's names.[7] Both the appearance and the supposed "slogan" hurt him with the image-conscious middle class.

Folsom ran again for governor in 1966, when he faced three other leading Democrats in the primary, former U.S. Representative Carl Elliott, former Governor John Malcolm Patterson, and Attorney General Richmond Flowers, Sr. However, the primary winner was none of those candidates but the surrogate for outgoing Governor George Wallace, his first wife Lurleen Burns Wallace. In the general election Lurleen Wallace handily defeated the Republican nominee, James D. Martin, an one-term U.S. representative from Gadsden.[8]

Folsom never again was elected to public office.

Later years[edit]

Folsom died in 1987 in Cullman. His niece, Cornelia Wallace, the daughter of his sister, Ruby Folsom Ellis, was from 1971 to 1978 the second wife of his former rival, George Wallace.

A documentary film about Folsom entitled Big Jim Folsom: The Two Faces of Populism was produced in 1996 by Alabama filmmaker Robert Clem, and won the 1997 International Documentary Association/ABCNews VideoSource Award and the Southeastern Filmmaker Award at the 1997 Atlanta Film Festival.

In the 1997 TNT film George Wallace, directed by John Frankenheimer, Jim Folsom is played by Joe Don Baker, who was nominated for a CableACE award for his performance. Gary Sinise played Wallace.

Folsom's son James E. Folsom, Jr. (dubbed "Little Jim" though he is physically large but because of his father's nickname) is also a noted Alabama politician. He served as Alabama lieutenant governor from 1986 to 1993. He assumed the office of governor when Republican Governor Guy Hunt was removed from office after having been convicted of state ethics law violations. Folsom, Jr., ran for governor in 1994 but was defeated by Republican former Governor Fob James. He decided to re-enter state politics in 2006, qualifying for and eventually winning the lieutenant governor's position once again, having served from 2007 to 2011.

Jim Folsom, Sr., had nine children, two by his first wife, Sarah, and seven by his second wife, Jamelle Folsom. Folsom's first wife, the former Sarah Carnley, died in 1944 due to pregnancy complications.[9][10] Folsom eloped and married his second wife, former First Lady of Alabama Jamelle Folsom, in 1948.[10] They remained married until his death.[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jet, January 2, 1958 issue
  2. ^ http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,792939,00.html
  3. ^ Jet, October 9, 1958 issue
  4. ^ Virginia Foster Durr, Patricia Sullivan, Freedom Writer: Virginia Foster Durr, Letters from the Civil Rights Years, Routledge, 2003, ISBN 0-415-94516-X, 9780415945165
  5. ^ Jet. April 10, 1958 issue
  6. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=KFFySG4iLKEC&pg=PA170&lpg=PA170&dq=folsom+%2B+%22That+crowd+I+got+it+from,+you+had+to+steal+it+to%22&source=bl&ots=B4C82duyoQ&sig=0QQ8nAqgHWIl9NSgCLxSQIY6zxM&hl=en&ei=sfqPTPG_HcWBlAeHqLzTAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBIQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=folsom%20%2B%20%22That%20crowd%20I%20got%20it%20from%2C%20you%20had%20to%20steal%20it%20to%22&f=false
  7. ^ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/7624706/George-Wallace.html
  8. ^ Billy Hathorn, "A Dozen Years in the Political Wilderness: The Alabama Republican Party, 1966-1978", Gulf Coast Historical Review, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Spring 1994), p. 22, 28
  9. ^ Bullard, Benjamin (2012-11-30). "Former first lady Jamelle Folsom remembered (Updated with 2004 Times interview)". Cullman Times. Retrieved 2012-12-30. 
  10. ^ a b c "Former Ala. first lady Jamelle Folsom dies at 85". Associated Press (Montgomery Advertiser). 2012-12-02. Retrieved 2012-12-30. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Chauncey Sparks
Governor of Alabama
1947—1951
Succeeded by
Gordon Persons
Preceded by
Gordon Persons
Governor of Alabama
1955—1959
Succeeded by
John Malcolm Patterson