John Ben Shepperd

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John Ben Shepperd
Attorney General of Texas
In office
January 1, 1953 – January 1, 1957
Preceded by Price Daniel
Succeeded by Will Reid Wilson, Sr.
Secretary of State of Texas
In office
February 9, 1950 – April 30, 1952
Preceded by Ben Ramsey
Succeeded by Jack Ross
Personal details
Born (1915-10-19)October 19, 1915
Gladewater, Texas
Died March 8, 1990(1990-03-08) (aged 74)
Gladewater, Texas
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Mamie Strieber Shepperd (married 1938-1990, his death)
Children 4

(1) Gladewater

(2) Odessa, Texas
Alma mater University of Texas at Austin
Occupation Attorney; Businessman
Religion Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

John Ben Shepperd (October 19, 1915—March 8, 1990)[1] was an American lawyer, businessman, and politician who served as the Secretary of State (1950-1952) and Attorney General (1953–1957) for the U.S. state of Texas. During his tenure as Attorney General, Shepperd actively worked to oppose the Brown v. Board of Education decision mandating racial integration of public schools.[2][3]

Early years[edit]

Shepperd was born in Gladewater, a small town in Gregg County near the more populous county seat of Longview, to Alfred Fulton Shepperd and the former Berthal Phillips. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1938 and an LL.B. in 1941. He was made a partner in the law firm of Kenley, Sharp, and Shepperd in Longview. During World War II, Shepperd served for two years in the United States Army. In 1946, on his release from the military, Shepperd was appointed to complete the term of his father, who had resigned, on the Gregg County Commissioners Court. In Texas, such appointments are made by the county judge.[4]

Shepperd rose to the top ranks of the Jaycees, or Junior Chamber of Commerce, having served as both state and national presidents of the organization. On three occasions, he was named one of the “Outstanding Young Men in Texas”. In 1949, he was named among the “Outstanding Young Men in America”, along with future U.S. President Gerald R. Ford, Jr., of Michigan and later U.S. Senator Charles H. Percy of Illinois. Shepperd was allied with Governor Allan Shivers and the conservative wing of the then-dominant Texas Democratic Party. He often clashed with the liberal wing headed by Ralph W. Yarborough of Austin, who would later become a U.S. Senator. In 1949, he served briefly under appointment from Shivers on the elected Texas State Board of Education. In 1950, Shivers appointed Shepperd Secretary of State of Texas. In that capacity, Shepperd organized an elections law task force and promoted measures to insure economy in government.[4]

As attorney general[edit]

Racial Segregation[edit]

In 1952, Shepperd was elected to the first of two two-year terms as Texas Attorney General. As his state’s chief legal officer Shepperd led the fight against the 1954 United States Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which mandated desegregation of public schools.

"He accomplished this by delivering a pro-segregation amicus curae to the Supreme Court in October of 1954 in response to Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, et al, the creation of an official pro-segregation policy for the Office of Attorney general of Texas,... by networking with other states to strategize and create a hedgerow against integration of public schools, and when he wrote or organized legislation to impede the integration of public schools in Texas." [3]

As Attorney General, Shepperd pursued numerous lawsuits against the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that caused financial and political difficulties for the group, severely limiting the NAACP's ability to function in Texas. This included damaging their credibility, blocking their efforts to solicit people to file lawsuits, and creating the opportunity for the Internal Revenue Service to investigate them.[3] Shepperd considered his efforts to restrict the activities of the NAACP in Texas as one of his greatest achievements as Attorney General.[4]

Shepperd later researched and drafted several bills designed to frustrate integration effort, writing in February 1957 that he "drew up a group of segregation bills before [he] went out of office and they have already been introduced in the Texas Legislature". [3]

Corruption in Duval County[edit]

Shepperd spearheaded an investigation of longstanding corruption in Duval County, the political machine province of George Parr (also known as “The Duke of Duval”), located in the barren dusty area east of Laredo in south Texas. Shepperd’s work produced some three hundred indictments of county and school officials.

Other Significant Work[edit]

As Attorney General, he led multiple investigations of alleged communist infiltration of trade unions attempting to organize themselves in Texas.[2] Shepperd exposed a scheme to defraud Texas of tobacco taxes.[4] He also defended Texas from questions raised by other states regarding the Submerged Lands Act of 1953 (43 U.S.C. § 1301), a federal law which allocated revenues from the tidelands to Texas. In 1956, Shepperd was elected by his forty-seven peers as president of the National Association of Attorneys General.[4]

Land Board Scandal[edit]

In 1954, the Veterans' Land Board scandal shook the Shivers administration when it was revealed that certain corrupt land speculators tried to enrich themselves at public expense. Bascom Giles, the elected commissioner of the Texas General Land Office and chairman of the Texas Veterans Land Board, was indicted, convicted, and served a prison term for his role in the scandal. Neither Shivers nor Shepperd was implicated in the wrongdoing, but both as ex officio members of the land board had missed meetings where the abuses had occurred. Another scandal involved insurance companies accused of fraudulent activities. Shepperd had been expected to seek the gubernatorial nomination in 1956, but he left elected politics to become general counsel of Odessa Natural Gasoline Company, later El Paso Products Company, and to establish a new law firm there called Shepperd and Rodman.[4] The governorship went to U.S. Senator Price Daniel, who secured a narrow runoff victory over Ralph Yarborough. Yarborough in 1958 was elected to the first of two terms in the Senate, holding the seat that Daniel had vacated to become Governor. Ironically, Daniel had also been Shepperd's predecessor as Attorney General.

Civic leadership[edit]

After his tenure as attorney general, Shepperd moved to Odessa, where he was active not only in law but also in insurance, banking, petrochemicals, public relations, and historical preservation. He was a political adviser and personal friend of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. In the middle 1960s, Shepperd was named trustee for the acquisition of land for the creation of Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site along the Pedernales River in Gillespie County in the Texas Hill Country.[5] From 1963-1967, Shepperd headed the renamed Texas Historical Commission and supported the placement of more markers along highways to promote historical preservation. He served on the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. He pushed for the establishment in the late 1960s of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. One of his later accomplishments was the creation of the John Ben Shepperd Leadership Forum at UTPB, which assists students in developing the techniques to become effective leaders.[4]

He was also involved in the planning and expansion of the Presidential Museum and Leadership Library, an institution on the UTPB campus dedicated to the office of the presidency. The "Library of Presidents" at the museum is named in Shepperd’s honor.[6] In 1984, Shepperd was named “Texan of the Year” by the state Chamber of Commerce, and three years later, the West Texas chamber named him “Outstanding West Texan”.[4]

Personal life[edit]

On October 6, 1938, Shepperd married the former Mamie Strieber (December 30, 1917--January 9, 2015)[7] of Yorktown in DeWitt County in southeastern Texas. The couple had two sons and twin daughters, John Ben, Jr. (November 13, 1942—June 17, 1970),[1] Alfred, Marianne (September 2, 1948—July 16, 2008),[8] and Suzanne. Shepperd was a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He maintained residences in his native Gladewater, Texas, and in Odessa, Texas.

Shepperd died of cancer on March 8, 1990 at the age of 74 at his home in Gladewater. Shepperd, his son, and his daughter are interred at the private Shepperd family cemetery in Gladewater.[9]


JBS Parkway sign in Odessa

In 1992, the Texas Historical Commission placed historical markers at Shepperd's gravesite and also in Gladewater. Another historical marker was erected in his honor in 1981 in Odessa.[10]

The John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin[11] and the John Ben Shepperd Parkway ("JBS Parkway") in Odessa were named in his honor.[4]


  1. ^ a b "Social Security Death Index". Retrieved July 21, 2009. 
  2. ^ a b Ladino, Robyn Duff (1996). Desegregating Texas Schools: Eisenhower, Shivers, and the Crisis at Mansfield High. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. pp. 35–36. ISBN 978-0292746923. 
  3. ^ a b c d Howell, Mark C. (2003). "John Ben Shepperd, Attorney General of the State of Texas: His role in the continuation of segregation in Texas, 1953-1957". Master’s Thesis (Odessa, TX: University of Texas of the Permian Basin). 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Shepperd, John Ben". The Handbook of Texas. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 12 September 2015. 
  5. ^ "John Ben Shepperd, ex-Texas official, 74". The New York Times, March 10, 1990. March 10, 1990. Retrieved July 21, 2009. 
  6. ^ "History of the Presidential Museum and Leadership Library". Retrieved July 7, 2009. 
  7. ^ "Mamie Erna Strieber Shepperd's Obituary on". Odessa American. Retrieved 2015-11-13. 
  8. ^[dead link]
  9. ^ "John Shepperd Cemetery". Retrieved July 21, 2009. 
  10. ^ "Heritage of Odessa Foundation". Retrieved July 21, 2009. 
  11. ^ Brescia, Bob. "About Us". JBS Leadership Institute. Retrieved 12 September 2015. 
Legal offices
Preceded by
Price Daniel
Texas Attorney General
John Ben Sheppard

Succeeded by
Will Reid Wilson, Sr.
Legal offices
Preceded by
Ben Ramsey
Texas Secretary of State
John Ben Sheppard

Succeeded by
Jack Ross