Prentiss Walker

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Prentiss Lafayette Walker
Prentiss Walker.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's 4th district
In office
January 3, 1965 – January 3, 1967
Preceded by W. Arthur Winstead
Succeeded by Gillespie V. Montgomery
Personal details
Born (1917-08-23)August 23, 1917
Taylorsville, Smith County
Mississippi, USA
Died June 5, 1998(1998-06-05) (aged 80)
Magee, Simpson County, Mississippi
Resting place Zion Hill Cemetery in Magee, Mississippi
Political party Republican
Alma mater Mississippi College
Occupation Farmer
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Battles/wars World War II

Prentiss Lafayette Walker (August 23, 1917 – June 5, 1998) was a farmer, businessman and politician from the U.S. state of Mississippi. In 1964, he became the first Republican in the 20th century to be elected to the United States House of Representatives from his home state.

Prentiss Walker Lake (originally called Ross Barnett Lake) near Mize is named in his honor.

Private life[edit]

Walker was born in Taylorsville in Smith County in south central Mississippi. He attended public schools in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and in Taylorsville and Mize, also in Smith County. In 1936, he attended Southern Baptist-affiliated Mississippi College in Clinton, Mississippi.

During World War II, he served in the United States Army. After his military duties, he worked as a chicken farmer in his native Smith County. Walker became president of Walker Egg Farms, Inc., in Mize. From 1937 to 1963, he was the owner of Walker’s Supermarket. In 1960, Walker served on the executive committee of the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission under Governor Ross Barnett.

Political career[edit]

In 1964, Walker ran as a Republican in Mississippi's 4th congressional district, in the state's northeastern portion. He unseated 11-term incumbent W. Arthur Winstead by some seven thousand votes, an eleven-point margin. It was the first Republican breakthrough in Mississippi since Elza Jeffords served a term in Congress from 1883 to 1885.

Walker's victory is considered to have been strongly influenced by the campaign of Barry Goldwater, who carried Mississippi in the 1964 presidential election with an unheard-of 87 percent of the vote. Goldwater won many of the counties in the district with 90 percent of the vote; one of them, Noxubee County, gave him a staggering 96.6 percent of the vote, tied for his best showing in the nation.[1]

Walker relinquished his House seat after only one term, instead opting to challenge U.S. Senator James Eastland. He ran well to Eastland's right, accusing the veteran senator of being too friendly to U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson and of not doing enough to block integration-friendly judges in his position as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Like Eastland, Walker had voted against the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and solely focused on the white vote in his Senate race. In the words of Claude Ramsey, president of the Mississippi AFL-CIO, Walker tried to "outsegregate" Eastland, but most white voters stayed with Eastland,[2] who finished with 65.6 percent of the vote.[3]

With 105,652 votes, Walker polled 26.7 percent of the general election vote. Among his supporters were African Americans in southwestern Mississippi, which came as a surprise given Walker's open support for racial segregation. Black voters had entered the political process under the Voting Rights Act and carried Claiborne and Jefferson counties for Walker in protest of Eastland as a Democratic Regular.[4]

Years later, Wirt Yerger, the chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party in the 1960s, said that Walker's decision to relinquish his House seat after one term for the vagaries of a Senate race against Eastland was "very devastating" to the growth of the GOP in Mississippi.[5]

In 1966, State Representative Lewis McAllister of Meridian, the first Republican elected to the lower chamber of the state House since Reconstruction, sought to hold Walker's House seat for the GOP, but victory went to fellow state representative Gillespie V. "Sonny" Montgomery, also of Meridian, who held the seat for thirty years.[6] Walker tried to unseat Montgomery in 1968 but polled only 30 percent of the ballots. When Walker again ran for the Senate against Eastland in 1972, as an Independent rather than a Republican, he drew only 14,662 votes (2.3 percent). The Moderate Republican Gil Carmichael, a former intra-party critic of Walker, trailed with 249,779 votes (38.7 percent), and Eastland won handily, 375,102 (58.1 percent).[3]

Reagan anecdote[edit]

At a Republican fundraiser at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson on June 20, 1983, U.S. President Ronald W. Reagan told the following anecdote:

Former Congressman Prentiss Walker, who I understand is here today, tells a story about his first campaign. He dropped in on a farm and introduced himself as a Republican candidate. And as he tells it, the farmer's eyes lit up, and then he said, "Wait till I get my wife. We've never seen a Republican before."

And a few minutes later he was back with his wife, and they asked Prentiss if he wouldn't give them a speech. Well, he looked around for kind of a podium, something to stand on, and then the only thing available was a pile of that stuff that the late Mrs. Truman said it had taken her 35 years to get Harry to call "fertilizer."

So, he stepped up on that and made his speech. And apparently he won them over. And they told him it was the first time they'd ever heard a Republican. And he says, "That's okay. That's the first time I've ever given a speech from a Democratic platform."[7]

Works cited[edit]

  • "G.O.P. THREATENED IN SOUTH BY LOSS OF BACKLASH VOTE," October 9, 1966; ProQuest Historical Newspapers, The New York Times (1851 - 2003)


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ "Chris Danielson, "Right Turn? The Republican Party and African-American Politics in Post-1965 Mississippi"". Retrieved May 5, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "Walker, Prentiss". Retrieved May 5, 2014. 
  4. ^ Emilye Crosby (2006), A Little Taste of Freedom: The Black Freedom Struggle in Claiborne County, Mississippi, University of North Carolina Press, pp. 195-196
  5. ^ Billy Hathorn, "Challenging the Status Quo: Rubel Lex Phillips and the Mississippi Republican Party (1963-1967)", The Journal of Mississippi History, XLVII, No. 4 (November 1985), p. 256
  6. ^ "Challenging the Status Quo", p. 258
  7. ^ "The Humor of Ronald Reagan". Retrieved May 5, 2014. 

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
W. Arthur Winstead
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's 4th congressional district

Succeeded by
Sonny Montgomery