William M. Rainach

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William M. Rainach
State Senator William M. Rainach of LA.jpg
Louisiana State Senator for Claiborne and Bienville parishes
In office
Preceded byMarshall E. Woodard
Succeeded byJames T. McCalman
Louisiana State Representative for Claiborne Parish
In office
Preceded byGeorge T. Norton
Succeeded byJohn Sidney Garrett
Personal details
William Odom

(1913-07-13)July 13, 1913
Tangipahoa Parish
Louisiana, USA
DiedJanuary 26, 1978(1978-01-26) (aged 64)
Summerfield, Claiborne Parish, Louisiana
Resting placeArlington Cemetery in Homer, Louisiana
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Mable Justin Fincher Rainach (1915–1995)
ChildrenWilliam M. Rainach Jr.

Rex Dean Rainach Sr.

Mary Elizabeth Rainach Wilson (deceased)
Alma materSummerfield High School

Southern Arkansas University
Strayer's Business College

Louisiana State University
William Rainach's former Middlefork Farm is located north of Louisiana Highway 9 east of Summerfield in Claiborne Parish, Louisiana.

William Monroe Rainach Sr., known as Willie Rainach (July 13, 1913 – January 26, 1978), was a state legislator from rural Summerfield in Claiborne Parish who led Louisiana's "Massive Resistance" to desegregation during the last half of the 1950s. He served Claiborne and neighboring Bienville Parish in north Louisiana for three terms in the Louisiana State Senate from 1948 to 1960.

Earlier, he represented Claiborne Parish in the state Louisiana House of Representatives from 1940 to 1948. When he left the House, the seat was taken by John Sidney Garrett of Haynesville, in northern Claiborne Parish, who twenty years later would serve a term as Speaker. In 1959, Rainach unsuccessfully sought the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, then equivalent to election in Louisiana at a time when few Republicans bothered to contest elections.

Adoption and early years[edit]

Rainach was born as William Odom in Kentwood, a rural town in Tangipahoa Parish, east of Baton Rouge. His mother died in the influenza epidemic of 1917, when Rainach was four. His father placed Rainach and three other sons in the Baptist orphanage in Lake Charles. He and a foster sister, Leona Aron Rainach, were then adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Albert M. Rainach of Summerfield.

He was such an excellent primary student that he completed grades one through four in two years. He graduated from Summerfield High School and attended from 1932 to 1933 Southern Arkansas University (then Southern State College) in Magnolia in Columbia County, Arkansas. He attended Strayer's Business College in Washington, D.C., from 1935 to 1936, when he also worked for the United States government. Thereafter, he attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, but there is no record in A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography as to whether he graduated.[citation needed]

Rainach wanted to be a baseball player, but in 1924, he was struck by a bat and later lost his sight in one eye because of the injury. Coincidentally, one of his 1959 political rivals, Bill Dodd, did achieve his own goal of playing semi-professional baseball for a time.[citation needed]

In 1939, Rainach organized the Claiborne Electric Cooperative, Inc., based in Homer, which brought the first electricity to farms in northwest Louisiana. He founded Claiborne Butane in Homer in 1945 and was the company president from 1948 to 1977. In 1967, he became the president of the Arcadia Butane Co., Inc., in Arcadia, the seat of government of Bienville Parish. The Rainachs lived on a 450-acre (1.8 km2) farm near Summerfield.

Supporting "right-to-work" legislation[edit]

In the 1954 legislative session, Rainach led the successful attempt to pass Louisiana's first right-to-work law, which was strongly opposed by organized labor. The law was passed but repealed in 1956. Right-to-work was reinstituted in Louisiana in 1976 in the second administration of Governor Edwin Washington Edwards. For some twenty years, Louisiana and Oklahoma had been the only southern states that could compel an unwilling worker in a unionized workplace to join the union against his choice. Oklahoma adopted a right-to-work law in 2001.[citation needed]

The right-to-work issue in the legislature was overshadowed thereafter by looming school desegregation though the first schools, starting in New Orleans during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis, would not begin desegregation until 1960.

White Citizens' Councils[edit]

"I do not feel the two societies should mix. I wish it were possible for whites and blacks to live together, but it just isn't."—William M. Rainach[citation needed]

At his own expense, Rainach founded the first Citizens' Council in Claiborne Parish. He was also the founder and president of the Association of Citizens' Councils of Louisiana (ACCL) from 1955 to 1959. He founded and chaired the Citizens' Councils of America from 1956 to 1958. The first Citizens' Council had been launched in Indianola, Mississippi. Its goals were listed as follows: "to protect and preserve by all legal means our historical southern social traditions in all their aspects... to spell out expressly that the states have the sovereign right to regulate education, health, morals, and general welfare in fields not specifically related to the federal [national] government."

Rainach envisioned the councils as a balance to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He worked to ensure that parish voter registrars followed strict registration procedures and removed black voters from the rolls. By 1956, the ACCL claimed between 50,000 and 100,000 members. The Louisiana Joint Legislative Committee, which Rainach chaired, described a plan in 1954 to "provide the ways and means whereby our existing social order shall be preserved and our institutions and ways of life maintained." The committee pushed for the maintenance of segregation in all areas of society but with greatest emphasis on public schools and voter registration. Local registrars began to clear the rolls through voter purges of those who had not voted in the past two years.[1]

At a Citizens Council meeting in Minden in his neighboring Webster Parish in the spring of 1956, Rainach met with the 17-member board of directors, which included J. D. Batton, the parish sheriff, and W. W. Williams, the principal of Minden High School.[2] Rainach told the Minden audience that the civil rights movement involves "political power, and political power is made up of votes. Therefore, the key to victory lies in the polls."[3] Rainach questioned why Webster Parish had 1,773 black registered voters in 1956, while his neighboring Claiborne Parish had none.[3] This difference in voter tabulations led to the dismissal of Webster Parish Voter Registrar Winnice Clement by the state board of registration, but incoming Governor Earl Kemp Long reversed the directive, and Mrs. Clement retained her post.[4]

Rainach was the primary supporter of the Louisiana "pupil placement law" which made parish school superintendents responsible for assigning individual students to their schools. Liberals contended that the law was a subterfuge to maintain segregation. "I believe that segregation must be maintained throughout the width and breadth of our great state", Rainach proclaimed.[5]

Part of Rainach's strategy was to purge the rolls of African-American voters, an important part of Governor Earl Long's coalition. To do this, Rainach and his supporters relied on an unenforced section of the Louisiana Constitution of 1921 (replaced in 1974), which required all registrants to fill out applications without assistance and to read and interpret a portion of the U.S. Constitution selected by the registrar. Rainach said that some 100,000 black voters at the time were illegally registered because they could not interpret the Constitution.[3] Black registration fell afterwards from 161,410 to about 130,000 because of purges in several north Louisiana parishes.

By the time of the 1966 elections, large numbers of blacks were registered and voting for the first time in the Deep South from Louisiana to South Carolina. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 employed the use of federal examiners, if needed, to halt local officials from preventing the registration of blacks who desired to exercise the franchise.

Rainach became the state's most visible defender of segregation through his role as the first and only chairman of the Louisiana Joint Legislative Committee on Segregation (1954–1959). He challenged the authority of the United States Supreme Court to strike down segregation. His efforts were, however, repudiated in the New Orleans federal court, which declared state segregation laws unconstitutional.

Rainach noted that Article III of the United States Constitution gives the Congress the power to remove certain matters from the review of the high court. At that time, Congress had not yet struck against school segregation: it was the Supreme Court which had done so. In 1959, Rainach delivered a racially inflammatory speech before the legislature in which he professed to "love the nigger, but I know he can't run this country. The breeding in him does not allow him to run a civilization, and I won't let our civilization go to ruin." Like his segregationist associate from Plaquemines Parish, Leander Perez, Rainach equated racial integration with communism in his book Subversion in Racial Unrest.[citation needed]

Rainach once telephoned Sheriff J. Howell Flournoy of Caddo Parish to inform him that an African-American deputy sheriff was speaking in support of integration. Flournoy then dismissed the deputy.[6]

After desegregation, public schools in his Claiborne Parish, which includes the principal towns of Homer and Haynesville (near the Arkansas border), quickly became majority black in student composition because many white families left the system and either moved out of the parish, opted for private schools, or, later, home schooling. Rainach was the founder in fact of the private Claiborne Academy. The parish population itself was 47 percent black in the 2000 census.[7]

Earl Long scolds Rainach[edit]

Governor Earl Long, considered more liberal on racial matters than many Louisiana politicians of his era but uncouth in language, lectured Rainach in a well-known exchange: "Willie, one of these days you gonna retire and go back home. You'll take off your boots, wash your feet, stare at the moon, and get close to God. Then will you realize that niggers is [sic] human beings too." Long further defended his own racial policies: If the nation "[w]ould leave us alone and quit brainwashing the colored people, we'd solve this ourselves. Yes, I like colored people, and I know there ain't many of them can vote for me either. Now I ain't saying this for votes. I am the best friend the colored man, and the poor white man, and the middle class. You just check. You just check."[citation needed]

The gubernatorial primary of 1959[edit]

See Louisiana gubernatorial election, 1959-60

Three Louisiana State University political scientists described Rainach, accordingly, as he sought the governorship:

Although Rainach's legislative record shows him to have been consistently opposed to the Long program, there is little to indicate that his conservatism was calculated to make a major place for him in the political circles traditionally opposed to the Longs. His effective appeal is... as a past national president of the White Citizens' Council. [He] served as the chairman of the joint legislative "watchdog" committee on segregation from its inception until he ran for governor. From these positions, he was able to command something of an organization and to project himself as the premier guardian of "the southern way of life" on every occasion possible. Whether the single issue of preserving segregation could... carry a man to the governor's office... was a subject for considerable discussion during the primary campaign.[8]

Rainach carried the support of the now defunct Shreveport Journal, which referred to his legislative leadership and record in making the endorsement.[9]The Journal said that Rainach had taken a "clear-cut stand on every major issue" of the day, including right-to-work legislation, fiscal responsibility, and support for segregation.[10]

Rainach's campaign manager was his legislative colleague John Sidney Garrett, a state representative from Haynesville,[11] who later served a term as Speaker of the Louisiana House. Rainach's unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor was Cy David Francis Courtney (1924-1995), a New Orleans lawyer and a younger brother of another conservative activist, Kent Courtney. The Rainach choices for the new positions of comptroller and state insurance commissioner were future U.S. Representative Joe D. Waggonner and Hardy N. Goff, respectively.[12]

In one of his closing newspaper advertisements, Rainach described the gubernatorial race, accordingly:

This is a fight to curb Louisiana's disastrous financial policies ... This is a fight to preserve states' rights ... to protect the individual rights of the laboring man ... to return home rule to our towns and parishes ... but even more than that, this is a crusade for our children. We cannot ... We must not leave them a heritage of integration to struggle against! ... Only one candidate has the determination, the will, and the ability to turn back northern Radicals and the NAACP....[13]

An even stronger segregationist than Rainach was also in the race: Addison Roswell Thompson, a Taxicab operator in New Orleans and a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

In the Democratic primary held on December 5, 1959, Rainach finished a relatively weak third with 143,095 votes (17 percent). A runoff election was held on January 9, 1960, between former Governor Jimmie Davis (213,551 or 25.3 percent) and the more liberal candidate, Mayor deLesseps Story Morrison of New Orleans, (278,956 or 33.1 percent). Two other candidates, the outgoing Auditor (thereafter called "Comptroller") Bill Dodd of Baton Rouge and former Governor James A. Noe of Monroe, split another 22 percent of the vote.

Rainach, outgoing Governor Long, and Joe D. Waggonner all endorsed Davis,[14] who in the runoff defeated "Chep" Morrison, 487,681 (54.1 percent) to 414,110 (45.9 percent). Bill Dodd endorsed Morrison for his own reasons. Years after that election, Rainach declared that he should have endorsed neither candidate: "If I knew what I know now, I would have sat it out," he told the Shreveport Times. It was the closest he came to criticism of Governor Davis. In the general election held on April 19, 1960, Davis overwhelmed Republican nominee Francis Grevemberg, 82 to 17 percent.

Unpledged elector candidate[edit]

As a former senator, Rainach, along with future Governor David C. Treen and Leander Perez, was an unsuccessful unpledged presidential elector candidate in 1960. Though he was a delegate to the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, California, Rainach said that he could have supported the Republican presidential nominee, Richard M. Nixon, had Nixon not yielded the conservative platform drafted by the delegates at the convention in Chicago, Illinois, to demands from New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller. In Rainach's words "the Republican platform is not quite as bad" as that offered by the Kennedy/Johnson forces. He said that Rockefeller's influence had reduced the practical usefulness of the GOP to southern conservatives. Rainach added that if the unpledged electors had gained sufficient support across the South, he would have urged negotiations among the electors themselves. He indicated that having the United States House of Representatives chose a president in a deadlock would have meant an automatic Kennedy victory because the majority of state delegations were in Democrat hands.[15]

LeRoy Cullom Smallenberger (1912–2002) of Shreveport,[16] the Fourth Congressional District GOP chairman in 1960 and soon the state party chairman, agreed with Rainach's analysis of the GOP and the unpledged elector slate. Smallenberger said that the original Republican platform was conservative but it was moved to the political center when Nixon offered concessions to Nelson Rockefeller in a bid for greater support on the East Coast.[17] Smallenberger, a native of Peoria, Illinois,[16] was later appointed as a federal bankruptcy judge in the future Nixon administration.[18]

In several north Louisiana parishes, the main competition in the 1960 general election was between Nixon and the unpledged electors, with the state and nationally victorious Kennedy/Johnson ticket not bothering to contest the region.[19]

Rainach's suicide and legacy[edit]

In 1959, Rainach received the "Americanism Award" from the Caddo-Bossier chapter of the newly formed Young Americans for Freedom. He was a member of the Louisiana Farm Bureau, the Louisiana Forestry Association, the Louisiana Independent Royalty Owners and Oil Producers Association, and the American Defense Preparedness Association. In 1974, he was named "Man of the Year" by the Homer Lions Club.

Rainach, who had been in ill health, shot himself in the right temple with a .38 caliber pistol on a Thursday morning, January 26, 1978, in his backyard. His body was found by the maid. His wife, Mable Justin Fincher Rainach (May 26, 1915 – January 15, 1995), was shopping in Homer at the time. The coroner ruled the death a suicide. His suicide may have been personal in regard to his declining health. He never sought office again after his failed gubernatorial bid.[citation needed]

Rainach's life story and death is remarkably similar to that of a former segregationist leader in Arkansas, James D. Johnson, the 1966 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, who lost the general election to Winthrop Rockefeller, the Rockefeller family having been a bane of Rainach as well.[20]

Services for Rainach were held on January 27, 1978, at the Trinity Southern Methodist Church, a conservative body in Claiborne Parish that had broken with the United Methodists.

Rainach graves in Arlington Cemetery in Homer

In addition to his wife, Rainach was survived by two sons, William Monroe "Bill" Rainach Jr. (born 1940), of Summerfield and later Bossier City and Rex Dean Rainach Sr., (born 1946) of Baton Rouge, and a daughter, Mary Elizabeth Rainach Wilson (September 11, 1944 - November 3, 1982).

After Rainach's death, his wife Mable donated $500 to the unsuccessful 1980 campaign waged by Woody Jenkins in his challenge to U.S. Senator Russell B. Long.[21]

William and Mable Rainach and daughter Mary Elizabeth are interred at Arlington Cemetery off Louisiana Highway 146 in Homer.

Rainach viewed himself as "classical liberal"[edit]

Unlike many other southern politicians who once supported segregation and later renounced that view—Russell B. Long, Bennett Johnston, John McKeithen, Robert C. Byrd, and George C. Wallace, for example— Rainach never abandoned his belief in racial separatism.

In a 1974 interview with the Shreveport Times, Rainach rejected the appellation "conservative" though it had long been used by the media to describe his political philosophy. The Times described Rainach as:

... the antithesis of the image his cause would suggest. He speaks softly, deliberately, weighing words carefully, and citing historical events, both ancient and modern, as he responds to questions. He rejected the label of 'conservative', preferring to be called a 'classical liberal.'

In the days of Paine and Jefferson, the classical liberal stood for freedom of the individual as opposed to government control and the worth of the individual. I'm not anti-Negro, but I still feel the same way about it. I don't hate Negroes—I didn't hate them then—some of our most valued employees here at the company are Negroes, and I would never want to hurt them.

But I do not feel the two societies should mix. I wish it were possible for whites and blacks to live together, but it just isn't.

The actor James Harper played Rainach in the 1989 film Blaze, with Paul Newman cast as Earl K. Long.


  1. ^ Amanda Leigh Russell, "Ballots, Barriers, Purges, and Surges: African-American Voting Rights in Shreveport and Caddo Parish, Louisiana, 1958-1969", North Louisiana History, Vol. 40 No. 1 (Winter 2009), p. 34
  2. ^ "Rainach to Speak at Council Meet Tomorrow Night," Minden Press, April 16, 1956, p. 1.
  3. ^ a b c "Rainach Addresses Citizens Council", Minden Herald, April 19, 1956, p. 1.
  4. ^ "Long Halts Registrar's Removal", Minden Herald, May 17, 1956, p. 1.
  5. ^ Cited in A.J. Liebling's The Earl of Louisiana
  6. ^ Adam Fairclough, Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972 (2nd ed.). Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press. 1995. ISBN 0-8203-3114-7. Retrieved December 31, 2010.
  7. ^ "Claiborne Academy". claiborneacademy.org. Retrieved September 3, 2009.
  8. ^ William C. Havard, Rudolf Heberle, and Perry H. Howard, The Louisiana Elections of 1960, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Studies, 1963, pp. 40–41.
  9. ^ Reprint of Shreveport Journal endorsement, Minden Herald, October 22, 1959, p. 6
  10. ^ Reprint of Shreveport Journal endorsement, Minden Press, October 19, 1959, p. 6
  11. ^ Minden Herald, November 19, 1959, p. 7
  12. ^ Minden Herald, advertisement, October 22, 1959, p. 6
  13. ^ Rainach advertisement, Minden Herald November 26, 1959, p. 10
  14. ^ Minden Herald, December 31, 1959
  15. ^ "Demo Platform Lashed by Former State Senator", Minden Herald, October 6, 1960, p. 1
  16. ^ a b "LeRoy Cullom Smallenberger (1912-2002)". records.ancestry.com. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
  17. ^ "GOP Platform Told to Men's Club Monday", Minden Herald, October 20, 1960, p. 1
  18. ^ "In the Matter of Simon Angelle". ftp.resource.org. Archived from the original on April 7, 2012. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
  19. ^ State of Louisiana, Secretary of State, Presidential election returns, 1960
  20. ^ Garrick Feldman (February 16, 2010). "Justice Jim fought tough final battle". The Arkansas Leader. Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  21. ^ "Homer, Louisiana, Political Contributions". city-data.com. Retrieved September 5, 2009.


Louisiana State Senate
Preceded by
Marshall E. Woodard
Louisiana State Senator for Claiborne and Bienville parishes
Succeeded by
James T. McCalman
Louisiana House of Representatives
Preceded by
George T. Norton
Louisiana State Representative for Claiborne Parish
Succeeded by
John Sidney Garrett