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of spilling “slush and slime” on the Senate through his innuendo and charges.
The Senate soon afterwards took the unusual step of voting to censure the Wisconsin Senator—a move that pushed his career downhill.
He also served on the Senate Watergate Committee investigating the role of then-President Richard Nixon in the 1972 burglary of the Democratic Party headquarters.
In 1973, a gunman shot him in the stomach outside his Washington home but he soon overcame the serious injuries.
He had open heart surgery in December 1983 but returned to work in 1984. A year later, he had a cancerous leg removed. STENNIS and his wife, Coy, had two children.
(From the Clarion-Ledger, April 24, 1995)
LONGTIME POWER STENNIS DIES AT 93
(Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer)
JOHN CORNELIUS STENNIS, 93, a drawling Mississippi country lawyer who attained some of the most powerful positions during four decades in the U.S. Senate, died of pneumonia Sunday at St. Dominic/Jackson Memorial Hospital.
He had been hospitalized since Thursday, said his son, John Hampton Stennis of Jackson.
The body will lie in state Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Old Capitol in Jackson and from 4-6 p.m. at DeKalb Presbyterian Church. Graveside services are 11 a.m. Wednesday at Pine Crest Cemetery in DeKalb. Southern Mortuary Services in Jackson is handling arrangements.
STENNIS, who retired in 1988, played a major role in the country's affairs and at one time carried as much clout over military matters as any civilian except the President.
“I shall go to the Senate without obligations or commitments, save to serve the plain people of Mississippi,” the DeKalb native said November 5, 1947, upon his election.
Throughout his Senate career, STENNIS lived in an unassuming, one-story white clapboard house built in 1930 and located a few dozen yards from Mississippi 39. His office, a nondescript red brick building across from the county courthouse, bore a simple sign above the door: “John C. Stennis, Lawyer.”
That sign was a deceptively modest description for a country-born lawyer who rose to become a confidant of American Presidents and a major player in the events that led the United States through the Cold War, the Southern civil rights movement, the Watergate scandal and into the Reagan years.
"He was one of the great statesmen for our Nation in the 20th century," 4th District U.S. Representative Sonny Montgomery said Sunday. The two were acquainted for more than a half-century and served together 23 years in Congress. “History will record JOHN STENNIS as a true son of the South. His legacy in Mississippi will never disappear.”
One of seven children, STENNIS was born on a Kemper County farm 36 years after the end of the Civil War. He attended county schools and graduated from Kemper County Agricultural High School in 1919.
After receiving his bachelor's degree from Mississippi A&M College—now Mississippi State University—STENNIS went on to receive his law degree and a Phi Beta Kappa key from the University of Virginia in 1928.
Elected to two terms in the Mississippi House, STENNIS successfully campaigned for the district prosecuting attorney post, in which he served until 1935.
At 35, STENNIS was named by then-Governor Hugh White to fill a circuit judge vacancy, making STENNIS the State's youngest member of the bench. Through three terms, he never had a civil case overturned on appeal.
The death of fiery Senator Theodore Bilbo in 1947 provided STENNIS the opportunity to attain the government position he desired.
During the campaign, STENNIS sidestepped talk of white supremacy and focused on his pledge: “Agriculture first.”
Though he refused to take part in the campaign's race-baiting demagoguery, STENNIS nonetheless was a supporter of State's rights and segregation. His appeal, however, was drawn from intellect, not hate.
“Our customs and traditions may be assailed, but we can stand firm in our rights to make our own decisions about such matters,” STENNIS said on the campaign trail.
STENNIS credited much of his success as a legislator to his early association with U.S. Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, then chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
In 1969, President Richard Nixon revealed to STENNIS and Russell his plans to bomb Cambodia because they could be trusted not to leak the bombing news to the media.
While he avoided race during his 1947 campaign, STENNIS quickly got caught up in the national civil rights debate once he got to Washington.
His first two speeches on the floor of the Senate were against federal antilynching, anti-poll tax and equal employment legislation-claiming they represented unconstitutional interference with the State's rights to govern themselves.
He became a leader of the move to maintain racial segregation in the South and participated in filibusters that prevented votes being taken on civil rights legislation. In 1956, he helped draft the Southern Manifesto, a document signed by 101 Southern Congressmen to voice their opposition to desegregation.
But once the civil rights laws were enacted in the 1960s, STENNIS urged compliance with the changes.
In a 1965 plea, STENNIS said Mississippi “above all must maintain a spirit of law and order. Any other course will take us downward and will eventually blight our future.”
By 1982, STENNIS’ stance on racial issues had changed to the point he voted for an extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Supporters said his about-face was a genuine philosophical change and not politically based.
STENNIS also stepped to the front in 1954 when he became the first Senate Democrat to call for the censure of red-baiting Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.
In a speech that made national headlines, STENNIS said McCarthy had poured "slush and slime” on the Senate with his attacks. Senate observers saw his speech as a serious blow at McCarthy's efforts to escape censure.
STENNIS' speech drew accolades from around the country and made him an overnight sensation. “I didn't know what it was to get such press as that,” he said.
It was also in 1954 that STENNIS warned that the United States was in danger of being drawn into the fighting in Vietnam by supplying assistance to the French effort to defeat the Vietnamese communists.
Committing U.S. forces to the fight could result in a “long, costly and indecisive war that will leave us without victory,” he warned.
Later, the U.S. forces began a full-scale fight against the communists. STENNIS, who had moved up as Armed Services chairman, gave the war his total support. In 1966, he suggested the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Southeast Asia should the Chinese enter the war.
STENNIS landed on the powerful Appropriations Committee in 1955, and he used the assignment to Mississippi's long-term benefit.
As chairman of the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, he was able to get the $2 billion needed to construct the 234-mile Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, considered pure pork by critics.
In 1969, STENNIS took over as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, which gave him a strong voice on national defense issues. But the advancement came at the height of the Vietnam War when critics of the military wanted to scale back spending.
STENNIS used his newfound authority in 1969 to influence Nixon's administration to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to delay for a year a desegregation order for 33 Mississippi school districts. It was later learned that STENNIS threatened to abandon leadership on an antiballistic missile being debated by the Senate if the order was not delayed.
For 31 years, STENNIS was the junior Senator from Mississippi, teaming with the late Senator James Eastland of Doddsville, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and later President Pro Tempore, to form a powerful coalition involving different personalities and styles.
STENNIS' career and his life almost ended abruptly in 1973 when he was critically wounded by gunshots from two young muggers outside his Washington home. The Senator was shot in the left side and in the thigh after his assailants took his wallet, a gold pocket watch, his Phi Beta Kappa key and a quarter. For five weeks the 71-year-old STENNIS slipped in and out of consciousness in Walter Reed Army Hospital.
STENNIS faced his first serious political challenger in 1982 from well-financed Republican Haley Barbour of Yazoo City. The campaign focused primarily on age-whether STENNIS at 81 was too old or Barbour at 34 was too young
STENNIS defeated Barbour with 65 percent of the vote, carrying all but Rankin and Yazoo counties.
In 1983, “Mis Coy,” his wife of 54 years, died. Also that year, he had cardiovascular surgery and suffered pneumonia. A year later, doctors removed his cancerous left leg.
With his health problems and his age working against him, STENNIS announced his retirement on October 19, 1987, shortly after routine prostate surgery in Washington.
"I am forced to recognize that another six-year term in the Senate would require me to promise to continue my work here through age 93,” the 86year-old STENNIS said in announcing his decision.
In failing health, STENNIS spent the last few years of his life in St. Catherine's Village nursing home in Madison. Montgomery said he visited STENNIS in the nursing home about a year ago and spoke with him briefly. “He had on a bow tie and a suit, dressed just like he was getting ready to go to the Senate,” Montgomery said.
Other than STENNIS' son, survivors include: daughter, Margaret Womble of Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and six grandchildren.
Memorials may be made in STENNIS' name to an educational or religious charitable organization of the donor's choice.
[From the Clarion-Ledger, April 24, 1995)
NO NEGATIVES FOR THE KEMPER STATESMAN
(By Andy Kanengiser) JOHN CORNELIUS STENNIS brought dignity and integrity to American politics during his 41-year U.S. Senate career, rare qualities in Washington these days.
Serving Presidents from Truman to Reagan, the Gentleman from Mississippi was a powerhouse in the Nation's Capitol who never forgot his home State. With a battleship, space center, airport and public service center in his honor, few will forget the Kemper County native.
The unassuming DeKalb lawyer and circuit judge who succeeded the ardent segregationist Theodore Bilbo in a special election in 1947 would be an excellent role model for any young person aspiring to a political career, said former Governor William Waller.
"I think he had a judicious, courtly and refined approach to politics,” Waller said. "He had a real statesmanlike attitude and showed conservative leadership on defense. During his longtime service in the Senate, he was constantly referred to as a likely candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court. He had no negatives."
Waller, a Jackson lawyer and Mississippi's Governor from 1972 to 1976, recalls STENNIS transcended several critical eras in U.S. politics—from the days of segregation to desegregation and affirmative action. And he did it without being controversial, Waller said.
STENNIS who died Sunday at the age of 93, didn't show the fiery rhetoric on racial issues, for years the hallmark of a number of political contemporaries in the South.
“During his early era it was popular to be a strong segregationist, but on a major scale I never believed that he was,” said State Senator David Jordan of Greenwood, a longtime civil rights activist. “He was a decent person who went through a metamorphosis. Through the years, he softened up.”
Mississippi State University political science professor Ed Clynch said STENNIS was “not a race baiter.”
"I do think he changed over the years. His rhetoric was more temperate on civil rights,” he said.
While avoiding civil rights battles, STENNIS steered federal projects to Mississippi as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee during the Vietnam War era and the Senate Appropriations Committee in the late 1980s.
“In Mississippi, he will be remembered as the individual who did his best to help his State-he brought Mississippi several federal installations," Clynch said. From the Stennis Space Center on the Gulf Coast to Ingalls Shipbuilding to the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway, he brought Washington's money to the Nation's poorest State.
Today, few members of the Republican-led Congress of 1995 want to be associated with political pork.
The mild-mannered STENNIS also brought a touch of class to a state of affairs where the American populace screams for term limits and politicians rank on the bottom rungs of opinion polls.
“I think he will be remembered, first of all, for his integrity. He was a well-respected individual," Clynch said.
STENNIS, who received a bachelor's degree in general science in 1923 from then Mississippi A&M College, was regarded as a saint on the Starkville campus. He never forgot where his roots were deciding to teach political science for a year after his 1989 Senate retirement until ill health forced him to quit.
Clynch, who watched CBS News report the Senator's death, said his former MSU colleague was very interested in students. It was a trait that stayed with him throughout his illustrious career. "He was very interested in encouraging people to get involved in the public sector. He felt public service was an important calling.”
Leaving office a lifelong Democrat, STENNIS was admired by the politically powerful from both sides of the aisle, including President Reagan, a Republican. “Senator, you have devoted your life to the service of our Nation,” Reagan told the Mississippian at a Washington farewell dinner in June 1988. “I can do no more than say, on behalf of the American people, thank you for your dedicated service.”
[From the Clarion-Ledger, April 24, 1995)
ABILITY TO ADAPT HELPED STENNIS ENDURE AND MISSISSIPPI ADVANCE
(By Butch John and Jay Hughes) U.S. Senator JOHN C. STENNIS was remembered Sunday as a man willing and able to adapt to sweeping change in Mississippi without surrendering his dignity or his devotion to its people.
A staunch segregationist during his early years in the U.S. Senate, he became an enthusiastic proponent of equality for all Mississippians in his later years, former State Democratic Party Chairman Ed Cole said.
"He had a deep and abiding respect for people, even when they disagreed with him. He had a deep and abiding faith in the good of people, all people," said Cole, the first black political professional employed by STENNIS.
Hired in 1981 to work in STENNIS' Jackson Congressional office, Cole said STENNIS, 93, who died Sunday of pneumonia, never forgot the people who helped his four-decade career in the U.S. Senate.
And his State won't forget him, said Governor Kirk Fordice, who ordered flags at State offices lowered to half-staff in mourning for STENNIS.
"All of Mississippi mourns for JOHN C. STENNIS, one of the outstanding Americans ever to serve in the United States Senate," Fordice said. "His service to this State was long and faithful.”
Fordice, a Republican, said he once served on STENNIS' local reelection committee in Vicksburg at the Senator's request, “probably as a note of bipartisanship.”
"He was that kind of a guy,” Fordice said. “In the olden days I think there was a lot less partisanship.”
STENNIS never fell prey to many politicians' flaw of forgetting the people who put him in office,” Cole said.
“I was constantly amazed how he remembered the small things people did for him-seven, eight, nine races before,” Cole said. "He would often have