James Eastland

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Person.png James Eastland   SpartacusRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
James O Eastland.jpg
BornNovember 28, 1904
DiedFebruary 19, 1986 (Age 81)
Alma materUniversity of Mississippi, Vanderbilt University, University of Alabama
A strong opponent of African American civil rights and a leading supporter of Jim Crow laws

Employment.png Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee

In office
January 3, 1957 - December 27, 1978

Employment.png United States Senator from Mississippi

In office
January 3, 1943 - December 27, 1978

James Oliver Eastland was an American politician from the state of Mississippi who served in the United States Senate as a Senator in 1941; and again from 1943 until his resignation on December 27, 1978. He has been called the "Voice of the White South" and the "Godfather of Mississippi Politics."[1] A Democrat, Eastland was known as the symbol of Southern resistance to racial integration during the civil rights era, often speaking of blacks as "an inferior race."[2]

The son of a prominent attorney, politician and cotton planter, Eastland attended the local schools of Scott County, Mississippi, and took courses at several universities, including the University of Mississippi, Vanderbilt University and the University of Alabama. He completed his legal education by studying in his father's office, and attained admission to the bar in 1927. Eastland practiced law in Sunflower County and took over management of his family's cotton plantation. He became active in politics as a Democrat, and served in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1928 to 1932.

In 1941, Senator Pat Harrison died in office, and the governor appointed Eastland to fill the vacancy on the condition that he not run later in the year in the special election to complete the term. Eastland kept his word, and served from June to September. The special election was won by Congressman Wall Doxey. In 1942, Eastland defeated Doxey in the primary for the Democratic nomination in the election for a full term. The Democratic party was then Mississippi's dominant party, making Eastland's primary victory tantamount to election, and he returned to the Senate in January 1943. He was reelected five times, and served until resigning in December 1978, days before the end of his final term. Eastland later advanced to the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, serving over 20 years, and President pro tempore of the Senate.

Eastland died in 1986 and was buried at Forest Cemetery in Forest, Mississippi.

Relationship with FBI

Eastland was a staunch supporter of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and shared intelligence with the FBI, including leaks from the State Department. An investigation initiated by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and executed by former FBI agent Walter Sheridan traced some of the unauthorized disclosures to Otto Otepka of the State Department Office of Security.[3]

Hoover received intelligence that Eastland was among members of Congress who had received money and favors from Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic. Eastland had regularly defended him from the Senate floor. Hoover declined to pursue Eastland on corruption charges.[4]