James K. Vardaman
| United States Senator |
March 4, 1913 – March 3, 1919
|Preceded by||Le Roy Percy|
|Succeeded by||Byron P. Harrison|
|36th Governor of Mississippi|
January 19, 1904 –January 21, 1908
|Lieutenant||John Prentiss Carter|
|Preceded by||Andrew H. Longino|
|Succeeded by||Edmond Favor Noel|
|Member of the Mississippi House of Representatives|
James Kimble Vardaman
July 26, 1861
Jackson County, Texas, C.S.
|Died||June 25, 1930 68) (aged|
Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.
|Resting place||Lakewood Memorial Park, Jackson, Mississippi, U.S.|
|Spouse(s)||Anna Burleson Robinson|
|Nickname(s)||"The Great White Chief"|
James Kimble Vardaman (July 26, 1861 – June 25, 1930) was an American politician from the U.S. state of Mississippi and was the Governor of Mississippi from 1904 to 1908. A Democrat, Vardaman was elected in 1912 to the United States Senate in the first popular vote for the office, following adoption of the 17th Amendment. He defeated incumbent LeRoy Percy, a member of the planter elite. Vardaman served from 1913 to 1919.
Known as "The Great White Chief", Vardaman had gained electoral support for his advocacy of populism and white supremacy, saying: "If it is necessary every Negro in the state will be lynched; it will be done to maintain white supremacy."He appealed to the poorer whites, yeomen farmers, and factory workers.
Vardaman was born in Jackson County, Texas, in July 1861.He moved to Mississippi, where he studied law and passed the bar. He settled in Greenwood, Mississippi, becoming editor of The Greenwood Commonwealth. This newspaper is still in publication as of 2015.
After the Reconstruction era, Mississippi election campaigns were frequently marked by violence and fraud. A biracial coalition of Republicans and Populists briefly controlled the governorship and Mississippi House in the late 1880s.
As a Democrat, Vardaman served in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1890 to 1896 and was elected as speaker of that body in 1894. He was known for his populist appeal to the common man. The Democrats took action to ensure they did not lose power again in the state. After having gained control of the legislature by suppressing the black vote, they passed a new constitution in 1890 with provisions, such as a poll tax and literacy test, that raised barriers to voter registration and in practice disenfranchised most blacks.
Referring to the 1890 Mississippi state constitution, Vardaman said:
There is no use to equivocate or lie about the matter. ... Mississippi's constitutional convention of 1890 was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the nigger from politics. Not the 'ignorant and vicious', as some of the apologists would have you believe, but the nigger. ... Let the world know it just as it is. ... In Mississippi we have in our constitution legislated against the racial peculiarities of the Negro. ... When that device fails, we will resort to something else.
Vardaman was commissioned as a major in the U.S. Army during the Spanish–American War. He served in Puerto Rico.
Vardaman ran twice in Democratic primaries for governor, in 1895 and 1899, but was not successful. The state was virtually one-party, and winning the Democratic primary established a candidate as the winning candidate for office. In 1903 Vardaman won the primary and the governorship, serving one four-year term (1904–1908).
In late December 1906, he went to Scooba, in rural Kemper County, with the Mississippi National Guard, to ensure control was established. Whites had rioted against blacks there and in Wahalak and feared retaliation; in total, two white men were killed and 13 blacks. The events were covered by the Associated Press and the New York Times, among other newspapers.
By 1910, his political coalition, comprising chiefly poor white farmers and industrial workers, began to identify proudly as "rednecks." They began to wear red neckerchiefs to political rallies and picnics.
Vardaman advocated a policy of state-sponsored racism against African Americans, saying that he supported lynching in order to maintain his vision of white supremacy.From 1877 to 1950, Mississippi had the highest number of lynchings in the nation. He was known as the "Great White Chief".
Vardaman was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1912 in the first popular election of senators, defeating the incumbent LeRoy Percy, a member of the planter elite. Vardaman served one term, from 1913 until 1919. He was defeated in his primary reelection bid in 1918. The main factor in Vardaman's defeat was his vote against the US Declaration of War on Germany and entry into World War I. Only five other Senators voted with him.
Vardaman ran in the Democratic primary for the US Senate in 1922, but was defeated in the primary runoff by Congressman Hubert Stephens by 9,000 votes.
Vardaman was known for his provocative speeches and quotes, once calling Theodore Roosevelt a "little, mean, coon-flavored miscegenationist." 105In reference to the education of black children, he remarked, "The only effect of Negro education is to spoil a good field hand and make an insolent cook." "The knowledge of books does not seem to produce any good substantial result with the Negro, but serves to sharpen his cunning, breeds hopes that cannot be fulfilled, creates an inclination to avoid labor, promotes indolence, and in turn leads to crime." :
After Tuskegee University president Booker T. Washington had dined with Roosevelt, Vardaman said the White House was "so saturated with the odor of the nigger that the rats have taken refuge in the stable."
Referring to Washington's role in politics, Vardaman said: "I am opposed to the nigger’s voting, it matters not what his advertised moral and mental qualifications may be. I am just as much opposed to Booker Washington, with all his Anglo-Saxon reenforcement, voting, as I am to voting by the cocoanut-headed, chocolate-colored typical little coon, Andy Dotson, who blacks my shoes every morning. Neither one is fit to perform the supreme functions of citizenship."
Vardaman married Anna Burleson Robinson. Their son, James K. Vardaman, Jr., later was appointed as Governor of the Federal Reserve System, serving from 1946 to 1958.
Vardaman died on June 25, 1930 at the age of 68 at Birmingham Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama.
In July 2017, the University of Mississippi announced that Vardaman's name would be removed from a building which has borne his name since 1929.
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If it is necessary every Negro in the state will be lynched; it will be done to maintain white supremacy.
It is as noxious today as in 1901 when Mississippi Sen. James Vardaman said after Booker T. Washington had dined with President Theodore Roosevelt that the White House was "so saturated with the odor of the nigger that the rats have taken refuge in the stable."
James Kimball Vardaman, former Governor of Mississippi and a United States Senator from that State, familiarly known to thousands as 'the White Chief,' died at a hospital here today after a lengthy illness. His age was 68.
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Andrew H. Longino
| Governor of Mississippi |
Le Roy Percy
| U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Mississippi |
Served alongside: John Sharp Williams