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Alabama Governors

Frank Murray Dixon

photo of portrait of Ala. Governor Frank Murray Dixon

 

1939-1943

 

Frank Murray Dixon was born on July 25, 1892, in Oakland, California, to Frank Dixon, a preacher, and Laura Dixon. He attended public schools in Washington, DC, and Dixondale, Virginia, as well as Phillips Exeter Preparatory School, Columbia University, and the University of Virginia from which he received his law degree in 1916. He began his law career that same year in Birmingham, Alabama, in the office of Frank W. White. His practice was interrupted, however, by WWI. Dixon served as an aerial observer and machine gunner with the French Escadrilles until July 21, 1918, when he was wounded, resulting in the amputation of his right leg. Dixon was decorated by the French government with the Croix de Guerre with Palm, named a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, and was discharged in May 1919 at the rank of major.

 

Returning to Birmingham he became a partner in the legal firm of Bowers and Dixon, a position he retained until his inauguration as governor in 1939. Dixon also served as an assistant solicitor of Jefferson County from 1919 to 1923. His first attempt for the governorship was in 1934 when he was narrowly defeated by Bibb Graves. In 1938 he defeated Chauncey Sparks by presenting a platform that called for efficient reforms in the state government.

 

Although he was a conservative states' rights advocate, Dixon achieved significant progressive reforms in state government during his term in office. He eliminated much duplication of effort and services as well as excess cost by centralizing the administrative power in the governor's office. Another important reform was the elimination of the spoils system and adoption of the merit system, a much needed reform in light of the 20,000 applications for appointments to state positions Dixon received prior to taking office. Dixon also encouraged reforms in taxation, education, and the judicial system. He abolished the pardon, parole, and probation system and created the Pardon and Parole Board. Teacher retirement was established, the state debt was reduced and several new departments were created including Finance, Industrial Relations, Conservation, Personnel, Commerce, Revenue, and State Docks and Terminals. Most of these absorbed functions and activities that had been scattered among several smaller boards and commissions. The Legislative Reference Service was established to assist the governor and members of the state legislature. Also under Dixon's administration, the legislature changed from quadrennial sessions to biennial sessions.

 

Dixon's administration came on the tail-end of the Great Depression and the beginning of WWII. The war impacted greatly on Dixon's accomplishments. Military installations were established throughout the state, the Selective Service System was organized and the Office of Price Administration (OPA) was coordinated through state government.

 

Another of Dixon's reforms later became embroiled in controversy. The alcoholic beverage control law provided a way to license the sale of beer and wine and established a system of state package stores to control the sale of hard liquor. During Dixon's administration the state purchased 10,000 barrels and 173,813 cases of two-year-old 80 proof liquor from the American Distilling Company of Pekin, Illinois. The liquor was bottled and sold as "Spot Bottle" in state package stores at the customary 50 percent markup alongside four-year-old 86 proof liquor priced the same. There was no legal problem with this part of the transaction but controversy concerned the price paid by the state to the American Distilling Company. In 1943 the Office of Price Administration filed suit against the Illinois company asking for treble damages of $7,509,335 for whiskey sales made in excess of OPA price ceilings. The case was settled in 1946 but the incident was widely publicized during Dixon's administration.

 

After he left office, Dixon returned to his private law practice with Bowers, Dixon, Dunn, and McDowell in Birmingham. He was a leader in the Dixiecrat movement from 1948-1951 that opposed the civil rights and trade union policies of the Democratic Party under President Harry S. Truman. In 1960 he again opposed the civil rights movement by running as one of ten States' Rights candidates for presidential elector to the Democratic National convention in Los Angeles.

 

He and his wife, Juliet Perry of Green County, had one son, Sam Perry Dixon, and one daughter, Launa Dixon. Dixon died in Birmingham on October 11, 1965.


Authorities:
Birmingham News, October 11, 1938.
Birmingham News, July 11, 1945.
Birmingham News, March 28, 1946.
Birmingham News, April 21, 1960.
Montgomery Advertiser, November 14, 1943.
Montgomery Advertiser, May 28, 1960.
Owen, Marie Bankhead. The Story of Alabama: A History of the State, 1949.
Stewart, John Craig. The Governors of Alabama, 1975.

Encyclopedia of Alabama, 2008.