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Alabama Governors

Seth Gordon Persons

photo of portrait of Ala. Governor Seth Gordon Persons

 


1951-1955

 

Seth Gordon Persons was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on February 5, 1902. He attended public and private schools in Montgomery and studied electrical engineering at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn University) in 1921-1922. Persons pursued a career in radio broadcasting and eventually operated WSFA, one of Alabama's first radio stations. He served as chairman of the Alabama Rural Electrification Authority (REA) in the late 1930s and later served as a member of the Public Service Commission (PSC). He was defeated by James "Big Jim" Folsom in the 1946 gubernatorial race but in 1950 Persons was elected over Chauncey Sparks.

 

Persons proved to be "a sober, conservative executive who made no effort at significant reform." [Gilliam, p.49] His first official act as governor was to replace Auburn's head football coach, Earl Brown, with Ralph (Shug) Jordan. During Person's administration, legislation was passed that reformed the welfare system and the pardon-parole system, increased funding for education and roads and strengthened the merit system. The Educational Television Commission was established which made Alabama a pioneer in the area of public broadcasting in the 1950s. Persons also made a public display of burning the straps used by prisons to inflict corporal punishment and he backed the Highway Patrol's campaign against careless drivers.

 

While many of Persons' programs had a humanitarian slant, some did not. He signed a Right-to-Work bill that severely limited the ability of unions to organize in Alabama. Although he supported and signed a bill that eliminated the cumulative feature of the poll tax, most of Persons' legislation did nothing to secure civil rights for Alabama's citizens. He supported a bill, known as the "Little Boswell Amendment," that established voting qualifications designed to disenfranchise blacks. He also signed a bill that prohibited Communists from holding public office and required them to register their party affiliation.

 

Two significant events occurred during the Persons' administration. Attorney General-elect Albert Patterson was murdered while attempting to clean-up the vice and corruption that prevailed in Phenix City. This 1954 incident caused Persons to place Phenix City and Russell County under martial law. Also in 1954 the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools when it rendered its decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The brunt of Alabama's reaction to this ruling, however, affected the second administration of Folsom more than Persons.

 

Plagued by bad health throughout his political career, Persons suffered a heart attack in 1954 before his term as governor ended. A mild stroke four years later prevented him from running for a second term as governor but he did run unsuccessfully for probate judge of Montgomery County in 1958.

 

Persons and his wife, Alice McKeithen, had two children, Seth Gordon, Jr. and Alice Elizabeth. He died in Montgomery from a stroke on May 29, 1965.

 


Authorities:
Alabama Official and Statistical Register, 1951.
Birmingham Post-Herald, May 31, 1965.
Gilliam, Thomas J. "The Second Folsom Administration: The Destruction of Alabama Liberalism, 1954-1958." Ph.D. Dissertation, 1975.
Grafton, Carl and Permaloff, Anne. Big Mules and Branchheads: James E. Folsom and Political Power in Alabama, 1985.
Lee County Bulletin, June 3, 1965.
Montgomery Advertiser, May 30, 1965.
Montgomery Advertiser, June 1, 1965.
Stewart, John Craig. The Governors of Alabama, 1975.