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Theodore G. Bilbo, a Democrat, had twice been governor of Mississippi before he served in the U.S. Senate from 1935 to 1947, when “the growing intolerance among many whites toward public racism and anti-Semitism” led to his fall, according to an account in the Journal of Mississippi History.
An equal-opportunity racist, he addressed some of his letters with slurs against Italians and Jews, depending on the recipient. But the bulk of his loathing and fear was reserved for Black Americans, as spelled out in his 1947 book “Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization.”
“The great civilizations of the ages have been produce[d] by the Caucasian race,” he wrote. When Black people moved in, he wrote, mighty societies such as ancient Egypt were destroyed and mongrel races were created. “The mongrel not only lacks the ability to create a civilization, but he cannot maintain a culture that he finds around him,” he wrote.
Bilbo proclaimed in his book and in addresses to followers that he was “convinced, beyond every reasonable doubt, that our race is in jeopardy.” It was a fact, he said in one campaign speech, using racial slurs, that at “the present rate of interbreeding and miscegenation and intermarriage between the [Black people] and the Whites, that in nine generations, which is only 300 years, there’ll be no Whites, there’ll be no Blacks in this country. We’ll all be yellow.” Or brown, he added.
He rebutted experts who disputed any scientific basis for racism. Of Franz Boas, often called the father of American anthropology, he wrote, “For some reason which has never been publicized, this German Jew, a newly-arrived immigrant, wanted to destroy the racial stock which had carved this mighty Nation out of a wilderness.” Bilbo recommended deportation for another academic, a naturalized Italian immigrant, who suggested intermarriage could dissolve the color line.
Though he claimed “no hatred or prejudice against any human being” in the preface to his book, he went on to say that he “would rather see his race and his civilization blotted out with the atomic bomb than to see it slowly but surely destroyed in the maelstrom of miscegenation, interbreeding, intermarriage, and mongrelization.”
But the times were changing, even in Mississippi. Black veterans returning from fighting in World War II didn’t take well to efforts to bar them from voting in the United States. And the Allies’ fight against Adolf Hitler and antisemitism had led many Americans to turn their critical gaze to discrimination at home.
As Robert L. Fleegler noted in the Journal of Mississippi History, most criticism of Bilbo in the press had come from liberal publications. But as Bilbo started campaigning for reelection in June 1946, the conservative and influential Saturday Evening Post published a cover story under the headline “Bilbo: America’s Worst Demagogue Runs Again.” The story called Bilbo “America’s most notorious merchant of hatred.”
The politician nicknamed “The Man” was fighting to retain his Senate seat. He told supporters that “the Negro Council in Chicago sent a telegram to Harry Truman, the president, saying to send the Army down to Mississippi and to see to it that these 100,000 [Black people] are gonna vote,” using a racist slur. He also urged “every red-blooded white man to use any means to keep the [Black people] away from the polls. And if you don’t know what that means, you are just plain dumb.” He fought fiercely against his critics, hurling anti-Jewish and anti-Black slurs at detractors in the press. He won the Democratic primary that July and ran unopposed in the general election.
There were calls to oust Bilbo, including from veterans groups and the Committee of Catholics for Human Rights, which called Bilbo’s conduct “a chilling deterrent to the world-wide belief that America is the symbol of democracy and human rights.” They were joined by politicians, including New York’s Democratic senators and a state senator whose son was killed in World War II, who said, “I hate and despise those bigots” like Bilbo.
The committee “heard from more than 100 witnesses — two-thirds of them Black — who outlined local election practices that systematically restricted black registration and voting,” according to a Senate history. Witnesses told of being turned away, threatened with pistols, beaten and arrested.
A second investigation by the Senate war investigating subcommittee heard testimony on charges that Bilbo had helped construction firms win government contracts and had accepted gifts in return that included a Cadillac, a swimming pool and the “excavation of a lake to create an island for his home,” according to a Senate summary.
During the investigation, questions also arose about whether Bilbo was pocketing money in return for allowing a drug addict access to morphine. Bilbo had obtained consent from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics to allow a Mississippi doctor to prescribe the drug. The drug recipient told an Internal Revenue Service special agent that he paid Bilbo $1,000 for the favor, according to the New York Times.
This content was originally published here.