The Godfather of Mississippi

Big Jim Eastland: The Godfather of Mississippi is a biography of a powerful Mississippi Senator who was rife with contradictions.

For decades after the Second World War, Senator James O. Eastland (1904-1986) was one of the more intransigent leaders of the Deep South's resistance to what he called "the Second Reconstruction." And yet he developed, late in his life, a very real friendship with state NAACP chair Aaron Henry. Big Jim Eastland provides the life story of this savvy, unpredictable powerhouse.

From 1947 to 1978, Eastland wore that image of resistance proudly, even while recognizing from the beginning his was the losing side. Biographer J. Lee Annis Jr. chronicles such complexities extensively and also delves into many facets lesser known to the general public.

Born in the Mississippi Delta as part of the elite planter class, Eastland was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1941 by Democratic Governor Paul B. Johnson, Sr., following the death of Senator Pat Harrison. Eastland ran for and won the Senate seat in 1942 and served in the Senate from 1943 until his resignation December 27, 1978.

Eastland with Lyndon Johnson
A blunt man of few words and many contradictions, Eastland was an important player on the Washington scene, from his initial 88 day stint in 1941 where he salvaged several local projects from bungling bureaucratic intervention to the 1970s when he shepherded Supreme Court nominees of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford to confirmation by the Senate. Along the way, Annis describes the objections Eastland raised to various civil rights proposals from the 1940s to the 1960s, along with the accommodations Eastland was forced to make to African American interests after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Annis’ research is grounded in scores of interviews as well many previously unpublished stories important to understanding Eastland. Big Jim Eastland: The Godfather of Mississippi not only covers his long fight for the lost cause of preserving a segregated society, but also touches upon his work to create the Marshall Plan, represent Mississippi farmers and others, and create federal projects in Mississippi.

Annis will be discussing his book tomorrow,  August 17, noon–1 p.m. at the William F. Winter Archives and History Building. As part of the History Is Lunch series

Annis will also be participating in the Mississippi Book Festival on Saturday as part of a panel discussion on Mississippi History. He will be joined by fellow UPM authors Anne Webster and Jim Barnett. The panel discussion begins at 1:45 in the state capitol.