James K. Vardaman, 1861-1931

James K. Vardaman, 1861-1930

Mississippi Governor, Senator, U.S. Army Major,
Lawyer, Editor, known as “The Great White Chief.”

James K. Vardaman was born in Confederate Jackson County, texas in July of 1861. Early in his
20’s, after moving to Mississippi he pursued a career in the legal profession, being admitted to
the bar in 1882. After practicing law throughout the 1880’s, demonstrating his vast, particularly
impressive knowledge of legality coupled with his oratory he transitioned into tthe editorial field
providing his services to the Winona Advance, and the Greenwood Enterprise. After becomg
infatuated with the political affairs of Mississippi through his work as an editor and lawyer he
contemplated and eventually pursued and won a seat in the Missippi House of Representatives,
becoming Speaker of the House in 1894. In 1895 he sought the Governship of Mississippi,
but he was unsuccessful. In 1896 he founded the Greenwood Commonwealth. Upon his
Representative term ending he enlisted in the Army In 1898, and rose to the rank of Major
in the Spanish-American war, being stationed in puerto Rico. After his war time experiences
he, once again, he pursued higher office in 1899 in the Gubernatorial race, but was defeated.
Upon defeat and for the next 5 years he toured for a number of speaking engagements,
prominently supporting popular elections, and utilizing promotional opportunities. In 1904
he ran once again for Governor. His campaign slogan throughout this period was: “A vote
for Vardaman is a vote for white supremacy.” A key facet of the marketing for his campaign
and throughout his political tenure was his supporters usage of red neckerchiefs and
scarfs which were often worn to pro-Vardaman rallies, aswell as his bold aesthetics of
white suits, and styling his hair in a longer fashion, which was unusual in the period.

Upon triumphing over his opponent securing victory in the 1904 Gubernatorial race he stated
with great clarity that he intended, and ultimately, proved to be the white mans’ candidate.
During his term as Governor he was representative of the white interests of the population,
as he openly advocated the repeal of the 14th and 15th amendments, believing Africans
should not be voters, nor hold office within a white mans’ Republic. Vardaman additionally
promoted government regulation of corporations, and was openly against the convict
leasing system. Throughout his political tenure he was a strong campaigner against
child labor. During his latter period as Governor Vardaman ran for the U. S. Senate,
but was defeated. After he left office Vardaman edited the newspaper: The Issue
which became Vardaman’s Weekly. In 1911 he was elected as Senator. Hs strong
and consistent opposition to America’s entry into World War 1 and his opposition
to then President Woodrow Wilson constributed to his defeat for re-election in 1918.
He retired from politics completely in 1923 signaled by the end of his paper. He
went on to reside in Birmingham, Alabama where he died on June 25, 1930.

Last Updated on October 2, 2020 by Bill Arp

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