thumbnail of Mississippi Masters; No. 1; John C. Stennis: A Senator's Senator; Part 1
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<v Ronald Reagan>Senator, when I consider your career, there's a certain comparison that comes to my mind. <v Ronald Reagan>In troubled places, you brought calm resolve like one of the many great fighting <v Ronald Reagan>ships you've done so much to obtain for the Navy. <v Ronald Reagan>Serene, self-possessed, but like a ship of the line, possessed <v Ronald Reagan>of a high sense of purpose, that is John Stennis. <v Ronald Reagan>And Senator, if you think I'm leading up to something. <v Ronald Reagan>I am. <v Ronald Reagan>Senator Stennis, Ladies and gentlemen, it's my honor to announce tonight <v Ronald Reagan>that is an expression of the nation's gratitude for the public service of the man we <v Ronald Reagan>honor tonight. <v Ronald Reagan>The Navy's next nuclear powered aircraft carrier, CVN 74 <v Ronald Reagan>will be christened The USS John C. <v Ronald Reagan>Stennis. [applause] <v Cokie Roberts>John C. Stennis, Mississippi's former senior senator, retired from office
<v Cokie Roberts>in January 1989 after 41 years of distinguished service <v Cokie Roberts>to both his home state and the nation. <v Speaker>I thought he was an excellent example of <v Speaker>a solid conservative Southern <v Speaker>gentleman who happened to be a great senator. <v Speaker>The quintessential Southern senator. <v Speaker>So gallant. <v Speaker>Uh uh solid. Good. The quintessential Southerner. <v Cokie Roberts>Senator's Stennis's last days in the 100th Congress were filled with the schedule <v Cokie Roberts>nearly as rigorous as the routine he pursued throughout his career. <v Cokie Roberts>The second longest stretch of service in the history of the United States Senate. <v Cokie Roberts>The daily regimen often lasted from early morning to late at night. <v Speaker>The senator whose word on military matters
<v Speaker>and matters of honor within the Senate is almost beyond question. <v Cokie Roberts>While his name and face were near legendary in both the state of Mississippi and the <v Cokie Roberts>United States Senate, most Americans didn't notice this man, who, <v Cokie Roberts>through diligent work, quietly acquired a vast amount of power during his <v Cokie Roberts>distinguished career. <v Speaker>He was my idea of what a senator should be like. <v Speaker>Complete total student of the Senate. <v Speaker>?Embodiment? really the best traditions of the Senate. <v Speaker>A senator's senator. <v Narrator>John C. Stennis, A Senator's Senator. Narrated by Cokie Roberts. Is made possible by the Phil Harden Foundation of Meridian, Mississippi. Dedicated to improving education for <v Narrator>Mississippians. <v Narrator>Additional funding was provided by the Gannett Foundation, South Central Bell
<v Narrator>and members of the Mississippi Educational Network. <v Speaker>Senator, we have uh interview requests. <v Speaker>It's been pending for several weeks that that uh we probably should try to work in <v Speaker>this week. If possible, I think. <v John Stennis> I believe the best way to avoid war is to be fully <v John Stennis>prepared, have the tools of war in abundance and have them ready. <v Frank Smith>He was too young to be in World War 1, and too old to <v Frank Smith>be in World War 2. And he was very conscious of the fact that he <v Frank Smith>hadn't had military service. <v James C. Matt>Military was compulsory at a A&M college <v James C. Matt>uh for freshman ?inaudible? <v James C. Matt>Freshman and sophomore years. <v James C. Matt>But the last2 years it was elective and most of us elected to <v James C. Matt>ROTC simply because it was small financial uh <v James C. Matt>advantage to be gained by being a member of the ROTC and uh <v James C. Matt>none of us could afford not to take it.
<v Cokie Roberts>Whether John Stennis's interest in military matters came from a sense of duty <v Cokie Roberts>or the need for financial assistance. <v Cokie Roberts>His early interest in the armed services would dominate his 7 terms <v Cokie Roberts>in office. <v John Stennis>Your military training, your talent, your know how, your ?ability? <v John Stennis>all goes into making the great ?sword? <v John Stennis>That stands for liberty. <v Albert Gore>The South, throughout its history has <v Albert Gore>tended to be strong in its militaristic support and <v Albert Gore>tendencies. <v Cokie Roberts>Following America's involvement in the Korean conflict, Stennis began warning <v Cokie Roberts>about our involvement in Vietnam, a warning that would surface throughout <v Cokie Roberts>the better part of his political career. <v John Stennis>I made 3 speeches on the Senate floor in 1954. <v John Stennis>54. ?inaudible? if we send our military folks in to Vietnam
<v John Stennis>and went there alone, that we might get into <v John Stennis>active combat and and have to fight it alone. <v Bill Spell>Senator Stennis record on the Vietnam War is very clear. <v Bill Spell>He strongly opposed the American forces ever being committed to that area <v Bill Spell>and their speeches on the Congressional Record were in the early days when we were only <v Bill Spell>talking about sending, you know, a dozen advisers. <v Bill Spell>He he strongly counseled against that for the reason <v Bill Spell>that we were gonna become entangled. <v William Winter>He recalled the old admonitions <v William Winter>of many that this country should never get involved in a <v William Winter>ground war on the continent of Asia. <v William Winter>He believed that. <v Cokie Roberts>President Eisenhower supported American involvement in Vietnam, but <v Cokie Roberts>it was Presidents Kennedy and Johnson who were the most vocal advocates
<v Cokie Roberts>of sending military advisers to assist the South Vietnamese by propping <v Cokie Roberts>up their fledgling democratic government. <v Cokie Roberts>And just as Stennis and others predicted, military advisers led to <v Cokie Roberts>military troop involvement and a commitment had been made on the part of <v Cokie Roberts>the U.S. armed forces. <v Albert Gore>Well, he and I talked about that uh many times. <v Albert Gore>After all, we lived in the same building and <v Albert Gore>we came up the same elevator and uh we lived in adjoining <v Albert Gore>states. And as you perhaps know, I took the <v Albert Gore>opposite position. And I I distinctly remember <v Albert Gore>one thing he said to me, just the two of us talking <v Albert Gore>uh and he he emphasized it said, we are committed, we <v Albert Gore>are committed. <v Albert Gore>And this meant to him a great deal. <v Albert Gore>Whether he thought it was a wise decision in the first instance, uh
<v Albert Gore>that may be a different thing. But I remember he emphasized we are committed in his <v Albert Gore>deep voice and that carried with it <v Albert Gore>the sentiment on his part that was committed. <v Albert Gore>We should not stop until we were victorious. <v John Stennis>I'll never reach a point where I'm willing to lower the flag in the face of the enemy and <v John Stennis>the disgraceful and dishonorable peace ?times? <v John Stennis>and turn and run away. <v Cokie Roberts>As far back as 1962, Stennis, along with other <v Cokie Roberts>Senate hawks, waged an ongoing battle with Secretary of Defense Robert <v Cokie Roberts>McNamara over information supplied to the Preparedness Investigations <v Cokie Roberts>Subcommittee chaired by Senator Stennis. <v Bill Spell>Senator Stennis took that very seriously and he he he conducted <v Bill Spell>over a period of 5 or 6 years, extensive and in-depth
<v Bill Spell>and very intensive examinations of the conduct <v Bill Spell>of the war. <v John Stennis>The final decision on what level of military strength is to be provided <v John Stennis>is a decision to be made by the Congress. <v John Stennis>?inaudible? to fully study of all the facts and recommendations. <v Edward Braswell Sr.>The Preparedness Subcommittee took positions on various <v Edward Braswell Sr.>weapons systems. The one time on nuclear submarines. <v Edward Braswell Sr.>The times on the modernization of ?inaudible? <v Edward Braswell Sr.>force. And usually these positions call <v Edward Braswell Sr.>for newer and better equipment than the current D.O.D. <v Edward Braswell Sr.>defense ?inaudible? our policy called for. <v John Stennis>This war in Vietnam very properly has top priority and first call on our <v John Stennis>military manpower and early assets, certainly it has a top most priority <v John Stennis>with me. And I feel major elements of the Great Society, including the poverty
<v John Stennis>program, should be relegated to the rear depending this ?emergency?. <v Bill Spell>When Secretary McNamara was up there before the committee, Senator Stennis tried <v Bill Spell>to nail him down on how much money he was going to spend <v Bill Spell>to fight the war for the next year. <v Bill Spell>And uh it was just before election and they didn't want all the true figures <v Bill Spell>about how much the war was going to cost to become public because of President <v Bill Spell>?inaudible? budget. Secretary McNamara wouldn't answer that question within ?inaudible?. <v Bill Spell>And so, Senator Stennis said <v Bill Spell>to him, Well, Mr. Secretary, if you don't know how much you're gonna spend, <v Bill Spell>how can you say how much you're gonna save? <v Edward Braswell Sr.>One weekend, Senator Stennis was going to be on one of these television talk shows and <v Edward Braswell Sr.>he got the advance ?request? of he's gonna be asking much of the Vietnam War cost <v Edward Braswell Sr.>?him?.He called the Pentagon and they sent back the figure of <v Edward Braswell Sr.>6.5 billion a year.
<v Edward Braswell Sr.>When the show was put on, they asked him the question, how much was costing? <v Edward Braswell Sr.>He said 13 billion. Uh <v Edward Braswell Sr.>it later turned out that 13 was almost a completely <v Edward Braswell Sr.>accurate figure within just a few dollars. <v Edward Braswell Sr.>Then, of course, when he was asked selected figures and he says we just double whatever <v Edward Braswell Sr.>figure they said. <v Edward Braswell Sr.>That's right. Very true. <v Edward Braswell Sr.>On hindsight, that was a rule of thumb. <v Cokie Roberts>Stennis continued his investigations as chairman of the Preparedness Subcommittee. <v Cokie Roberts>By 1966, U.S. <v Cokie Roberts>involvement in Southeast Asia had escalated. <v Cokie Roberts>Defense Department officials placed the war's cost at almost 22 billion <v Cokie Roberts>dollars, a figure that would rise to some 30 billion by 1969, <v Cokie Roberts>the year John Stennis became chairman of the powerful Armed Services <v Cokie Roberts>Committee. <v John Stennis>We must not commit American military forces unless we possess
<v John Stennis>and are willing to use the military forces necessary to prevail in that conflict. <v John Stennis>In other words, we must not again go in <v John Stennis>and require a man to fight with one hand tied behind his back. <v John Stennis>[applause] <v Speaker>?inaudible? <v Cokie Roberts>Though his military interests were indeed global, Stennis never lost touch with his home <v Cokie Roberts>state. He made frequent trips to Mississippi to talk with his constituents, <v Cokie Roberts>and one chair in his office was always reserved for visiting Mississippians <v Cokie Roberts>like portrait artist Marshall Bolden and his son Jamie. <v John Stennis>We didn't just get that out today. <v Cokie Roberts>John Cornelius Dennis born August 3rd in the second year
<v Cokie Roberts>of the 20th century, raised on a farm in Kemper County, Mississippi, <v Cokie Roberts>Stennis was one of a family of 7 children. <v Cokie Roberts>He attended Kemper County Agricultural High School, where he was graduated in 1919. <v Speaker>He uh enjoyed jokes. He enjoyed tricks. <v Speaker>And uh the net result was that he was a little bit mischievous in his nature. <v Speaker>He was very sincere though and he never at any time failed <v Speaker>to assume the responsibility for anything that he was involved in. <v Cokie Roberts>Stennis's strong sense of ethics caused him to always assume responsibility <v Cokie Roberts>for his actions. <v Cokie Roberts>From schoolboy pranks to his commitment to his country. <v Edward Braswell Sr.>Whenever you want a problem looked into, he would always say, I don't want just <v Edward Braswell Sr.>the facts, I want the true facts. <v Cokie Roberts>His sense of ethics earned him the unofficial title, Conscience <v Cokie Roberts>of the Senate. [applause]
<v Joseph McCarthy>One communist in the faculty. Of one ?university? <v Joseph McCarthy>Is one communist to a ?inaudible? <v Cokie Roberts>The time was the Red Scare of the 1950s. <v Cokie Roberts>Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy was conducting investigations into alleged <v Cokie Roberts>communist affiliations in America. <v Claudia J. Johnson>The country ?inaudible? national witchhunt in a state of excitement and doubt about everybody. <v Cokie Roberts>Practically no one was immune to McCarthy's probings. His targets range from the military <v Cokie Roberts>to State Department employees to other government workers, even to fellow <v Cokie Roberts>senators. <v Mary McGrory>No one can tell you now whether the downfall of the this noisy <v Mary McGrory>man from Wisconsin was inevitable and that events propelled <v Mary McGrory>it, or whether it was that the southerners finally decided unblock <v Mary McGrory>without making great fuss about it that uh it would not do.
<v Harry McPherson>There had been a point in 1954 <v Harry McPherson>when Johnson went to Stennis and <v Harry McPherson>enlisted him as the leader of the effort to censure <v Harry McPherson>Joe McCarthy. <v Claudia J. Johnson>This was a sticky problem and the senator <v Claudia J. Johnson>was riding a great wave of popularity <v Claudia J. Johnson>in the country. <v Claudia J. Johnson>And yet there were a lot of people who felt that he was well, <v Claudia J. Johnson>without trial, without conviction, just ruining the lives <v Claudia J. Johnson>of people who had not done any wrong and also wrecking <v Claudia J. Johnson>damage on the image of the Senate. <v Harry McPherson>Quite clearly, Johnson figured that if he could get <v Harry McPherson>this judge, this uh paragon of integrity
<v Harry McPherson>and fan firmness of character, to speak <v Harry McPherson>out against McCarthy, that that would give every other Democrat <v Harry McPherson>and many Republicans the uh sense that <v Harry McPherson>it was all right to oppose McCarthy. <v Cokie Roberts>A committee was formed to examine McCarthy's unorthodox investigations. <v Claudia J. Johnson>Putting together that committee was one of the hardest things Lyndon ever had <v Claudia J. Johnson>to do as a Senate majority leader. <v Claudia J. Johnson>I remember when he came home and said, well John Stennis is <v Claudia J. Johnson>going on it. <v Claudia J. Johnson>I got him to say yes today. <v Claudia J. Johnson>Each person was a victory because he wanted <v Claudia J. Johnson>to choose just a very special sort of man. <v Claudia J. Johnson>Judicious. Grounded in knowledge of <v Claudia J. Johnson>the Constitution. Fair. <v Claudia J. Johnson>Respected by all those senators.
<v Claudia J. Johnson>Because a lot hung on this committee. <v Claudia J. Johnson>And you had to be courageous to go on it, too. <v Mary McGrory>They had their committee hearings and uh <v Mary McGrory>McCarthy for once had followed the rules of the Senate, not his own. <v Mary McGrory>And then the matter was brought to the floor and the speech <v Mary McGrory>was made by Senator John Stennis. <v Mary McGrory>And I can still hear his voice was cold <v Mary McGrory>and he was a warm man so you you you notice that chilliness in his tone <v Mary McGrory>and he spoke about slush and slime. <v Mary McGrory>And that was those were the sort of light motif of <v Mary McGrory>his speech. And he just kept coming back to that <v Mary McGrory>slush and slime that the senator from Wisconsin had been guilty <v Mary McGrory>of both these inadmissible transgressions <v Mary McGrory>of the code of the Senate.
<v Cokie Roberts>With that speech, Senator Stennis became the first Democrat to publicly <v Cokie Roberts>call for the censure of Joe McCarthy. <v Cokie Roberts>Some 10 years later, following the scandal involving former majority <v Cokie Roberts>secretary of the Senate Bobby Baker, A 6 member watchdog committee <v Cokie Roberts>was formed by the Senate to keep vigil over the ethics of members and <v Cokie Roberts>employees. John Stennis was the unanimous choice for chairman, <v Cokie Roberts>though he was the only member of the committee who voted against the resolution that <v Cokie Roberts>created it. <v Cokie Roberts>There were those who doubted the committee's toughness. <v Cokie Roberts>By 1966, the Select Committee on Standards and Conduct would have <v Cokie Roberts>its first real test. <v Cokie Roberts>It would result in the censure of still another senator, Thomas Dodd of <v Cokie Roberts>Connecticut. The Christian Science Monitor would call the Dodd episode <v Cokie Roberts>the most important show Capitol Hill has staged since the Bobby Baker <v Cokie Roberts>hearings. Ultimately, John Stennis would author the first code of ethics
<v Cokie Roberts>for the Senate. But the biggest show was yet to come, with Stennis <v Cokie Roberts>considered for a key role. <v Speaker>The central question at this point isimply put. <v Speaker>What did the president know <v Speaker>and when did he know it? [music plays] <v Cokie Roberts>Stennis spent his college days at Mississippi A&M, now Mississippi <v Cokie Roberts>State University. His academic interests ran the gamut from agriculture <v Cokie Roberts>to literature, from business to advance science. <v Cokie Roberts>His senior year, he was captain in the ROTC program and he <v Cokie Roberts>was business manager for the college newspaper. <v Cokie Roberts>Though a serious student, not all of Stennis's college activities were <v Cokie Roberts>entirely serious. <v Speaker>John was the assistant cheerleader in his junior year and he became <v Speaker>chief cheerleader in his senior year.
<v Speaker>And at that time he kept all of his students in a <v Speaker>supportive attitude by having a pep meetings before <v Speaker>games. And then also he encouraged a large number of them to attend the game. <v Speaker>One such game was in Memphis, the University of Tennessee game and John <v Speaker>unloaded his gang there with the band, simply took over the main street in Memphis <v Speaker>and marched down the whole thing without a permit. <v Speaker>But uh he got away with it. <v Cokie Roberts>After earning a bachelor's degree in science from A&M, Stennis spent the next <v Cokie Roberts>several years working in DeKalb. <v Cokie Roberts>A cousin, who owned a drug store was in bad health, and Stenness worked in the business <v Cokie Roberts>until his cousin was well enough to return. <v Cokie Roberts>Stennis then went to law school at the University of Virginia, was elected to Phi Beta <v Cokie Roberts>Kappa and received his degree in 1928. <v Cokie Roberts>According to an often told story, John Stennis, law student, committed
<v Cokie Roberts>to memory the entire United States Constitution. <v William Winter>I'm sure that uh that uh affection for <v William Winter>the Constitution of the United States uh was impressed <v William Winter>on him by his years at the University of Virginia Law School, <v William Winter>where he studied in the shadow of some of the great early <v William Winter>leaders of this country. <v William Winter>Madison. Thomas Jefferson. <v William Winter>John Marshall. <v Cokie Roberts>Stennis hung out his shingle in DeKalb, Mississippi, in 1928 <v Cokie Roberts>on a small brick building that still bears his name. <v Speaker>?inaudible? <v Cokie Roberts>That same year, his political career began. <v Cokie Roberts>He was elected to the first of his two terms to the Mississippi legislature.
<v Cokie Roberts>In 1929, Coy Hines a Kemper County Home Demonstration <v Cokie Roberts>Agent became Mrs. Stennis. <v Cokie Roberts>The marriage produced 2 children, John Hampton and Margaret Jane. <v Cokie Roberts>After 3 years of law practice, Stennis campaigned for prosecuting attorneys <v Cokie Roberts>post a position he won and held until 1935. <v Cokie Roberts>That year, then Governor Hugh White named Stennis to fill a circuit judge <v Cokie Roberts>vacancy. Stennis was Mississippi's youngest member of the bench, and he held <v Cokie Roberts>his judgeship through 3 subsequent elections. <v J.P. Coleman>When the old clock on the steeple in the courthouse at Columbus <v J.P. Coleman>struck 9 o'clock. Right then when the gavel came down and <v J.P. Coleman>we had a highway patrolman over there. A good fellow, I won't call his name, but <v J.P. Coleman>he came into court one morning, about 5 minutes late. <v J.P. Coleman>And I'll change this man's name, Smith.
<v J.P. Coleman>Senator St- uh Judge Stennis said, Mr. Smith. <v J.P. Coleman>Where where were you at 9 o'clock? <v J.P. Coleman>Oh, he said. I was across the street over there drinking coffee was some friends. <v J.P. Coleman>Uh Judge Stennis said, were you under the impression that was going to hold court in a <v J.P. Coleman>cafe today? Oh, no, sir, he said. <v J.P. Coleman>I didn't expect anything like that. <v J.P. Coleman>But he didn't dress him down or jack him up. <v J.P. Coleman>He just said that after Mr. Smith, <v J.P. Coleman>you'd be at your place in court at 60 Minutes after 8 o'clock. <v Cokie Roberts>Stennis holds the distinction of never having a civil case overturned <v Cokie Roberts>on appeal. It was his training on the bench that led to his other nickname <v Cokie Roberts>in the Senate, Judge. <v Speaker>Your testimony touches many people, it touches Mr. Erlichman, Mr. ?inaudible?, Mr.
<v Speaker>Coleson, Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Dean and many others. <v Speaker>But I'm trying to focus on the president. <v Speaker>What did the president know and when did he know it? <v Howard Baker>I was the vice chairman of the Watergate Committee. <v Howard Baker>Sam Ervin was chairman. <v Howard Baker>I made the motion to issue a subpoena, a committee subpoena <v Howard Baker>for the tapes. Cause great ?inaudible? <v Howard Baker>And with my Republican president and at the White House. <v Howard Baker>But when they declined to disclose that information, I felt we had <v Howard Baker>no reasonable alternative. <v Cokie Roberts>During the Watergate scandal, it was discovered that President Nixon was taping <v Cokie Roberts>all conversations that took place in the Oval Office. <v Cokie Roberts>But the president did not want to release the tapes in their entirety to the Watergate <v Cokie Roberts>Investigating Committee. <v Howard Baker>And we both got these calls that there is an urgent matter to talk about the White House. <v Howard Baker>And we both flew back and we met in <v Howard Baker>Al Haig's office who was then Richard Nixon's chief of staff.
<v Howard Baker>We were told the White House wanted to make this proposal that John Stennis review the <v Howard Baker>tapes. <v Howard Baker>I remember my first reaction was surprise, but that I <v Howard Baker>thought that was just an excellent idea because I had absolute confidence in John <v Howard Baker>Stennis. <v Howard Baker>I remember Sam Ervin, who was very close to Stennis and from the same part <v Howard Baker>of the country and the same party. Uh Ervin <v Howard Baker>held back a little and I was mildly surprised at that. <v Howard Baker>Later, Ervin said, well, I want to make sure that Stennis himself agreed <v Howard Baker>to it. And to this day, I'm not sure whether that was Sam Ervin's ?reason? <v Howard Baker>Or whether Sam felt that committee ought to have all the tapes, even though <v Howard Baker>I'm sure he shared the same confidence in John Stennis that I did. <v John Stennis>I said from the beginning, that is when I was first approached, <v John Stennis>that I could not ?inaudible? unless the procedure had the approval of <v John Stennis>Senators Ervin and Baker because they represent
<v John Stennis>the Senate Select Committee and the Senate Resolution <v John Stennis>regarding Watergate. <v Mary McGrory>The idea was derided, <v Mary McGrory>but the press didn't do it with the usual relish that it would <v Mary McGrory>visit on any of Mr. Nixon's scheme because they genuinely <v Mary McGrory>cared about John Stennis and revered him. <v Robert McCormick>Although Senator Stennis seems to be the man in the middle, he obviously is trying to <v Robert McCormick>make it plain that he does not intend to be a patsy, to be the man that either or both <v Robert McCormick>sides can conveniently blame if the so-called compromise goes wrong. <v Robert McCormick>Yet the very fact that the White House has Stennis's name on its side is <v Robert McCormick>perhaps the best thing President Nixon has going for him. <v Robert McCormick>For members of both the House and Senate so respect Stennis, that it's next to impossible <v Robert McCormick>for them to conceive of any impropriety in any project with which Stennis's name <v Robert McCormick>is associated. Robert McCormick, NBC News at the Capitol.
<v Cokie Roberts>Though he didn't listen to the tapes, it was probably John Stennis who sealed <v Cokie Roberts>the fate of the Nixon presidency. <v Cokie Roberts>Nixon's continued refusal to surrender the recordings caused the Supreme Court <v Cokie Roberts>to consider whether Congress had the legal right to force his hand. <v Cokie Roberts>When the White House hinted that it might defy an adverse ruling, Stennis <v Cokie Roberts>sent word to the president that the Senate would not tolerate such action. <v Cokie Roberts>According to a White House aide, it was Stennis's message that closed <v Cokie Roberts>off the last exit. <v Cokie Roberts>Nixon knew if he surrendered the tapes, he would be impeached for <v Cokie Roberts>what was on them. If he refused to surrender the tapes, he would be <v Cokie Roberts>impeached for his refusal. <v Cokie Roberts>The president's only alternative was resignation. <v Richard Nixon>I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow. <v Richard Nixon>Vice President Ford will be sworn in as president at <v Richard Nixon>that hour in this office.
<v Speaker>Senator ?inaudible?, Cokie Roberts. <v Cokie Roberts>Hello, Senator. How are you? Nice to see you. <v John Stennis>?inaudible? <v Cokie Roberts>I think that it's it's a serious passing for you <v Cokie Roberts>to leave and we need to talk about that a little bit. <v Cokie Roberts>But tell me tell me some of the ways, I know it's a broad question, but some of the ways <v Cokie Roberts>you've seen the Senate change in your years here. <v John Stennis>Well, there's a great deal of quality comes in here in the <v John Stennis>character and honor of these members. <v John Stennis>They they measure up, as I see it. <v John Stennis>Now, different back to the ones that were here when I came, <v John Stennis>there was they were a little more rugged, we'll see. <v John Stennis>But they had the practical side of life ?inaudible?,
<v Cokie Roberts>Judge Stennis entered his first race for national office in August 1947 <v Cokie Roberts>on the advice of many friends and supporters throughout the state. <v Cokie Roberts>The election was held to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Mississippi's <v Cokie Roberts>fiery, controversial senator Theodore G. <v Cokie Roberts>Bilbo. <v J.P. Coleman>Obviously, you wouldn't ?inaudible? <v J.P. Coleman>he called me. <v J.P. Coleman>And he said, well, decide to take your advice. <v J.P. Coleman>And I'm going to announce, I don't know whether he said tomorrow, few days, the Senate. Wea <v J.P. Coleman>cold chill just ran up and down my back because I knew what a terrible political <v J.P. Coleman>task it was going to be. <v W.T. Minor>And there were at least 2 other candidates who were expected to <v W.T. Minor>win. The odds were much stronger for them than they were for Stennis. <v W.T. Minor>Stennis was not as well known as 4 people in that race. <v Cokie Roberts>Armed with a campaign slogan, most Mississippians readily understood
<v Cokie Roberts>Stennis set out with car and driver, his cousin, to stump the state. <v Cokie Roberts>Promising to plow a straight furrow right down to the end of the row. <v Frank Smith>I knew he was saying the same thing to everybody all over the state, <v Frank Smith>no matter what kind of audience he had or what uh <v Frank Smith>part of the state he was going to. <v W.T. Minor>Frank was very good about getting the news releases right <v W.T. Minor>at the time you needed them right on deadline. <v W.T. Minor>So Stennis would grab the the headlines usually <v W.T. Minor>every day because he had the ?trace? <v W.T. Minor>news release. Working over the same basic speeches, as a matter of fact, <v W.T. Minor>they would they would come out with a new lead each day using the basic <v W.T. Minor>speech that he had. <v Cokie Roberts>Though Stennis was a dark horse in the race and ran his campaign on a shoestring, <v Cokie Roberts>even for the times, he had made many contacts over the years, dating <v Cokie Roberts>back to his college days. <v Sam Y. Wilhite>We took Mississippi State alumni and we told them
<v Sam Y. Wilhite>that they should go to all of their Ole Miss friends and tell them, now <v Sam Y. Wilhite>look, I voted for all of your people that you've ever come to me and asked me to vote for <v Sam Y. Wilhite>your friends. Now I've got to make one request to you. <v Sam Y. Wilhite>I've got a good Mississippi State man here now that's running and I want you this <v Sam Y. Wilhite>one time to vote with me. <v Sam Y. Wilhite>We've got really scared because between 11 o'clock <v Sam Y. Wilhite>and 12 o'clock on election night, Senator Stennis's lead <v Sam Y. Wilhite>had diminished by a thousand votes and it wasn't no 4 or 5000 <v Sam Y. Wilhite>votes. A head start ?inaudible? <v Sam Y. Wilhite>We did not know until on or 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning that he had <v Sam Y. Wilhite>actually made it and would would be the new senator. <v Sam Y. Wilhite>That's the way things were in those days. <v Cokie Roberts>Enjoying his victory, the Stennis family packed and boarded a <v Cokie Roberts>train bound for a new life in Washington. <v Cokie Roberts>Stennis's presence in the Senate was hailed by many Southerners as a breath of fresh
<v Cokie Roberts>air, following Bilbo's stormy rhetoric during his tenure. <v Cokie Roberts>On the freshman senator's first day as a member of the world's premier legislative <v Cokie Roberts>body, President Harry S. <v Cokie Roberts>Truman spoke to a joint session of Congress on the dangers of post-war <v Cokie Roberts>inflation. <v Harry S. Truman>We cannot allow the strength of this nation to be wasted in our people's confidence, in <v Harry S. Truman>our free institutions, to be shaken by an economic catastrophe. <v Harry S. Truman>We shall be inviting that catastrophe unless we take steps now <v Harry S. Truman>to halt runaway prices. <v Cokie Roberts>Stennis's first term in the Senate was spent learning the ropes, making contacts. <v Cokie Roberts>He developed a strong friendship with Senator Richard Russell of Georgia. <v Cokie Roberts>Russell served as Stennis's mentor in the Senate. <v Cokie Roberts>A role Russell played for many in the Southern delegations. <v Cokie Roberts>By Stennis's second term, he had been seated on a number of major Senate <v Cokie Roberts>committees and subcommittees.
<v Cokie Roberts>He was appointed to the Senate Appropriations Committee in 1955 and later <v Cokie Roberts>was named chairman of the Space Subcommittee. <v Cokie Roberts>America and John Stennis were about to enter <v Cokie Roberts>the space race. [music plays] <v Cokie Roberts>In 1957, the Jet Age gave way to the Space Age. <v Cokie Roberts>This new era of technology was being ushered in not by America, but <v Cokie Roberts>by Russia, with the launch of Sputnik. <v Speaker>Sputnik, you know, caught the country by surprise all the way from President Eisenhower <v Speaker>on down. <v Cokie Roberts>Both the president and Congress had to consider the impact of Sputnik <v Cokie Roberts>on America's fledgling space program. <v Cokie Roberts>And quickly, if America was to take the lead in what had become the <v Cokie Roberts>space race. One of the groups involved in the assessment was the <v Cokie Roberts>Senate Preparedness Investigating Committee. <v Cokie Roberts>Among its members at the time were Senators Lyndon Johnson, John Stennis,
<v Cokie Roberts>and Margaret Chase Smith. <v Margaret Chase Smith>Sputnik brought us to the fact that we <v Margaret Chase Smith>had had delayed too long for <v Margaret Chase Smith>any thought of space activity. <v Cokie Roberts>Within the next 2 or 3 years, it spawned NASA and um <v Cokie Roberts>Senator Stennis was right in there. <v Cokie Roberts>By 1965, Stennis was a senior member of the Senate Aeronautical and Space <v Cokie Roberts>Sciences Committee. And America sent majors McDivitt and White into orbit <v Cokie Roberts>around the Earth for 4 days aboard Gemini 4. <v Cokie Roberts>In just a few years, America had assumed the lead in the space race. <v Cokie Roberts>And despite setbacks, major and minor, would not look back. <v Cokie Roberts>[music plays] <v Cokie Roberts>Among the many honors afforded John Stennis at his retirement <v Cokie Roberts>was the rededication of a NASA test facility located in the senator's
<v Cokie Roberts>home state. In recognition of his many years of support for the space program. <v John Stennis>Well, you know, the last conversation I had <v John Stennis>with President Kennedy before he was killed. I <v John Stennis>didn't call him. He called me up. <v John Stennis>No, ?inaudible. He wanted me to help him get it. <v Cokie Roberts>At <v Cokie Roberts>the beginning of Stennis's senate career in 1947, Mississippi was a very <v Cokie Roberts>different place than it is today. <v Cokie Roberts>The economy was almost totally dependent on agriculture. <v Cokie Roberts>Yet as the halfway mark of the 20th century approached, work on rural <v Cokie Roberts>water supplies, farm to market roads, and rural electrification <v Cokie Roberts>was just beginning. With his farm upbringing, Stennis saw in his <v Cokie Roberts>bid for the Senate a chance to help his future constituents.
<v William Winter>The judge ran on uh issues that today <v William Winter>I think would still be regarded as relevant. <v William Winter>He ran on that education for the children. <v William Winter>He ran around providing better economic opportunities <v William Winter>through the action of the government. <v Cokie Roberts>The senator used his new office to encourage cooperation among all levels <v Cokie Roberts>of government and industry, creating early versions of public private partnerships. <v Cokie Roberts>He took great pride in sharing the news of Mississippi's development with <v Cokie Roberts>the nation. <v Speaker>Senator, I would like to ?inaudible? <v Speaker>in Mississippi. ?inaudible? <v Speaker>Some of our people ?inaudible? Have been down there lately. <v Speaker>And I must say there were limiting ?inaudible? by the great growth that has been <v Speaker>demonstrated in the last few years.
<v John Stennis>New agriculture is there now. ?inaudible? <v John Stennis>Now we have a new economy based on our industrial projects, too. <v John Stennis>Yes, we have all of that. ?inaudible? <v Cokie Roberts>The senator's economic interest was not only in developing new industry, <v Cokie Roberts>but also in improving people's living standards in both rural and urban <v Cokie Roberts>areas. <v Speaker>The Farm to Market Road program had helped to get farmers <v Speaker>out of the mud in the state ?bore? his imprint. Uh rural <v Speaker>health care, small town community health care <v Speaker>was a great concern of his. <v Sam Y. Wilhite>He's always been a strong supporter of rural development. <v Sam Y. Wilhite>Just think about how much he has done to bring rural water
<v Sam Y. Wilhite>systems to Mississippi. <v Claudia J. Johnson>And it was getting a farm wife away from having <v Claudia J. Johnson>to do that washing in the backyard in a great big uh <v Claudia J. Johnson>iron kettle and uh the man from drawing all the water out <v Claudia J. Johnson>of the well and it just it just freed you. <v Speaker>Now, that's a long way from the from the ?petrol? <v Speaker>pump that everybody had houses. <v Speaker>Being able to turn the tap on and get water. <v Claudia J. Johnson>What rural electrification and farm to market roads did <v Claudia J. Johnson>for rural Texas and I'm sure for rural Mississippi <v Claudia J. Johnson>just changed life for a lot of people. <v William Winter>So as you travel around the state today, you won't see his name on a lot of <v William Winter>things that have been built, but you can rest assured <v William Winter>that uh it was a senator's influence that helped secure
<v William Winter>these additions to our physical infrastructure. <v Cokie Roberts>In addition to his efforts to extend federal funds to rural roads, Senator <v Cokie Roberts>Stennis was a strong supporter of the Interstate Highway Program. <v Cokie Roberts>A forester himself, Stennis took an active interest in the development <v Cokie Roberts>of America's forest resources. <v Cokie Roberts>He introduced legislation that established planting, research, and conservation <v Cokie Roberts>programs. <v William Winter>Among specific projects that I recall that I worked with him <v William Winter>uh on as governor had to do with the completion of the massive <v William Winter>Tennessee Tombigbee waterway. <v Cokie Roberts>This multibillion dollar waterway connects the Tennessee River with the Tombigbee. <v Cokie Roberts>Flowing through a series of locks and dams, it provides a shorter channel to
<v Cokie Roberts>the deep water ports of the Gulf of Mexico. <v Jimmy Carter>He and I had some differences. I remember one other difference that we had <v Jimmy Carter>and that was on a Tennessee Tombigbee Canal. <v Jimmy Carter>I really thought that this was a project of enormous cost <v Jimmy Carter>that would never repay the investment. <v Haley Barbour>People in northeast Mississippi were led to believe that the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway <v Haley Barbour>was going to be one big industrial park stretching from Yellow Creek to the Alabama line. <v Haley Barbour>And of course, that's not the truth. And like many things in politics, it was oversold. <v Jimmy Carter>Senator Stennis had the opposite point of view. <v Jimmy Carter>And he may be right and I'm not I think only history can tell. <v Jimmy Carter>But I was trying to save money and trying to keep down the deficit as much as possible. <v Jimmy Carter>Some of these uh Corps of Engineers Projects were enormously expensive. <v Howard Baker>Not one single drop of water in the Tenn-Tom flows through the <v Howard Baker>state of Tennessee. And I used to get Stennis about that uh you
<v Howard Baker>named that thing just so I'd be hooked. <v Howard Baker>But uh ?and I don't know? If he did or not, but it worked whenever it was. <v John Stennis>We have here in our ?state? He and I ?inaudible? <v John Stennis>?People? Research Agency and many other agencies all <v John Stennis>doing a good job. <v John Stennis>But they don't have a chance. <v John Stennis>To lead our state, no governor has a chance to lead our state above the <v John Stennis>educational level. <v John Stennis>Allow a public school system. <v Speaker>Education uh was a special <v Speaker>strength, the various uh vocational programs, <v Speaker>programs in support of higher education, as well as the conventional <v Speaker>programs for element and secondary education. <v Speaker>?inaudible?
<v Speaker>Ladies and gentlemen, the 3 terms that black people in this country <v Speaker>should learn at ?birth?. <v Speaker>One is white supremacy. <v Speaker>One is neo-colonialism. <v Speaker>And one is black power. [audience cheers] <v Speaker>The white supremacists have utilized and misutilized power since <v Speaker>before your grandmother's birth. <v Speaker>They have done it under the ?agencies? <v Speaker>of politics, economics, legalism. You name it, any ?inaudible? institution, they have misused it. <v Cokie Roberts>In the 1950s, with the Civil Rights Movement gaining momentum, education <v Cokie Roberts>was among the many areas undergoing major changes in America. <v Cokie Roberts>The Supreme Court's landmark 1954 Brown vs.
<v Cokie Roberts>Board of Education ruling led to desegregated schools in Little Rock, <v Cokie Roberts>Arkansas, and helped set the stage for significant social changes <v Cokie Roberts>yet to come. Senator Stennis helped draft the Southern Manifesto, <v Cokie Roberts>a document signed by over 100 Southern congressmen voicing <v Cokie Roberts>their opposition to desegregation. <v Cokie Roberts>By 1962, Court ordered desegregation had come to Mississippi <v Cokie Roberts>schools. James Meredith was the first black to attend the University of Mississippi and <v Cokie Roberts>in 1964, desegregation of all public institutions had <v Cokie Roberts>become the law of the land. <v Cokie Roberts>Like many southerners of the period, Stennis was opposed to massive desegregation. <v Cokie Roberts>But unlike many Southerners, his opposition was not expressed in end <v Cokie Roberts>of the world rhetoric and inflammatory speeches. <v Bill Spell>Senator Stennis was one who did not ever join in that
<v Bill Spell>uh rather outspoken method. <v Bill Spell>He uh he went about it in a more calm sort of way, and he based <v Bill Spell>his opposition to those things that he opposed on constitutional grounds <v Bill Spell>and upon legal ground, and he's tried to reason with people. <v J.P. Coleman>He was like everybody else that day in time. <v J.P. Coleman>I say everybody else, nearly everybody who thought it was for <v J.P. Coleman>the best interest of white and black children that they be allowed to have their own <v J.P. Coleman>schools, go to school as they were doing. <v Aaron E. Henry>I recall, you know, Senator Stennis earlier in his <v Aaron E. Henry>activity in the Senate, along with with Senator Eastland <v Aaron E. Henry>and other members of the House, that they <v Aaron E. Henry>were adamantly opposed to issues that <v Aaron E. Henry>positively affected the black community. <v Speaker>Senator Stennis's position was one of being
<v Speaker>caught between his own personal convictions and those <v Speaker>of his constituency. <v Aaron E. Henry>Many of of of the white citizens do what they think <v Aaron E. Henry>other whites would expect them to do. <v Aaron E. Henry>And rather than have whites who <v Aaron E. Henry>they play golf with, go to church with, uh have <v Aaron E. Henry>a social relationship with look down upon them because <v Aaron E. Henry>they are friendly and and feel kindly about members <v Aaron E. Henry>of the black community. They really take on a false image. <v Speaker>Stennis was uh was slow to change uh the <v Speaker>the impact of the Freedom <v Speaker>Riders. The impact of Mississippi being <v Speaker>the pariah of states to
Mississippi Masters
Episode Number
No. 1
John C. Stennis: A Senator's Senator
Part 1
Producing Organization
Mississippi Educational Television
Contributing Organization
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
Mississippi Public Broadcasting (Jackson, Mississippi)
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Episode Description
"Perhaps much like the character in Frank Capra's now famous 'Mr. Smith goes to Washington,' in 1947 a young judge form Kemper County, Mississippi headed for the nation's capitol and an uncertain future. He was there to follow in the footsteps of the legendary Senator Theodore Bilbo. "Certainly not even that young politician himself, John Cornelius Stennis, would have predicted that his tenure in the U.S. Senate would become the second longest in history -- at 41 years -- or that he would eventually become third in the line of succession for the presidency. "The premiere program of our Mississippi Masters series looks at the life and legacy of this man, often called 'the conscience of the Senate.' The program focuses on this quintessential Southern gentlemen who became one of the nation's leading political figures -- chairing both the Senate Armed services and Appropriations Committees -- as well as one of [Mississippi's] preeminent statesmen. "While his name and face are near legendary in the [chambers] of the Senate, many citizens (especially young students), knew little about the work of this man who quietly acquired a vast amount of power during his career. We believe this program is worthy of Peabody consideration in that it achieves our goal of sharing the story of an important figure and his role in American history with both present and future Mississippians. Also of note is the fact that his program was produced on an out-of-pocket budget of less than $60,000."--1991 Peabody Awards entry form. Senator Stennis's story is recalled by numerous politicians on the state and national level.
Stereo Audio, 2002-07-02, Operator Collura, VTR No. CC
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Producing Organization: Mississippi Educational Television
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The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia
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Format: U-matic
Duration: 01:22:00
Mississippi Public Broadcasting
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Format: Betacam
Generation: Master
Duration: 1:27:40
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Chicago: “Mississippi Masters; No. 1; John C. Stennis: A Senator's Senator; Part 1,” 1991-11-13, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, Mississippi Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 9, 2022,
MLA: “Mississippi Masters; No. 1; John C. Stennis: A Senator's Senator; Part 1.” 1991-11-13. The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, Mississippi Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 9, 2022. <>.
APA: Mississippi Masters; No. 1; John C. Stennis: A Senator's Senator; Part 1. Boston, MA: The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, Mississippi Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from