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William Louis Dickinson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Louis "Bill" Dickinson
William Louis Dickinson.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Alabama's 2nd district
In office
January 3, 1965 – January 3, 1993
Preceded byGeorge M. Grant
Succeeded byTerry Everett
Personal details
Born(1925-06-05)June 5, 1925
Opelika, Lee County, Alabama, USA
DiedMarch 31, 2008(2008-03-31) (aged 82)
Montgomery, Alabama
Political partyRepublican
Alma materUniversity of Alabama Law School
Military service
Branch/serviceUnited States Navy
Battles/warsEuropean Theatre of World War II

William Louis "Bill" Dickinson (June 5, 1925 – March 31, 2008), was a Republican Representative from Alabama's 2nd congressional district from 1965 to 1993.[1]

Early life

Dickinson was born in Opelika in Lee County, Alabama. He served in the United States Navy during World War II in the European Theater. After returning from the war, he graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa.[2]

Dickinson practiced law for two years before being elected as a Democrat as a Lee County judge. In 1958, he was elevated to the position of state judge, from which he resigned in 1962. He then worked as an executive for the Southern Railway.

Political career

In 1964, he ran for Congress as a Republican in the 2nd District, which was anchored by Montgomery and included most of the southeastern portion of the state. He defeated 13-term incumbent Democrat George M. Grant by a shocking 25-point margin. In those days, the GOP barely existed in Alabama. Almost none of the district's living residents had been represented by a Republican before, and Dickinson was the first Republican to challenge Grant. However, as was the case in most of Alabama, most of the 2nd District's voters turned against the Democrats when U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Dickinson was also the beneficiary of long coattails from Barry Goldwater, who carried many of the counties in the district by staggering margins (well over 70% in most cases).

Joining Dickinson in victory in four other House races were Jack Edwards in the 1st District, John Hall Buchanan, Jr. in the 6th District, Glenn Andrews in the 4th District and James D. Martin in the 7th District. That gave the Republicans a majority of the state's House delegation for the first time since Reconstruction after having not held any House seats in the state since 1901.

Dickinson was reelected by 9% in 1966, when Democratic gubernatorial nominee Lurleen Burns Wallace (running as a stand-in for her husband) led her party's slate to statewide victory by easily defeating Martin. Dickinson was then reelected 12 times. He usually skated to reelection, but faced close races in 1978, 1982 and 1990.

Dickinson was an important figure in shaping national defense policies during the 1970s and 1980s. As he gained seniority, he became ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee; and was a leading member of his party's conservative wing. He never served in the majority during his entire 28-year House tenure. However, he became very popular in his district, gaining a reputation for strong constituent service. For instance, in 1974, when Republicans suffered heavy losses nationwide due to voter anger at the Watergate scandal, Dickinson was reelected with 66 percent of the vote. Two years later, even as Jimmy Carter became the last Democrat to date to win Alabama, Dickinson took 57 percent of the vote. Still, Democrats continued to hold most of the district's seats in the state legislature, and would continue to do so well into the 1990s.

In 1965, he made two speeches to Congress (on March 30[3][4] and April 27)[5][6] claiming that civil rights marchers were engaged in alcohol abuse, bribery, and widespread sexual debauchery at the marches: "Drunkenness and sex orgies were the order of the day in Selma, on the road to Montgomery, and in Montgomery."[4] Dickinson concluded that it was part of a vast communist conspiracy: "... years ago a systematic plan was started by the Communists to divide the Deep South from the rest of the Nation by the very tactics they are now using"[4] and characterized the participants as only posturing with a "facade of righteousness, smugness and respectability erroneously attributed to them, which allowed them to invade my home town and my State like a swarm of rats leaving an overturned hayrick."[6]

After Dickinson's April 27, 1965 speech, which included several sworn affidavits, Congressmen William Fitts Ryan (D-NY) and Joseph Yale Resnick (D-NY) rose in a blistering defense of the march and Dr. King. Ryan noted the deliberate attempt to smear the marchers: "I am sure that the gentleman from Alabama remembered the old legal adage: When you do not have the facts on your side, try the opposition."[6] Resnick read testimonials from religious leaders present at the marches, all of whom denied the allegations laid by Dickinson.[6] Religious leaders present at the marches denied the charges, and local and national journalists were unable to substantiate his accounts. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach stated that "Communists' have been remarkably unsuccessful in influencing any decisions and certainly have not capture any of the leadership [of organized civil rights groups]."[6] The allegations of segregation supporters were collected in Robert M. Mikell's pro-segregationist book Selma (Charlotte, 1965).[7]

In 1982, Dickinson was re-elected by only 0.8% over Alabama Public Service Commission President Billy Joe Camp, his first competitive contest since his initial run in 1964.[8]

In 1990, Dickinson was re-elected by only 2.5% over state welfare commissioner Faye Baggiano, his second competitive contest since 1982. The closeness of the race prompted Dickinson to decide against running for a 15th term in the 1992 elections, even though redistricting made the district safer for him on paper by shifting most of his black constituents to the 7th District. He is the longest-serving Republican congressman in Alabama's history.


Dickinson died at 82 of colon cancer at his home in Montgomery, Alabama.[9]


  1. ^ "DICKINSON, William Louis | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives". Retrieved 2020-06-25.
  2. ^ "William L. Dickinson Congressional Papers | Auburn Montgomery Library". Retrieved 2020-06-25.
  3. ^ "Alabamian Says 'Orgies' Marked Selma March". St. Petersburg Times. 31 March 1965. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  4. ^ a b c "March on Montgomery–The Untold Story". Congressional Record. 89th Congress, Session 1. 111 (5): 6333–6335. 30 March 1965. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  5. ^ "Ala. daily sharply criticizes solon's charge against marchers". Washington Afro-American. UPI. 4 May 1965. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d e "March on Montgomery: The Untold Story". Congressional Record. 89th Congress, Session 1. 111 (6): 8592–8607. 27 April 1965. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  7. ^ Mikkel's book was published with a colorized photograph showing splotches of blood drawn in on Viola Liuzzo's car. Refer to Dailey, Jane. "Sex, Segregation, and the Sacred after Brown" (PDF). The Journal of American History. 91 (1). Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  8. ^ Our Campaigns; AL District 2, November 02, 1982
  9. ^ Retired U.S. Rep. Dickinson dies, The Montgomery Advertiser, April 2, 2008

External links

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
George M. Grant
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Alabama's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Terry Everett
This page was last edited on 23 January 2021, at 17:53
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