POLITICAL NOTES: Prince of the Peckerwoods

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During 38 years in Mississippi politics Theodore ("The Man") Bilbo has waded through sloughs of scandal which would have sucked down a dozen ordinary politicians. In 1910, as a drink-cadging state legislator, he heard the State Senate pronounce him "unfit to sit with upright men." He was jailed in 1923 for refusing to testify in a seduction suit against his political sidekick, Governor Lee M. Russell. He divorced his wife; she accused him of cruelty and a succession of infidelities, publicly begged Mississippi's women to vote against him.

But The Man always sloshed triumphantly through the mud. He was elected lieutenant governor, then governor. When his second term ended, the state was all but bankrupt. But Mississippi sent him to the U.S. Senate, sent him back again in 1940. Bilbo always told the poor, ill-educated, farm-bound "peckerwoods" what they wanted to hear, the way they wanted to hear it. Few Americans since Huey Long had turned men's fear, prejudice, cupidity and hunger for drama so successfully to his own ends.

Passion for Reds. Last week, campaigning for renomination and a third term in the Senate, he was at it again. At 68 he was an ugly little figure; sometimes, as he whirled across the countryside in his sleek, grey Cadillac, he wrapped a red scarf around his big, balding head to keep hoarseness away. Each morning he put on a fresh white shirt and a red tie; each night he slept in red pajamas. He made three speeches (averaging two hours each) and smoked nine cigars a day.

He had competition; three of his four opponents—a 44-year-old Navy Commander named Nelson Levings, 55-year-old ex-Supreme Court Clerk Thomas Quitman Ellis and 66-year-old ex-Congressman Ross A. Collins—were campaigning hard. But Bilbo paid no heed. Instead he howled a warning: "The white people of Mississippi are sitting on a volcano. . . . We are faced with a nationwide campaign to integrate the nigger with the social life of this country. . . ."

He described the new carpetbaggers—the "Communist hoodlums," the labor leaders—who would seize the South if Bilbo did not stand guard.

"Congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce is the greatest nigger-lover in the North— except Old Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Yep, Old Lady Roosevelt is worse. ... In Washington she forced our Southern girls to use the stools and the toilets of damn syphilitic nigger women. . . ."

Passion for Whites. He ranted of white supremacy: "The nigger is only 150 years from the jungles of Africa, where it was his great delight to cut him up some fried nigger steak for breakfast. . . . Over in Georgia a pambly-wambly governor named Ellis Arnall has sold his state down the river. There are 200,000 niggers registered and Georgia has gone to hell. . . ."

He bawled for violence: "I call on every red-blooded white man to use any means to keep the niggers away from the polls. If you don't understand what that means you are just plain dumb. . . ."

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