Alabama: A Big Front Porch
This is the final version of a three-week series of stories that illustrate that Alabama is a Big Front Porch.
James E. “Big Jim” Folsom was one of our few two-term governors. In the old days, governors could not succeed themselves. Therefore, Big Jim was first governor in 1946-1950. He waited out four years and came back and won a second term in 1954, and stayed through 1958.
Big Jim was still a young man when he was first elected in 1948. He and his wife, Jamelle, had their firstborn child, James E. Folsom Jr., in 1949, while Big Jim was governor. Therefore, Jim Folsom Jr., who some folks refer to as “Little Jim,” was literally born in the governor’s mansion.
Big Jim hired a man to be the governor’s mansion butler and overseer of the mansion on Perry Street. The gentleman’s name was Dave Perry. He looked the part. Perry was a tall, handsome, distinguished gentleman with a beautiful baritone voice.
Perry practically raised Jim Jr. He took him to school every day, taught him to ride a bike and taught him to swim in the pool Big Jim had built behind the mansion shaped like the state of Alabama. I’ve wondered over the years that the reason Jim Jr. has such a rich southern Black Belt drawl is because he grew up listening to Perry, who had that same melodious drawl.
Jim Jr. went back to Cullman when his daddy left office, but Perry stayed on as the master butler at the governor’s mansion. He stayed through different governors, including all of the Wallace years as governor.
Guess what happens? Forty years after Perry became the governor’s mansion butler, Jim Jr. became governor. Perry’s boy had come home. It was like old home week.
Jim Jr. was my favorite governor to serve with during my entire legislative career. He was the only one who was close to my age. We were friends. I was friends with his wife, Marsha Guthrie, from Cullman, while at the University of Alabama. She was a student leader. So, Jim Jr. and Marsha were truly friends of mine and still are.
During legislative sessions and even during the rest of the year, occasionally Jim Jr. would invite his closest legislative friends and political buddies to join him in the “Library,” a backroom in the center part of the mansion. We would talk politics in the same room that his daddy held court in 40 years earlier. Guess who would join us sometimes? Perry would tell us Big Jim stories we had never heard. Perry passed away a few years ago in his hometown of Montgomery. He was an Alabama legend.
The Alabama Front Porch narrative appears to be poised to transcend to a new generation of Alabamians. My lifetime friend, Bill Blount of Montgomery, recently shared this story of what goes around comes around in Alabama.
The 1954 governor’s race was between Big Jim and Baldwin County State Sen. Jimmy Faulkner. Faulkner had been the mayor of Bay Minette and owned several southwest Alabama newspapers. Big Jim beat Faulkner handily to win his second term as governor. The other two contestants in that governor’s race, whose progeny make up our “Big Porch,” were State Sen. Bruce Henderson from Wilcox County, and State Sen. Karl Harrison from Shelby County.
At that time, the president of the Alabama Young Democrats was Frank Long, who was openly for Big Jim and would later become legal advisor to him and an integral part of his Cabinet. Faulkner made a big deal about Long’s allegiance to Big Jim and refused to attend all Democratic events.
Fast forward to today. Marshall Long, a Montgomery attorney who serves as an administrative assistant for the state senate now, is Long’s grandson. Marshall is married to Caroline Camp, who happens to be Faulkner’s great-granddaughter. Further, Marshall’s brother Frank, of Birmingham, dates Nickie Reese, who is the great-granddaughter of Henderson, the aforementioned candidate from Wilcox County.
Lastly, the Long brothers grew up with Bill Blount’s sons, Wilson and Jesse Blount. Their great-uncle was Harrison from Columbiana in Shelby County, who was also a candidate. As a matter of fact, Jesse’s middle name is Harrison.
Kathryn Tucker Wyndham would enjoy this generational transition. She would simply smile and agree that her adage lives on — Alabama is indeed a Big Front Porch.
See you next week.Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us