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John J. Sparkman (1899-1985)
John J. Sparkman (1899-1985)
John J. Sparkman was born on a farm near Hartselle, Alabama on December 20, 1899. He had ten brothers and sisters. During high school he worked at raising cotton to make enough money for tuition at the University of Alabama. While at the University he took on several jobs to support himself and he made the most of his opportunities by achieving Phi Beta Kappa, serving as Editor of the Crimson-White newspaper, and being elected President of the Student Government. He earned bachelor, master, and law degrees from the University.

Sparkman was admitted to the Bar in 1925 and started a solo practice in Huntsville. He later joined the law firm of Richardson, Taylor, and Sparkman which lasted until his election to Congress in 1936. During ten years in Congress, Sparkman served on the Military Affairs Committee and was elected majority whip. In 1941, he was instrumental in encouraging the Army to locate a chemical munitions plant near Huntsville, and later that year an ordnance plant was also located there. These were the forerunners of the present Redstone Arsenal.

In 1946 Sparkman was easily re-nominated for his House seat but Senator John Bankhead, Jr. died that year. Sparkman ran for the nomination to fill this vacancy. He won that election. In November 1946 he had the distinction of being on the same ballot for the House and Senate and he won both offices. He is believed to be the only person in United States history to accomplish that feat. He immediately resigned his House seat to become a Senator.

In the Senate, Sparkman was the first chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Small Business and he was the chief sponsor of the legislation creating the Small Business Administration. He later became chairman of the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

One of the highlights of Sparkman’s career was his nomination for the Vice-Presidency in 1952 on the Adlai Stevenson ticket. Though the election was lost to one of the nation’s most popular candidates, General Dwight Eisenhower, Sparkman became the first and only native-born Alabamian to be nominated for Vice-President by the major political parties.

John Sparkman continued to serve his country and the state of Alabama in the Senate. He became chairman of the important Senate Foreign Relations Committee and served in that capacity until his retirement from the Senate in 1979. He had served in the United States Senate from 1946 to 1979, longer than any other Alabamian.

Following his retirement Senator Sparkman returned to Huntsville and practiced law there with his grandson until his death in 1985. Senator Sparkman received many honors during his lifetime but after his death the John J. Sparkman Center for Missile Excellence was dedicated in his honor at Redstone Arsenal on August 22, 1994. In 2006 he was inducted into the Alabama Men’s Hall of Fame. The lawyers of Alabama are now proud to honor John J. Sparkman with his induction into the Alabama Lawyers’ Hall of Fame

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