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John Sparkman: A Featured Biography

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Alabama's longest serving senator, John Sparkman represented his state in the U.S. Congress for 42 years. Although he had a rural upbringing, Sparkman was one of the principal architects of post-World War II urban development and housing policy. As a long-time member, and 12-year chairman, of the Senate Banking and Currency Committee, Sparkman promoted legislation to stimulate the post-war housing boom, including President Harry Truman’s 1949 Housing Act, and helped pass legislation to fund public transportation systems. A staunch segregationist, in 1956 Sparkman signed the Southern Manifesto, a statement that called for resistance to forced integration in public schools in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decisions. During his congressional career, he consistently opposed civil rights bills that came before Congress, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Sparkman gained national prominence in the 1952 presidential campaign when he was selected to run as the Democratic vice presidential candidate with former Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson, II. He also left his mark on American foreign policy, serving on the Foreign Relations Committee during most of his Senate career. Fervently opposed to global communism, Sparkman supported the use of American military force to contain it, including wars in Korea and Vietnam. As Foreign Relations chairman from 1975 to 1979, he supported approval of the Panama Canal Treaties in 1978. Sparkman retired from Congress in 1979.

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