To begin this week, I need to correct a mistake I made in last Tuesday’s article. I listed the Samuel family of Minden as descendants of Frederick Braley, and that was wrong, and a result of sloppy research.
The Samuels are descended from Albert Coffee and his first wife, Della Lenore King. Della died in 1898 and Albert married two more times. In 1910 he married Ora Elizabeth Braley. So, while the Samuels do come from Albert Coffee’s line, they are not related to Braley. Thanks to Sam Samuel for setting me straight.
Later this year I will have an article on the Samuels and their part in bringing radio and television to Minden.
Ten days ago we had the candidate filings for our for our municipal elections.
Today’s column will discuss the Minden municipal election of 1966.
One of the forgotten Echoes of Our Past is how recently Minden and Webster Parish were part of the Democratic “Solid South.”
In those days of Party Primaries, victory in the Democratic Primary, or in the run-off election that followed, meant election to office. The General Election was a mere formality, since if any Republican opposition to the Democratic nominee existed, it was so insignificant that any campaigning by the Democrat was unnecessary.
That seems strange in the light of current trends, when North Louisiana is normally considered solid Republican territory. However, even today, the vestiges of that now vanished era remain in voting registration, where Republican votes vastly outnumber the total of registered Republican voters.
This year is the 52nd anniversary of the first General Election at the local level in Minden to be seriously contested by the Republican Party since Reconstruction.
In that same election year another long-standing trend was broken with the emergence of a Black candidate for local office. These two differences marked a watershed event in Minden’s history, the Mayor’s election of 1966.
By 1966, the political scene in the South was changing and those changes could be seen in Minden. The first, most noticeable, change was the emergence of Black voters in the region.
In September 1964, there were only 616 registered Black voters in all of Webster Parish. After the passage of the Voting Rights Act in August 1965, Black registration soared, sparked by the visit of Civil Rights leader James Farmer to Minden on the very night he witnessed the signing of the Voting Rights Bill in Washington.
Within that first month, 600 new Black registrants were recorded in Webster Parish. By the time of the Democratic Mayoral Primary in August 1966, there were 1,630 Black citizens registered to vote in Minden alone.
The change in the voting population could clearly be credited to the Civil Rights policies of the Kennedy-Johnson Presidential Administrations.
Those same Civil Rights policies had created another new phenomenon in the politics of our area, the emergence of the Republican Party as a viable choice for elections at all levels, including the local level.
The beginnings of this trend at the national level could be traced to 1960, when Minden voted for Richard Nixon for President. It moved to the state level in February 1964, when Minden voted for Republican Charlton Lyons for Governor over Democrat John McKeithen by a solid margin.
In November of the same year, Minden voted for Republican Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater by nearly a 6 to 1 margin over Lyndon Johnson. That same election saw the election of a Republican from Springhill, Roy Spence, to the Webster Parish School Board.
It would be the election for Mayor in 1966 that would bring that trend down to the local level in Minden.
The first sign of changes in local politics and social trends came as Black citizens began testing the limits of their newly guaranteed rights.
A suit challenging the segregated status of Webster Parish Schools was filed in October 1965, and in January 1966, the first desegregation of Webster Parish Schools began under Federal Court order.
On July 20,1966, J. D. Hampton, Jr., who on behalf of his daughter was one of the plaintiffs in the desegregation suit, announced his candidacy for Mayor of Minden.
Hampton cited his experience as a community leader and based his candidacy as being a Mayor for all the people, not just one group or one race. He also emphasized better working conditions for city employees, citing a brief garbage strike in the fall of 1965 as an example of the problems in city government.
Hampton promised increased recreational facilities and an active program to attract industry to Minden.
Incumbent Mayor Frank Norman, serving his second term, defended his tenure in office, citing the increase in population and industrial development in Minden. He pointed to his experience with the Louisiana Municipal Association, which he had been President of in 1964, and his eight years in the office of Mayor along with previous experience on the City Council.
He called on voters to continue their confidence in his administration and return him to a third term.
The campaign was very low-key, in public, considering the possibilities that were present for a nasty campaign.
Norman ran few campaign ads and the local newspaper basically ignored the primary, except for Hampton’s campaign ads.
Still, a then-record 201 voters cast absentee ballots in this election. When the election results were known on the night of August 13, Norman had won re-election with 2,729 votes to Hampton’s 1,166 ballots, giving Norman 70% of the vote to 30% for Hampton.
A landslide victory, but Hampton’s total was remarkable considering that as recently as 1962, fewer than 200 Black voters were registered in all of Webster Parish. Hampton had won four of the ten precincts in the City of Minden and received at least one vote in all ten precincts, including one all-white precinct.
Clearly the face of local politics was changing. Hampton’s campaign foreshadowed a new era in local politics when Black voters would become full partners in the electoral process.
In previous years, the August victory would have given Norman a new term in office. However, it was at this point that the second change in the political landscape intervened in the 1966 Mayor’s race.
Tom Colten, former publisher of the Minden Press and the Minden Herald, and a Republican, resigned as Executive Director of the Minden Chamber of Commerce on September 30, 1966 to begin his campaign for Mayor.
Colten had announced his plans to run in June, but refrained from campaigning until a replacement could be named at the Chamber. Colten cited his business experience and laid out a nine-point platform for his campaign, calling for able leadership and fiscal responsibility. He carried on a vigorous campaign in preparation for the November 3, General Election.
Norman responded by taking a more active role in campaigning, and the local newspaper, while not endorsing either man, gave expanded coverage to the General Election contest.
Colten embraced the new voters, making speaking appearances in both the black and white community.
The morning after one such engagement in the black community he had an unexpected visitor. A local businessman came by Colten’s office and requested that the candidate join him for a drive.
Once in the truck, the businessman laid out the purpose of this visit. He told Colten that his speech the previous night to the black organization had been secretly taped. (This in the day when tape recorders were bulky and hard to handle.)
The businessman threatened Colten that if he did not back away from certain campaign positions and meet other demands, the tape would be broadcast for the public to hear. The man claimed that the speech would tie Colten to the NAACP and the locally unpopular President of the day, Lyndon B. Johnson, and cause him to lose the election to Norman. This despite Colten’s Republican Party affiliation making it clear he was no supporter of LBJ.
I’m sure the man was stunned by Colten’s response. Colten asked the man to wait for just a moment while he went back in his office. He came back and told the man, “Let’s drive out to KASO, I’ll pay half the cost to have that tape played on the radio.” It’s not clear that a tape ever existed, but Colten had successfully “called the man’s bluff.”
I hope that we have moved beyond the day when such tactics would be tried in local elections.
The two candidates made a joint public appearance at a Jaycee sponsored forum on Thursday, November 3. Colten declared it was time for a change in leadership. He attacked the current management of city finances. The main dispute came over the investment of idle city funds.
Colten stated that these funds were currently lying dormant in the bank and could be used toward plans for future civic improvements or at least invested to earn higher rates of interest.
Colten also outlined his plans for industrial expansion and the previously mentioned civic improvements. Norman countered by stating that all possible idle funds were being invested, but that the recent resignation of the City Clerk had made it difficult to maximize these investments at the current time. He also gave a tentative endorsement to a civic improvement program, but tied that to some expression of a desire for these improvements by the voters.
On Election Day, Colten garnered 2,061 votes to 1,643 for Norman, a winning margin of 56% to 44%.
Minden, the community that had elected a bull as a write-in candidate during Reconstruction rather than elect a Republican, had just elected the first Republican mayor in Louisiana since Reconstruction.
Colten would go on to launch a civic improvement campaign that included the new electric plant and the Minden Civic Center/City Hall complex, during his two terms as Mayor.
An interesting sidelight to that campaign that personally involved me, relates back to the school desegregation of January 1966. I was a 2nd grade student at Richardson Elementary School at that time.
Two of my classmates were Lee Colten, son of Tom Colten, and Beverly Hampton, the daughter of J. D. Hampton, Jr. Looking back I like to think of our classroom as a small microcosm of the change that was taking place in Minden that year.
In the years since, local politics have taken on a less partisan basis. Many residents have no idea of the party affiliation of a candidate for local office.
Numerous Black officials have been elected in the city and the parish. But remember that not so many years ago, we lived in a one-party community where voting Republican was not only unthinkable, but usually impossible.
All of the changes in our political landscape began with this Echo of Our Past, the watershed Mayor’s election of 1966.
Minden Historian John Agan’s column appears Tuesdays in the Minden Press-Herald.Special to the Press-Herald.