Chauncey Sparks

George Chauncey Sparks (October 8, 1884 – November 6, 1968), known as Chauncey Sparks, was an attorney and Democratic American politician who served as the 41st Governor of Alabama from 1943 to 1947. He made improvements to state education of whites and expanded the state schools and centers for agriculture. He campaigned for passage of the Boswell Amendment to the state constitution, which was designed to keep blacks disfranchised following the US Supreme Court ruling Smith v. Allwright (1944) against use of white primaries by the Democratic Party in the states.

Chauncey Sparks
41st Governor of Alabama
In office
January 19, 1943  January 20, 1947
LieutenantLeven H. Ellis
Preceded byFrank M. Dixon
Succeeded byJames E. Folsom
Personal details
George Chauncey Sparks

(1884-10-08)October 8, 1884
Barbour County, Alabama
DiedNovember 6, 1968(1968-11-06) (aged 84)
Eufaula, Alabama
Political partyDemocratic
ResidenceEufaula, Alabama

Under the state constitution, Alabama governors at the time could not serve consecutive terms so Sparks left office without seeking reelection. In 1950, Sparks ran unsuccessfully for reelection as governor. He was the only lifelong bachelor to serve as Alabama governor in the 20th century.[1]

Life and career

Chauncey Sparks was born in Barbour County, Alabama, the son of George Washington and Sarah E. (Castello) Sparks. After the death of his father when Chauncey was two years old, the family moved to Quitman County, Georgia where his mother's people lived. He attended school and helped with the family farm. Sparks graduated from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia in 1907 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and received his law degree in 1910.

He wanted to return to Alabama and passed the State Bar exam that year, opening a law practice in Eufaula soon afterward. It was the commercial center of Barbour County, which still had prosperous, extensive white-owned plantations and a majority-black population. Most blacks had been disfranchised since 1901, when the state passed a new constitution containing voter registration requirements such as poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses, resulting in virtual exclusion of blacks from the political system until after passage of federal legislation in the mid-1960s to enforce their constitutional rights as citizens. Tens of thousands of poor whites were also excluded at the time and over the following decades.[2] In the first half of the 20th century, Alabama was effectively a one-party state controlled by white Democrats.

In 1911, Sparks was appointed judge of the inferior court of Barbour County by Democratic Governor Emmet O'Neal, a position he held until 1915. He served as a representative in the Alabama Legislature from 1919–1923 and 1931–1939. A prominent Democrat, Sparks served as secretary of the Barbour County Democratic Executive Committee from 1914 to 1918. He also served as a member of the board of trustees of the Department of Archives and History, representing the 3rd Congressional District.

Sparks' first bid for governor of Alabama was in 1938, and he was defeated by Frank M. Dixon.


In 1942 Sparks defeated James E. Folsom and Chris Sherlock to win the governor's seat.

During his administration, Sparks had to contend with the effects of a wartime economy and the dismantling of war-geared programs at the conclusion of World War II. The massive growth of industry in Alabama during the war resulted in numerous labor problems, making it necessary to re-establish the state Labor Department.

Sparks achieved noteworthy gains for education by doubling state appropriations and lengthening the seven-month school term to eight months; the system was segregated and black education was typically underfunded by the state legislature, as were other black facilities.

Under his administration the University of Alabama School of Medicine (now The University of Alabama at Birmingham) was established in Birmingham, which had become a major industrial city; and a school of forestry was opened at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University). Due to his agricultural background, Sparks took a special interest in aiding the state's agricultural programs. This included increased appropriations as well as the establishment of several new farm experiment stations under the auspices of Alabama Polytechnic Institute's Agricultural College.

During Sparks' administration, a constitutional amendment was passed requiring the state legislature to convene every two years instead of every four years. The legislature continued to be dominated by rural counties and was not reapportioned to acknowledge changes in the state and movement of population to urban centers until mid-century. One of Sparks' greatest achievements was his success in reducing the state debt by 25 percent.

Race relations

Sparks was an outspoken opponent of what he terms as "federal encroachments"[3] on what he perceived as states rights issues, especially regarding race relations. Alabama, like other Southern states, had established legal racial segregation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; it excluded blacks from voting by a variety of devices and had Jim Crow as the custom.

During his campaign, Sparks pledged to "keep the federal government's nose out of Alabama business."[4] He believed in "absolute segregation" and said the Alabama Democratic Party should "do everything necessary to maintain an all-white party."[5]

During his administration, Alabama voters approved the Boswell Amendment, which reduced the already limited franchise of black people in the state.[3] Sparks had campaigned heavily for the amendment, saying it was needed to prevent "a flood of Negroes" from registering to vote as a result of the recent US Supreme Court ruling Smith v. Allwright (1944) that determined white primaries were unconstitutional, as used in Alabama and some other states to restrict access to Democratic Party primaries, which were the only competitive political contests left.[5]

In response to nationwide protests over the kidnapping and gang rape of Recy Taylor, an African American woman from Abbeville, Sparks "reluctantly agreed to launch an investigation" to keep the Federal government from becoming involved.[4] The six white men who raped Taylor admitted to authorities what they had done, but two all-white grand juries subsequently declined to indict them. (As most blacks could not vote, they were excluded from juries.)[6]

In 2011, the Alabama House of Representatives apologized to Taylor on behalf of the state "for its failure to prosecute her attackers" and bring them to justice.[6]

Later life

Sparks was defeated in his bid for re-election in 1950 by Democrat Gordon Persons. Sparks devoted the rest of his life to his private law practice in Eufaula. A lifelong bachelor, he died there on November 6, 1968.

Legacy and honors

Gov. Chauncy Sparks House
Location257 Broad St., Eufaula, Alabama
Coordinates31°53′40″N 85°8′45″W
Arealess than one acre
ArchitectWhipple, W.C.
Architectural styleGreek Revival
NRHP reference #72000157[7]
Added to NRHPJune 28, 1972


  1. "Chauncey Sparks (1943-47) | Encyclopedia of Alabama". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved 2018-08-20.
  2. Glenn Feldman, The Disenfranchisement Myth: Poor Whites and Suffrage Restriction in Alabama, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004, pp. 135136
  3. "Harvey H. Jackson, "Chauncey Sparks (1943-47)", The Encyclopedia of Alabama, accessed Dec. 24, 2012.
  4. McGuire, Danielle L. (2010). At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance- A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. Random House, p. 119-125.
  5. John Egerton, Speak Now Against the Day: The Generation Before the Civil Rights Movement in the South, UNC Press Books, 1994, p. 391
  6. 'Morally repugnant': Alabama issues apology for its treatment of black woman gang raped by six white men in 1944", The Daily Mail, March 30, 2011.
  7. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
Political offices
Preceded by
Frank M. Dixon
Governor of Alabama
Succeeded by
James E. Folsom, Sr.
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