Carl Elliott bigraphy, stories - American congressman

Carl Elliott : biography

December 20, 1913 - January 5, 1999

Carl Atwood Elliott (December 20, 1913 – January 9, 1999) was a U.S. representative from the U.S. state of Alabama. He was elected to eight consecutive terms, having served from 1949 to 1965.

Death and legacy

After Elliott's defeat, he slipped into political obscurity and poverty, having spent his congressional pension on the failed gubernatorial bid. He resumed practicing law, writing books about local history, producing columns and book reviews for area newspapers, and publishing books by local authors. His books include five volumes of Annals of Northwest Alabama, a history of Red Bay, Alabama, and seven volumes on the history of area coal miners.

In 1990, Elliott received new recognition of his achievements when he became the first recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award; the second in 1991 was U.S. Representative Charles Weltner, another civil rights advocate from Georgia. In the twilight of his life, he received long-sought vindication when he was able to travel to Boston, Massachusetts, to accept the award from then U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy. His autobiography, The Cost of Courage: The Journey of An American Congressman, published in 1992, was recently reprinted by the University of Alabama Press.

A one-hour television special, Conscience of a Congressman: The Life and Times of Carl Elliott, was produced as an episode of The Alabama Experience documentary series by the University of Alabama Center for Public Television & Radio. Only weeks before her death, the ailing Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis watched "Conscience of a Congressman." She had met Elliott when he had served in Congress with her husband. Mrs. Onassis was also the editor of Elliott's memoirs. In a letter to Elliott, she wrote that the power of the program "was going to be in what it does to young people."


Elliott was born in rural Franklin County in the hills of northwest Alabama. He graduated at the age of sixteen from Vina High School in Vina in Franklin County. Few expected him to be able to afford college because of the Great Depression. However, the University of Alabama, under its president George H. Denny, allowed young Elliott to work at a variety of jobs about campus to pay his educational expenses. In 1933, he received his undergraduate degree, and he subsequently enrolled at the University of Alabama School of Law, also located in Tuscaloosa.

While a law student, Elliott ran for the high-profile position of president of the Student Government. With the support of the growing number of out-of-state students and women, Elliott became the first person ever to defeat "the Machine", a select coalition of fraternities and sororities that to this day dominates campus politics at the university. In 1936, Elliott completed his term as SGA president and graduated with his law degree.

Other political races

Alabama had failed to redistrict itself from nine to eight districts in 1962, based on 1960 census. Primaries were held in each of the nine districts, and a statewide runoff election narrowed the number elected to eight. By the time of the 1964 primaries, a redistricting plan still had not passed, so Elliott defeated later 7th District Representative Tom Bevill in a primary. Then in the statewide runoff, Elliott was the congressman who was eliminated. His defeat was attributed to his policy conflicts with then Governor George C. Wallace. Alabama passed a redistricting plan after the runoff primary to avert a second statewide general election.

In the 1964 congressional general election, the Democrat George C. Hawkins, the president pro tempore of the Alabama State Senate, was defeated by the Republican James Martin, an oil products distributor from Gadsden. Martin had made a strong but losing race in 1962 against U.S. Senator J. Lister Hill. Some Elliott backers threatened to withhold votes from Hawkins or even to vote for Martin on the theory that Elliott might be able to reclaim the House seat in 1966 if he were pitted against a Republican in the historically Democratic district.Billy Hathorn, "James Douglas Martin and the Alabama Republican Resurgence, 1962-1965", Gulf Coast Historical Review, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Spring 1993), p. 65

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