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James E. Folsom

2-time Governor of Alabama

James Elisha Folsom

James Elisha Folsom was born in Coffee County, Alabama, on October 9, 1908. He was educated in the public schools of Coffee County, the University of Alabama, Howard College, and George Washington University, but never obtained a college degree.

Prior to becoming Governor, Folsom worked with the Civil Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration. He began working for his brother-in-law's insurance company, the Emergency Aid Insurance Company, in 1937, and the following year moved to Cullman to serve as the company's north Alabama representative. He served briefly in the Merchant Marine during World War II, but the illness and subsequent death of his first wife, Sarah Carnley, in 1944 forced him to return to Cullman to care for his two daughters.

Early Political Career

Folsom's political career began in 1933, when he ran unsuccessfully as a delegate to the State Prohibition Convention. He ran for Congress against incumbent Henry B. Steagall in 1936 and 1938, and was defeated both times. In 1942 he ran for Governor against Chauncey Sparks, and although he did not win he did surprise many observers by finishing second.

Governor, 1947-1951

Folsom took his 1946 gubernatorial campaign directly to the people, entertaining them with a country band, the Strawberry Pickers, while displaying the mop and suds bucket with which he "intended to clean state government." His platform advocated reapportionment, increased and expanded benefits for elderly citizens, increased funding in education, repeal of the poll tax, and better roads and highways. He defeated Handy Ellis in a runoff election to become the state's 45th Governor.

Folsom had good intentions, but his lack of political experience caused him to make several mistakes in his selection of key administrators. He was also unable to work with the more conservative legislature. While he did succeed in getting more funding for education, the elderly, and road improvements, he failed in his attempts to extend voting rights to blacks, poor whites and women.

Governor, 1955-1959

Following his first term as Governor, Folsom returned to insurance before running again in 1954. (The State Constitution at the time prohibited the Governor from succeeding himself, but not from running for non-consecutive terms.)

Folsom's 1954 campaign and platform differed little from his 1946 effort. Unfortunately, his second term as Governor also differed little from his previous effort. Although the legislature was initially more cooperative, enacting programs to expand state services, he was again thwarted in his efforts to improve civil rights in the state.

Later Career

Folsom made another bid for Governor in 1962, but was defeated by George C. Wallace. He was never again elected to public office and continued his insurance business in Cullman.

James E. Folsom died of heart failure on November 21, 1987. He was survived by his second wife, Jamelle Moore, and nine children (two by his first wife, seven by his second).

Alabama Department of Archives & History

Works Progress Administration
World War II
George C. Wallace

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: Local History and Description >> Gulf States >> Alabama

This page was last updated on September 25, 2017.