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John J. Sparkman Papers

Identifier: MSS-1319

Scope and Contents

The John J. Sparkman Papers collection contains material relating to the life and political career of Alabama Democratic congressman John J. Sparkman, who served in the US House of Representatives and the Senate for over forty years. The papers are divided into seven series. The Personal and Political Papers Series contains posters, personal mementos, awards, plaques, biographical material, and correspondence with friends, constituents, and government officials. Some of the correspondence relates to the decline of the Democratic Party in the South. A large number of files document Sparkman’s meetings and appointments, with letters inviting the congressman to various events. The series also includes materials about Sparkman’s campaigns for re-election to Congress and his 1952 campaign for US vice president, along with booklets about the Democratic National Convention and information about the Democratic Party’s treatment of civil rights. There are also files relating to Sparkman’s administrative assistants John Horne, Lewis Odom, and Octa Watson. The Press and Media Materials Series contains press releases, weekly newsletters, speeches, newspaper clippings, transcripts of radio and television broadcasts, publicity calendars, correspondence, and files relating to Sparkman’s press secretary, Grover Smith. It also contains photographs and audiovisual materials, including sound and film recordings. The Legislative Records Series contains correspondence between John J. Sparkman, officials, and constituents about legislation up for debate in the House or Senate during Sparkman’s time in Congress, as well as printed copies of bills and resolutions. It includes files related to Sparkman’s work on the Congressional committees in which he participated during his tenure. The Constituent Services Materials Series contains correspondence between Sparkman and his Alabama constituents about their opinions on national and statewide issues; requests for Sparkman’s help in securing employment, benefits, and other needs; and routine correspondence, such as letters of congratulations, condolences, and thanks. The Constituent Services series also includes project files regarding building and improvement initiatives taking place throughout Alabama. The Administrative Files Series contains materials documenting the daily operations of John J. Sparkman’s office staff in Washington, DC, and in Alabama. The Agency and Department Files series contains correspondence, memos, and other materials regarding the activities of named agencies and specific departments within the United States government, including Agriculture, Education, the Federal Aviation Agency, the Justice Department, NASA, Health and Welfare, Labor, Indian Affairs, and others. For more details, see the Scope and Contents Notes for each series.


  • 1917-2001, bulk 1937-1978

Conditions Governing Access

Access to portions of this collection has been restricted by Archives and Special Collections in order to preserve the original materials. Contact University Libraries Special Collections at or 205.348.0500 for information on access to the restricted portions of this collection.

The rest of the collection is open for research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Due to the nature of certain archival formats, including digital and audio-visual materials, access to certain materials may require additional advance notice.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers are responsible for using the materials in conformance with United States copyright law as well as any donor restrictions accompanying the materials. The user assumes all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any copyright claimants in collection materials. Copyright for official University records is held by The University of Alabama. The library claims only physical ownership of many manuscript collections. Anyone wishing to broadcast or publish this material must assume all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any claimants of literary property rights or copyrights. Please contact Special Collections ( with questions regarding specific manuscript collections.

For more information about copyright policy, please visit: Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source.

Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals without the consent of those individuals may have legal implications, for which the University of Alabama assumes no responsibility.

Biographical / Historical

John J. Sparkman was born on a farm near Hartselle, Morgan County, Alabama, on December 20, 1899. He was one of eleven children. He graduated from The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, earning a bachelor of arts degree in 1921, a bachelor of laws in 1923, and a master’s degree in history in 1924. While at the university, Sparkman worked on the student newspaper, the Crimson White, and was a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. He also worked in the university’s boiler room shoveling coal in order to earn money for school. Sparkman married Ivo Hall on June 2, 1923, and they had one child, Julia Ann. Sparkman practiced law in Huntsville, Alabama, before he began his political career. A Democrat, he was elected in 1936 to the House of Representatives for Alabama’s Eighth Congressional district and served in the House from 1937-1946. Upon the vacancy caused by the death of Alabama senator John H. Bankhead II on June 12, 1946, Sparkman ran successfully for the Senate in order to fill the open seat. Sparkman resigned his House seat in November 1946 and served in the Senate for over thirty years, completing his final term on January 3, 1979. In 1952, he ran unsuccessfully for US vice president on the Democratic ticket along with presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. Sparkman died on November 16, 1985, in Huntsville. In 1948, after Democratic President Harry Truman came out in support of civil rights legislation, many Southern lawmakers formed the States’ Rights Democratic Party (known as Dixiecrats) to run an alternate Democratic candidate to Truman in that year’s election. Sparkman and his fellow Alabama senator, Lister Hill, remained loyal to the traditional Democratic Party—though they did not endorse Truman’s position. Both would later sign the Southern Manifesto of 1956, which opposed desegregation, and both opposed the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964. According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama (, “Although he consistently opposed civil rights legislation, Sparkman was viewed as a liberal during his years in the House and his first three Senate terms because of his strong support for unions, public housing, aid to education, hospital and health-care funding, increased public-works spending, higher minimum wages, veterans programs, and small businesses.” Sparkman supported the Tennessee Valley Authority, with its initiatives to bring water, power, and infrastructure to the region. He also advocated for the Redstone Arsenal, a government munitions plant, to be located in Huntsville. The arsenal, established in 1941, brought growth and industry to the city, and later became the site of NASA’s rocket-building program. Sparkman was a consistent supporter of the space program. He was behind major legislation for military personnel, such as the GI Bill for Vietnam Veterans. Sparkman served on the Foreign Relations Committee for most of his time in the Senate and was its chair from 1975-1979; chaired the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency (1967-1970) and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs (1970-1975); and was the first chair of the Small Business Committee, from 1950-1953, and chair again from 1955-1967. In his personal life, he was a Methodist and a Freemason and was involved in a number of community and civic organizations.


1161 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Democratic congressman John J. Sparkman (1899-1985) represented the state of Alabama in the House of Representatives from 1937-1946 and in the Senate from 1946-January 3, 1979. He was known for his support of the Tennessee Valley Authority, military personnel, and space exploration, and served on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, the Small Business Committee, and the Banking Committee. Materials in this collection include correspondence, legislation, newsletters, press releases, photographs, speeches, and other items covering issues in the United States and Alabama during the four decades of his tenure in Congress, including civil rights, the decline of the Democratic Party in the South, housing, labor, aviation, renewable energy, and other subjects.


Materials are arranged into seven series: Personal and Political Papers, Press and Media Materials, Legislative Records, Constituent Services Materials, Administrative Files, and Agency and Department Files.

These series are based on guidance from Managing Congressional Collections, by Cynthia Pease Miller (2008).

Custodial History

Most of the records in the John J. Sparkman Papers were stored in the Federal Records Center in Suitland, Maryland, between 1964 and 1978 before being transferred to The University of Alabama in a series of shipments in the 1960s and 1970s. The John J. Sparkman Papers have been housed in The University of Alabama Libraries since 1968, when Sparkman donated the first boxes of records. More donations followed between 1970 and 1978. These records are governed by a 1978 gift agreement, signed by Sparkman, that gives the university rights to the 1937-1978 material. More materials (particularly photographs, but also press releases, clippings, and audiovisual material), were given to The University of Alabama Libraries by Grover Smith, press secretary to Sparkman, in about seven different accessions from approximately the early 1980s to 1998. In addition, Mrs. Grover Smith (Sara Ruth Hoge Smith) donated eight linear feet of photographs in 2004; the University of Mississippi Libraries donated 1.5 linear feet of audiovisual and manuscript materials in 2006; and some negatives were donated to the university in 2008 by Heather Moore, photo historian at the US Senate historical office.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of John J. Sparkman, 1968-1978; Grover Smith, circa early 1980s to 1998; Mrs. Grover Smith (Sara Ruth Hoge Smith), 2004; University of Mississippi Libraries, 2006; and Heather Moore, 2008.

Related Materials

MSS.4033, Grover Cleveland Smith Obituary Articles, Funeral Bulletin, and Letters of Condolence, The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections;

MSS.0670, Lister Hill Papers, The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections;

John E. Horne Personal Papers (#115), John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, The John F. Kennedy Library, Columbia Point, Boston


Requests to access the John J. Sparkman Papers must be made two business days in advance.

Please ask Special Collections staff for more detailed information about the contents of individual boxes.

Processing Information

Processed by Patrick Adcock; Erin Ryan; Mark Usry; Shandi Burrows; Lloyd Arp; with processing by other Special Collections staff.
Guide to the John J. Sparkman Papers
Erin Ryan
November 2022
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections Repository

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa AL 35487-0266