The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Title: Colmer (William M.) Papers
Collection Number: M24
Provenance: Materials in this collection were donated by William M. Colmer.
Biographical/Historical Sketch: William M. Colmer was born February 11, 1890 in Moss Point near Pascagoula, Mississippi and was educated in the Gulfport public schools. He attended Millsaps College in Jackson and taught school in Lumberton from 1914 to 1917 while studying law on the side. He was admitted to the bar in 1917. He served in World War I, leaving the service with the rank of regimental sergeant major, and returned to Pascagoula to practice law.
His forty-year tenure in the House spanned the economic depression of the thirties, three wars, and the Civil Rights Movement. When he retired in January 1973, he had served in the Congress longer than any other Mississippian.
In 1942 Congressman Colmer was named one of the two members representing the House on the National Forest Reservation Commission. In 1948 he was one of the organizers of the informal House Southern Group and was elected its chairman.
After the death of Senator Theodore G. Bilbo in 1947, Congressman Colmer ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the U.S. Senate. All of his nineteen campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives were successful.
One of Colmer's aides was Republican Trent Lott, who succeeded him with his blessing.
The papers of Congressman William M. Colmer (D.-Miss) cover the administrations of six Presidents. Assuming office on March 4, 1933, as did President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he has served from the "New Deal" to the present "Forward Together;" from the depression, through three wars, to the current era of affluence and unrest. His papers reflect his reaction and the reaction of the people he represented to these programs and events. These papers are history in the raw. From one standpoint they show the conversion of a "New Deal" supporter into a "Southern Conservative" and backstage leader of the States' Rights forces in the House. Over the past quarter of a century these forces have engaged in a running fight with the centralist, modern "Liberals" on such issues as civil rights and federal spending.
The papers present the view of a conservative, a Southerner, and a Mississippian. They contain a part of history that has never been told. Of considerable interest are recommendations of the Colmer Committee (the Special Committee on Post-War Economic Policy and Planning). These recommendations (1) paved the way for the Marshall Plan; (2) foretold the "Cold War" after the Committee interviewed Stalin in 1945, and proposed a firm foreign policy to counter it, thus beginning the controversy that polarized into the "hawks" versus the "doves" debate; and (3) blueprinted measures for the conversion of the domestic economy from a war-time to a peace-time basis.
In general the papers reflect many political changes and challenges; specifically they cover nineteen successful campaigns for United States Representative and an unsuccessful campaign for a seat in the Senate after the death of Senator Bilbo. The Colmer Papers record the agonies of the depression, of World War II, of Korea and Vietnam. They contain pleas for help and efforts to respond. They are the grist from a Congressman's mill through thirty-six years -- what he does, what his staff does, what his constituents do and say.
Highlights of Career
Congressman Colmer became a member of the key House Rules Committee in 1939. In January 1967, he succeeded Judge Howard W. Smith as its chairman. In 1948 he was one of the organizers of the informal House Southern Group and was elected its chairman. Congressman Colmer was the Chairman of the Special Committee on PostWar Economic Policy and Planning, which was established in the 78th Congress and continued through the 79th. This committee was made up of a senior member of each of the major legislative committees of the House. Its basic assignment was to recommend legislation to provide a smooth reconversion of a peace-time economy. Its hearings were published in nine parts, four in the 78th and five in the 79th Congress. They covered the whole domestic economy, with leaders of industry, agriculture, and labor and members of the Cabinet appearing as witnesses. Because of the dependence of the domestic economy on a healthy European recovery, in the Fall of 1945 the Committee made a two-month survey abroad, visiting nineteen countries and consulting the leaders of each, including Stalin. The memorandum of the conversation with Stalin on September 14, 1945 was classified "Top Secret." So was an airgram sent by the United States Embassy in Moscow quoting this memorandum, prepared by Marion Folsom, Executive Director of the Committee. (These have now been declassified). Also in the file is a memorandum of the conversation with Stalin written by George Kerman, Charge d'Affaires, who acted as interpreter.
SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTE
The vast majority of the William M. Colmer Papers encompass his forty-year career as a United States Congressman from Mississippi (1933-1972). However, it also contains a significant amount of material regarding his activities prior to his election to Congress, and a limited amount of materials generated after his retirement in 1972. The original arrangement of the materials has been preserved as closely as possible. Inclusive dates are approximately 1906–1980. The collection divided into two major series, and each series is separated into several subgroups.
SERIES I: CONGRESSIONAL FILES
This series is comprised of materials generated during Mr. Colmer’s tenure in Congress, and it contains ten subgroups:
Planning (William Colmer, Chairman) (Boxes 579 – 593)
(Boxes 670 – 683)
Subgroup 1: Subject Files consists of correspondence between Congressman Colmer, his constituents, and others, on a vast array of topics. Subjects are arranged alphabetically within the subgroup.
Subgroup 2: Positions is made up of correspondence requesting Mr. Colmer’s assistance in securing employment. Requests are arranged alphabetically, where possible. However, a significant portion is grouped as “Miscellaneous.”
Subgroup 3: Legislation Files is separated into two groups - Part A: Bills introduced by Congressman Colmer, and Part B: Correspondence pertaining to a specific piece of legislation. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically, according to topic, but a miscellaneous section is also included.
Subgroup 4: Special Committee on Post-War Economic Policy and Planning
Subgroup 5: Special Files (Announcements, Directories, Lists, Newsletters, Pamphlets, Speeches, and Statements. Of particular interest in this subgroup are the numerous speeches and articles by Congressman Colmer.
Subgroup 6: Post Office Files consists of correspondence and other documents pertaining to the various post offices in Mississippi, including openings and closings. Materials are arranged alphabetically, by city. Also included are rural routes and Star routes.
Subgroup 7: Public Works Files holds information concerning a plethora of public works projects in Mississippi, from Back Bay projects to Water Resources, and everything in between.
Subgroup 8: Hurricane Camille Files are a treasure trove of information about Hurricane Camille, a devastating category five storm that struck the Gulf Coast in August 1969. Included are photographs and materials relating to the immediate aftermath of the storm, as well as items dating three to four years afterward.
Subgroup 9: Campaign and Working Files are records of Congressman Colmer’s biennial campaigns for Congress, as well as an unsuccessful run for the United States Senate in 1947. Also included are working files consisting of legislative reorganization efforts, Colmer’s voting record, and other topics.
Subgroup 10: Restricted Files (Veterans’ Claims, Military and Medical Records, and Miscellaneous Claims. THESE RECORDS ARE CLOSED TO RESEARCHERS BY FEDERAL MANDATE.
SERIES II: PERSONAL FILES
This series is composed primarily of items collected by Congressman William Colmer over the course of his life, and are more personal in nature than his Congressional files. However, there is likely some overlap, particularly on the subject of legislation. Materials in this series were not in any order when they arrived in the University of Southern Mississippi Archives, therefore the organization of the materials reflects the judgment of the processor. The series has been divided into five subgroups.
Subgroup 1: Created Subject Files includes a vast amount of correspondence; a large section of materials on civil rights; and biographical information on Congressman Colmer. The subgroup is arranged alphabetically.
Subgroup 2: Photographs contains images from every aspect of Congressman Colmer’s public life, along with many from his private life.
Subgroup 3: Scrapbooks consists primarily of photocopied scrapbooks documenting William Colmer’s life and activities from 1927-1972. (The critical state of deterioration in the originals necessitated photocopying onto acid-free paper). Four scrapbooks have been preserved in their original forms. Of particular interest are a scrapbook on Hurricane Camille, and one on the Post War Economic Policy and Planning Committee headed by Mr. Colmer.
Subgroup 4: Memorabilia is composed of plaques, certificates, and mementoes presented to, or collected by, Congressman Colmer over the course of his life. A selection of interesting items from his Post War European tour are on loan to the Camp Shelby Military Museum.
Subgroup 5: Audio and Video Materials consists largely of campaign tapes, both audio and video. Also included are a few phonograph records, and at least two speeches by Congressman Colmer.
The Papers of Congressman William Meyers Colmer (D-Miss) were primarily processed by Yvonne Arnold. However, she received invaluable assistance from: