John Buchanan Jr.

John Buchanan Jr. John Hall Buchanan Jr. (1928-2018) was a former Republican representative (1965-1981), who took moderate to liberal positions on some social issues at a time when conservative white voters left the Democratic Party following passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He was a strong advocate of civic education, women’s rights, and civil liberties, led congressional investigations of the Ku Klux Klan and was the first Alabama congressman to promote diversity through hiring staff and nominating students to military academies regardless of race.

Buchanan was born in Paris, Henry County, Tennessee, on March 19, 1928, to John Hall and Ruby Lowrey Buchanan. He grew up in El Dorado City, Union Springs, Arkansas, and Birmingham before serving in the United States Navy from 1945 to 1946. He returned to Alabama to attend Samford University in Birmingham and received his B.A. in economics and history in 1949. He then studied economics at the University of Virginia and graduated from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, with a doctorate in theology in 1957. Buchanan worked as a Baptist minister for 10 years in Tennessee, Virginia, and Alabama. He married Elizabeth (Betty) Moore of Birmingham, with whom he had two daughters.

Buchanan was one of three Republican candidates who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1962. He led the field with 141,202 votes, but was unable to defeat the Democratic candidates. Meanwhile, he worked as a pastor in the Birmingham area and was director of finance for the Alabama Republican Party from 1962 to 1964. In 1964, Buchanan unseated the 10-year incumbent Democrat George S. Huddleston Jr. to represent Alabama’s Sixth District. During his congressional career, significant legislation passed, such as the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (which clarified the succession to the presidency, executive vacancies, and presidential disabilities), the Medicare Act (which guaranteed access to healthcare for Americans over the age of 65 and/or with disabilities). Like the rest of the Alabama delegation, he opposed the 1965 Voting Rights Act outlawing discriminatory voting practices and the 1968 Civil Rights Act, which addressed housing discrimination against minorities. Buchanan’s support for civil liberties led Americans United for Separation of Church and State to award him Congressman of the Year in 1965. In 1967, Buchanan received an honorary L.L.D. degree from Samford University. In 1969, the University of Virginia bestowed upon him the Sesquicentennial Award for Public Service.

Buchanan took a strong interest in international affairs while in Congress. He served on the Foreign Affairs Committee, advocating for human rights in Communist countries, religious rights for Jewish and Christian dissidents in Eastern Europe, and civil rights for the African majorities in Rhodesia and South Africa. He was a member of two U.S. delegations to the United Nations and was a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee for two years as well as other governmental organizations that promoted European security. In 1980, he was one of the principal authors of the Foreign Service Act, which made reforms to personnel policies of the U.S. State Department.

Buchanan also was devoted to improving education while in Congress and served on two subcommittees of the Education and Labor Committee: Postsecondary Education and Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education. He was a strong supporter of major education legislation, particularly Title IX of the 1972 Education Act, which required equality for women in American colleges and universities, including athletics. He was recognized by several educational organizations for his work.

In 1978, Pres. Jimmy Carter appointed Buchanan to a 13-member commission on the coal industry that reviewed economics, labor relations, health and safety, new technology applications, and the impact of federal regulations. In 1979, he received the Distinguished Service Award from the Alabama Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (AASFAA), which subsequently named the award in his honor. Known as a moderate Republican, Buchanan faced conservative Republican activist Albert L. Smith Jr. in 1980 and was defeated. In 1981, he founded the Congressional Sunbelt Caucus, which represents the interests of southern and southwestern states.

Following his congressional career, Buchanan remained interested in education policy. He chaired the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education in the Department of Education from 1981 to 1983 and participated in the National Education Goals 2000 Panel and in hearings with the National Task Force on Public Education in 2004. He has also maintained a moderate political stance, serving on the board of directors of the organization People for the American Way that advocates for progressive policies, working in 2006 to extend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as a commissioner with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and serving on the President’s Council of Common Cause. In 2010, Buchanan was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor for furthering the rights of women and African Americans. Buchanan died on March 5, 2018, in Rockville Maryland.

His numerous awards include the Honor Award from the Women’s Action Organization (1980), the National Conference of Christians and Jews Brotherhood Award (1981), the Common Cause Public Service Achievement Award (1988), the National Council of Jewish Women Hannah G. Solomon Award (1991), the Alabama Education Association’s Friend of Education Award, and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities’ Distinguished Service Award.

Further Reading

  • John H. Buchanan Papers, Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

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