John Parks Newsome

Democrat John Parks Newsome (1893-1961) served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives for the 78th Congress from 1943 to 1945. Newsome represented Alabama’s Ninth Congressional District, which at the time consisted solely of Jefferson County and was one of the largest population-wise at that time in Alabama. Born in Tennessee, he served in the U.S. Army during World War I, after which he settled in Birmingham, Jefferson County, where he established a prominent wholesale business and other companies before embarking on a political career.

John Parks Newsome Newsome was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on February 13, 1893, to parents John Newsome and Mary Hallie Glass Newsome. Newsome was one of many children, including seven sisters and three brothers. He attended school at Thompson Station and then Battle Ground Academy near Franklin, Tennessee. In 1912, 19-year-old Newsome began work at a wholesale hardware company. At some point, Newsome moved to the Atlanta, Georgia, area, where he worked as a traveling salesman for the United Tire Co. He was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World War I and served from November 27, 1917, until April 29, 1919. During his service his was promoted to captain of infantry in the 5th Infantry Division. Known as the “Red Diamond Division,” it deployed to the vicinity of the Vosges Mountains in France in the summer of 1918 and was involved in heavy fighting that fall in the Battle of St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive until the Armistice was declared on November 11, 1918. It remained in Europe as part of the Army of Occupation until returning to the United States in the summer of 1919.

Following his service, Newsome returned to Georgia, where he married Lula Lewis Harris on February 10, 1920, in Bibb County and would have a daughter. The couple moved to Birmingham, where Newsome, along with Thomas Watts, founded the Watts-Newsome Company, returning to his pre-war trade. This new wholesale distribution company sold products such as radios, telephones, and refrigerators and was incorporated in July 1934. Watt-Newsome Co. gained national attention in 1955 as an “outstanding distributor” of Philco Corporation products. Following this business endeavor, Newsome continued expanding his reputation as a businessman. He founded the Southern Lighting Company as well as a furniture wholesale business, John Parks Newsome, Inc. In 1942 and 1943, Newsome chaired a Selective Service System appeals board in the state as the nation was building up the armed forces during World War II. Boards such as this made decisions on draft deferments, postponements, and exemptions.

In 1942, Newsome entered national politics and won the race for U.S. Representative in the 78th Congress against two-term incumbent Democrat Luther Patrick. During his time in office, Newsome both authored and cast votes for and against controversial bills. One notable bill Newsome opposed was the 1943 legislation aimed at controlling the effects of inflation through government-financed price controls on food. The Birmingham News reported on public frustrations towards Newsome’s opposition to the bill as well as his defense of his vote. In Newsome’s opinion, the proposition would have burdened taxpayers and would have failed to truly combat the issues of inflation. The public’s overall response questioned Newsome’s understanding of their need for economic relief. That same year, Newsome supported funding of a national cemetery for Alabama veterans in Jefferson County. Although the cemetery eventually was built in neighboring Shelby County, Newsome backed $20,000 worth of support for the project.

Newsome also backed pro-business interests and assistance for veterans. In June 1943, he supported a bill that gave the War Labor Board power to maintain production in plants, mines, and factories needed for war. This bill aimed to prevent worker strikes and work stoppages in key industries. In 1944, Newsome supported the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (GI Bill of Rights), which provided veterans greater access to college and vocational education, home ownership, and health care. Newsome’s voting record overall showed support for the United States military. He voted in favor of spending for the construction of various military facilities and improvements as well as for veterans’ health benefits. Newsome also backed the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in March 1944, which eventually became part of the United Nations.

Campaigning for reelection began in 1944, and former Rep. Luther Patrick challenged Newsome to regain his lost seat. Local newspapers reported heavily on the growing tension between the candidates. Patrick repeatedly accused Newsome of voting along Republican lines, and Newsome charged that Patrick supported repealing the poll tax, then a divisive issue in the state and nation. (Alabama did not revoke the poll tax until after the Middle District Court declared it unconstitutional in 1966.) Early polling for the primary showed the competitors within a small margin of each other despite attempts to derail each other’s campaigns. At the end of a lengthy campaign and runoff election, Patrick defeated Newsome, regaining his former position.

Following his loss, Newsome returned to his furniture and wholesale businesses in Birmingham. He spent many years involved with various business, commerce, and civic organizations in the city and county. He served on the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, was president of the Birmingham Kiwanis Club, co-chairman of the Jefferson County Community Chest, was director of the Birmingham Sales Executives Club, a member of Birmingham’s Council of 100, and served on the board of directors of the Alabama Goodwill Industries. As president of the Associated Industries of Alabama (AIA) from 1953 to 1955, Newsome traveled the state sharing his insights on business, including a 1954 visit to Greenville, where The Greenville Advocate reported on his unwavering support of businesses and profit-motivated business practices. His concern with creating profits at the expense of his employees’ wellbeing drew admiration from Birmingham businessmen, including Louis Pizitz, founder of the Pizitz Department store in Birmingham, and Avondale Mills’ Donald Comer. Directly following his presidency, he served as chairman of AIA’s board of directors until 1956.

Newsome died on November 10, 1961, following a multi-week illness that left him hospitalized in Birmingham. Local newspapers reported on his death and included calls from his family for charitable donations in his honor. Newsome is buried in Birmingham’s historic Elmwood Cemetery.

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