Laurie C. Battle

Laurie C. Battle Laurie Calvin Battle (1912-2000) was a war hero and a notable U.S. congressman from Alabama. During World War II, Battle served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, earning a Bronze Star for his service in the Pacific. After the war, Battle entered politics as a conservative Democrat and anti-Communist, serving four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. After leaving the House in 1955, Battle failed to win both a U.S. Senate seat and the governorship of Alabama. Locating permanently to the Washington, D.C. area, Battle worked in the capital as a staff director of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Rules, and the United States League of Savings Associations until his retirement.

Battle was born in Wilsonville, Shelby County, on May 10, 1912, to William Raines Battle, a Methodist minister, and Annie Le Merle Allen Battle; he had three brothers. His mother died when he was about six, and his father was married again in 1920 to Helen Inez Massengale, who had four children from a previous marriage. After graduating from Deshler High School in 1930, Battle entered Birmingham-Southern College, where he played basketball and football; he earned a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1934. He then attended several schools, eventually earning a master's degree in sociology from Ohio State University in 1939, and worked in a variety of jobs.

In 1942, Battle enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, serving from 1942 to 1946. He earned a Bronze Star for his combat service in the Pacific Theater and achieved the rank of major. In 1946, he married Janis Hunt, with whom he would have four sons and two daughters. Battle served in the Reserves until 1972 and retired at the rank of colonel.

As a decorated war veteran, the son of a popular Methodist minister, and a member of a large professional family, Battle made an attractive candidate for political office in Alabama. Upon returning home, he set his sights on a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for Alabama's Ninth Congressional District. Battle won the Democratic nomination in 1946, replacing Luther Patrick, one of Alabama's last New Dealers in Congress. Battle was considered by his critics "a tool" of the "Big Mules," or elites of Alabama, and he generally benefited from campaign contributions from those who earned the label. Generally considered a conservative, Battle opposed federal housing assistance, the Tennessee Valley Authority, labor unions, foreign aid, and the United Nations.

Battle made a name for himself as a "Cold Warrior," sponsoring the Mutual Defense Assistance Control Act of 1951. The legislation authorized the United States to suspend previously agreed-upon economic aid to nations that supplied strategic materials to the Soviet bloc nations. Battle's bill, unlike similar proposals, gave the president the authority to waive the ban as the situation dictated. This provision allowed the United States to provide aid to nations such as the Netherlands, which had signed contracts with the Soviets during the war that had not yet expired. The act was so closely tied to Battle that it would come to be known as the Battle Act.

Battle retired from the House in 1955 to seek the Alabama Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate. He challenged the sitting Alabama senator, John Sparkman. Battle had been a minor player in the Dixiecrat movement and enjoyed the support of Alabama's states' rights adherents. Facing an uphill fight, Battle and his supporters attacked the more liberal position on civil rights that Sparkman had taken while running for vice president under Adlai Stevenson in 1952. The Dothan Eagle went so far as to attack Sparkman's lack of devotion to states' rights by running pictures of him meeting with African American leaders. Although Battle lost to Sparkman in the primary, the New York Times described Sparkman as "fighting for his political life." Battle was a delegate to the 1956 Democratic National Convention and then ran in the crowded 1958 Democratic Primary for governor of Alabama. He did poorly, coming in well behind newcomer George C. Wallace, as well as several minor candidates.

Battle's final campaign for elected office was an unsuccessful run in 1968 for Virginia's Eighth Congressional District that represents the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where he had permanently relocated. After that defeat, Battle served as a government relations executive in Washington, as staff director and counsel for the House of Representatives Rules Committee from 1966 to 1976 and as a special advisor to the U.S. League of Savings Associations from 1976 to 1988. On May 2, 2000, at the age of 87, Battle died from cancer at Bethesda Naval Hospital and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Further Reading

  • Frederickson, Kari. The Dixiecrat Revolt and the End of the Solid South 1932-1968. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
  • Hamilton, Virginia Van der Veer. Lister Hill: Statesman from the South. Revised edition. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004.

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