Lee Emmett Thomas
Lee Emmett Thomas
|Mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana|
|Preceded by||John McWilliams Ford|
|Succeeded by||J. G. Palmer|
|Louisiana State Representative|
for Caddo Parish
|Preceded by||At-large members:|
|Succeeded by||At-large members:|
|Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives|
|Preceded by||H. Garland Dupré|
|Succeeded by||Hewitt Leonidas Bouanchaud|
|Born||September 23, 1866|
Marion, Union Parish, Louisiana, USA
|Died||February 16, 1935 (aged 68)|
|Political party||Democratic Party|
|Spouse(s)||Florence Smith Thomas|
|Alma mater||Samford University|
University of Virginia
Lee Emmett Thomas (September 23, 1866 – February 16, 1935) was an attorney and banker who served as the mayor of Shreveport in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, from 1922 to 1930. He was from 1912 to 1916 the Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives.
Thomas was born in Marion in Union Parish north of Ruston, a son of B. B. Thomas and the former of Susan S. George of Perry County, Alabama. Thomas was educated at the former Concord Institute in the community of Shiloh in Union Parish. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Baptist-affiliated Samford University, then known as Howard College in Marion, Alabama, but since located in Birmingham, Alabama. Thomas also obtained a Master of Accounts degree, a 14-week course, from the defunct Eastman Business College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Thereafter for two years he kept the books in his father's mercantile business in Farmerville, the parish seat of Union Parish. In 1889, Thomas procured his law degree from the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, Virginia.
From 1889 to 1896, he practiced law in Farmerville, where he married the former Florence Smith. Thomas's biographical sketches in A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography and The Chronicles of Shreveport does not indicate if the couple had children. In 1896, the Thomases came to Shreveport, where he continued in the practice of law. He was a member of the First Baptist Church of Shreveport. Thomas also served as president of the Shreveport Chamber of Commerce and was affiliated with several fraternal orders, including the Masonic lodge, the Shriners, the Order of the Eastern Star, Knights Templar, and the Knights of Pythias. Thomas worked to establish the Shriner's Hospital for Children in Shreveport, the first in the United States. Thomas was also the chairman of the board of the orphanage, the Masonic Home for Children in Alexandria, Louisiana, established ca. 1928.
In 1903, Thomas was appointed state banking commissioner by Governor William Wright Heard, who was like Thomas a native of Union Parish. Thomas served as banking commissioner until 1906, when he formed Continental Bank and Trust Company, of which he served as president until 1917.
In 1908, Thomas, an active Democrat, was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives. Reelected in 1912, he served as the Speaker. In his second term, his Caddo Parish colleagues included David B. Samuel, Perry Keith, and Joseph E. Johnston, Jr., no relation to the Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston. One of his at-large successors in the House, John McWilliams Ford, was also Thomas' predecessor as mayor. Ford then served from 1930 until his death in 1965 as the municipal finance commissioner.
From 1916 to 1920, Thomas was the chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Central Committee, an influential body in a one-party state at the time. He also served on the Democratic National Committee through his role as the party's Louisiana national committeeman. Thomas was chairman of the Louisiana Tax Commission from 1917–1919 under Governor Ruffin G. Pleasant, of Shreveport and like Heard and Thomas a Union Parish native. Thomas was again the state banking commissioner from 1919–1922, under the Pleasant and successor John M. Parker administrations. In 1924, Thomas ran unsuccessfully for the United States Senate, losing the Democratic nomination to incumbent Joseph Ransdell of Alexandria. Ransdell polled 104,312 votes (54.9 percent) to Thomas' 85,547 ballots (45.1 percent). In 1930, Ransdell was unseated in the primary by Governor Huey Pierce Long, Jr., who did not immediately take his seat in the chamber but left it vacant for more than a year.
His political rival, Huey Long, called Thomas "Wet Jug" to describe Thomas' bald head and ears as "resembling a jug with handles," and 'wet' not for alcohol usage, but for his oft seen perspiration marks.
Prior to his election as mayor, Thomas had run fourth in a race for the Democratic Executive Committee for Louisiana's 4th congressional district, a body separate from the state central committee. He soon rebounded from this defeat, however, to win the mayoral race with a large majority over five intra-party opponents.
As the Shreveport mayor for two four-year terms, Thomas promoted the construction of the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium, originally a memorial to World War I service personnel, which was restored in 1994. From 1948–1960, the auditorium staged the Louisiana Hayride Country music program. Later, Elvis Presley performed at the auditorium on several occasions between 1954 and 1956. While Thomas was mayor, W. K. Henderson launched KWKH Radio. Thomas was active too in building the viaduct on Market Street, the Cross Lake Reservoir (the city's principal water supply), and the construction of ten parks and playgrounds. Thomas worked for the purchase of Barksdale Field.
Mayor Thomas objected to Governor Huey Long's free textbook program, and for a time the Caddo Parish School Board refused to accept the books. "This is a rich section of the state. We are not going to be humiliated or disgraced by having it advertised that our children had to be given the books free," Thomas said. However, the school district finally accepted the books in order to convince Long to deed eighty acres of state lands for the site of an airport to be built by the United States government.
Long lived in Shreveport during part of Thomas' time as mayor. In his autobiography, Every Man a King, Long calls Thomas "my very bitter, personal enemy." Long continued, "If there had ever been a politician like unto the cat with nine lives, it has been L. E. Thomas. ... He never failed to show up ... as a leading supporter [with winning candidates for governor] though claimed by his opposition a great liability to every candidate." Long fought the election of Thomas to the U.S. Senate in 1924, when the mayor challenged the incumbent Joseph E. Ransdell of East Carroll Parish, ironically the man Long himself would unseat six years later in the 1930 senatorial primary election.
Thomas died in Shreveport at the age of sixty-eight and is interred there at Forest Park Cemetery.
- "Thomas, Lee Emmett". Louisiana Historical Association, A Directory of Louisiana Biography (lahistory.org). Retrieved December 29, 2010.
- "Lee Emmett Thomas". files.usgwarchives.org. Archived from the original on March 31, 2012. Retrieved December 30, 2010.
- A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography uses information for its biographical sketch on Mayor Thomas from Lilla McLure and J. Ed Howe, History of Shreveport and Shreveport Builders (1937) and Maude Hearn O'Pry, Chronicles of Shreveport (1928).
- "Membership in the Louisiana House of Representatives, 1812–2012" (PDF). legis.state.la.us. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 29, 2009. Retrieved December 29, 2010.
- State of Louisiana, Louisiana Secretary of State, U.S. Senate election returns, 1924
- The Kingfish and His Realm: The Life and Times of Huey P. Long
- Huey Pierce Long, Jr., Every Man a King: The Autobiography of Huey P. Long (New Orleans: National Book Club, Inc., 1933), p. 80.
- Eric J. Brock, "Municipal Auditorium Now Being Restored," Shreveport Times September 17, 1994
- "LouisianaHayride". caddohistory.com. Retrieved December 24, 2010.
- Long, Every Man a King, pp. 114-115.
- Long, Every Man a King, p. 79.
- Long, Every Man a King, p. 80.
- Long, Every Man a King, p. 81.
- "Index to Politicians: Thomas, K to N". politicalgraveyard.com. Retrieved December 29, 2010.
| Louisiana State Representative for Caddo Parish (at-large)
Lee Emmett Thomas
H. Garland Dupré of Orleans Parish
| Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives from Caddo Parish
Lee Emmett Thomas
Hewitt Leonidas Bouanchaud of Pointe Coupee Parish
John McWilliams Ford
| Mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana
Lee Emmett Thomas
J. G. Palmer
J. F. Foisy
| President of the Louisiana Municipal Association
Lee Emmett Thomas
Sam Caldwell (1937)
No LMA from 1928 to 1936