Hays, L. Brooks (Lawrence Brooks), 1898-1981


Hays, L. Brooks (Lawrence Brooks), 1898-1981


Bio: Brooks Lawrence Hays (1898-1981) was the only child of Adelbert Steele Hays, a lawyer, and Sallie T. Butler. He was raised in the western frontier region of Arkansas, near the border with Oklahoma, itself only a few years removed from its designation as Indian Territory. His relatives were Democrats and Baptists, the dominant political and religious groups in Arkansas, and Hays was throughout his life identified with both groups. Hays attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville from 1915 to 1919, interrupting his studies briefly to serve in the army during the last months of World War I. He then attended George Washington University School of Law from 1919 to 1922, earning the LL.B. degree, and passed the Arkansas bar. On 2 February 1922 he married Marion Prather of Arkansas; they had two children. Just before his twenty-fourth birthday, he began the practice of law with his father''s firm in Russellville, Arkansas; the firm''s name became Hays, Priddy and Hays when he joined.

Finding the daily work in a law office tedious, Hays began almost immediately to dabble in politics, first managing an unsuccessful race for Congress by his father in 1922, then looking for his own chance to run for office. He was for a long time hampered by his youth, the fact that his family was known to oppose the activities of the Ku Klux Klan, and the opinion in his rural district that he was the child of a wealthy man, sent by his father to a fancy eastern law school. He persisted, however, because he was sure that politics was his calling. He began to hone his oratorical skills, which were enhanced by a disarming sense of humor.

In 1924 he managed the successful campaign of a candidate for Arkansas attorney general and was appointed the winner''s assistant. He moved his family to Little Rock, where he began making regular appearances before the Arkansas Supreme Court. In 1927, although at the time of the primary election he was too young to take office, he ran for governor of Arkansas. He assured voters that he would reach the required age of thirty before the general election. Placing second in the Democratic primary, due in part to widespread voting fraud, he ran again in 1930 but once again placed second. In 1933, in what has been called "the most fraudulent election in Arkansas history," he lost a special election to Congress and in financial desperation accepted a job in 1934 with the New Deal Arkansas National Recovery Administration. He remained a political appointee for the next decade. He longed for the power of elective office but found fulfillment in New Deal activity because his work had a kind of ministerial flavor. He believed that he had both a political and a religious vocation, and during this "social work" period of his life each influenced the other.

In 1942, when the man who had defeated him in 1933 decided to run for the U.S. Senate, Hays sought and won the House of Representatives seat from the Fifth District of Arkansas. He won reelection seven times, serving in the House from 1943 to 1959. He was known in Congress for his sense of social justice, his political humor, and his spellbinding oratory. He served from the start on the Banking and Currency Committee, his third choice, but soon found a place on the Foreign Affairs Committee, where he spent much of his energy in the post-World War II and cold war eras. Foreign affairs, like his New Deal legal work, satisfied a need in him for "ministry." It was a political form of missionary work.

Hays was a deeply and publicly religious man, one of the most prominent in Congress during his years there. He was a devoted Baptist, a popular Sunday school teacher both in Little Rock and in Washington, and a lay minister. During their early, seventeenth-century days in England, Baptists depended on lay leadership, but twentieth-century Southern Baptists tended to elect ordained clergymen to administrative posts. It was therefore unusual for a layman like Hays, particularly a politician, to rise in Baptist ranks to serve on cardinal committees and to be elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention twice, in 1957 and 1958. While president he encouraged policies and introduced programs that were severely attacked by conservatives as communist and unchristian. But he used his famous humor to defuse most of the explosive confrontations and left the office highly respected.

Hays reached the top of his political career, and paradoxically its nadir as well, in 1957 and 1958, at the very time he was president of the Southern Baptist Convention. When Little Rock Central High School was ordered by the federal courts to integrate and Arkansas governor Orval Faubus opposed the decree and refused to maintain order, Hays, as the congressman representing Little Rock in Washington, felt compelled to step in and mediate the controversy. With violence possible, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in federal troops. At the next election, in 1958, with the Arkansas electorate seething over what it considered a federal invasion and what it perceived to be Hays''s capitulation to the courts, Faubus forces organized a write-in vote in support of a challenger, Dale Alford, an outspoken segregationist, and Hays was turned out of office.

His final years, from age sixty to his death, were among his best. Eisenhower appointed him to the three-member board of the Tennessee Valley Authority, in which capacity he served from 1959 to 1961. President John F. Kennedy made him assistant secretary of state for congressional affairs (1961), where he became a troubleshooter for New Frontier policies. He worked for Great Society legislation as a special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson. He even returned to Arkansas in 1966 to run for governor at age sixty-eight, but once more, now considered a raving liberal, he was unsuccessful.

He went on to guest lectureships, a stint as director of the Ecumenical Institute at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (1968-1970), and even a final political race in 1972, for a North Carolina congressional seat, enlivening a lost cause with an energy remarkable for someone seventy-four. A greatly respected elder statesman, he died of a stroke at his Washington, D.C., apartment. He is buried at Oakland Cemetery in Russellville, Arkansas.


LBJ Connection: U.S. Congressman, Arkansas, 1943-1959; Special Assistant to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, 1961-1964. Consultant for Intergovernmental Relations.