William Putnam Sevier

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Template:Infobox officeholder William Putnam "Buck" Sevier, Jr. (October 13, 1899 – September 4, 1985)[1] was the longest-serving mayor of a community in the U.S. state of Louisiana. A banker in Tallulah, Louisiana, the parish seat of Madison Parish, Sevier was first elected to public office as alderman. He served three terms. In 1946 he was elected as mayor of the city, and served, with repeated re-elections, from 1947 to 1974.[2] Madison Parish is located in the Mississippi River delta country of northeastern Louisiana.

He is a great-great-grandson of John Sevier, a Tennessee pioneer and first governor of that state. He was a cousin of State Senator Andrew L. Sevier and State Representative Henry Clay Sevier, both also from Tallulah.[3]

Biographical sketch

Sevier was born in 1899 on a plantation in southern Madison Parish, the eldest child of William Sevier, Sr. (1868-1943), a native of Thomastown in Leake County in central Mississippi, and the former Ada Shadbourne Graves (1877-1955). His maternal Graves grandparents were large landowners and planters prior to the American Civil War. As a child, Sevier took the nickname "Buck", but later tried to discourage its use. Most people still called him Buck as an adult. In 1916, he graduated from the segregated Tallulah High School. (It has since been relocated and renamed Madison High School.)

He attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge with hopes of becoming a lawyer. He was a member of Sigma Nu fraternity. His studies were interrupted by World War I, when he served as a balloon observer.

He never completed legal studies but returned to Tallulah in 1922. He worked at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) experiment station there, which was established to try to develop ways to protect cotton growers from the pervasive boll weevil, which was destroying crops throughout the South. This station developed products and processes for crop dusting from airplanes.[4] Hundreds of flights took off from the Tallulah Airport as they worked on the best methods to dust the crops. Delta Dusters, a company that developed here to carry out crop dusting, was the origin of Delta Airlines.

Soon Seveier became a teller at Tallulah State Bank. He worked with the institution and advanced to lead it, serving fifty-eight years until he was eighty. He retired with the title of chairman emeritus. When Sevier began working for the bank, it employed only five people and did not use electricity until after 5 p.m. All receipts were hand-posted. He was working at the bank during the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, a period in which many financial institutions closed. But his bank survived and has never closed its doors.[4]

Sevier served as president of the Louisiana Bankers Association in 1961-1962[5] and vice president of the American Bankers Association in 1963-1964. He also served as a director of the Standard Life Insurance Company of Jackson, Mississippi.[4]

Sevier had joined the Democratic Party and entered local politics when elected to alderman in Tallulah. He was reelected twice and served three consecutive terms.

In 1946 he was elected as mayor of Tallulah, the parish seat, and started serving in 1947. He was repeatedly reelected and served through 1974. (During most of this period, the majority-African American population of the city was largely disenfranchised by the state's 1898 constitution and discriminatory practices. This changed after passage of civil rights legislation.)

Sevier's combined service of forty-one years as an elected official is a record for longevity in Louisiana, as was his twenty-seven year record as mayor.[4] Among his challenges was dealing with changing local conditions as civil rights activists, including African-American veterans of World War II, challenged Jim Crow conditions. In 1965, activists conducted demonstrations and boycotts against white-owned businesses in Tallulah, in order to gain an end to segregation of public facilities, a year after segregation was prohibited by federal law.

In his last term as mayor, Sevier worked alongside Police Chief Zelma Wyche, who in 1969 was elected as the first African American in that position in Tallulah. He was known as "Mr. Civil Rights of Louisiana" for his years of activism since returning to the city as a veteran of World War II. In 1974, Adell Williams was elected as mayor, the first woman and the first African American in the office. She served one term. Wyche later was elected also as mayor, serving from 1986 to 1990.[6]

Personal life and legacy

In 1927, Sevier married Martha Fontaine Boney (1904-1983), daughter of Rena Cox and Richard Kinsey Boney, owners of the Duckport Plantation in Madison Parish. Martha was the granddaughter of Owen B. Cox of Hinds County, Mississippi, a business partner of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America. Cox was the trustee of Davis' Civil War papers until they were confiscated in 1865 by the U.S. government.[3]

The Seviers had a son, Richard Putnam Sevier, born in 1931 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He was residing in Midland, Texas, at the time of his father's death. They also had twin daughters, both of whom married and moved away as well: Dorothy Hamilton Elliott, later of El Dorado, Arkansas; and Nancy Sherrill Pirone, later of Lexington, Kentucky.[3]

Sevier died on September 4, 1985, a few weeks before his 86th birthday. He and his wife, Martha, who preceded him in death by two years, are interred at Silver Cross Cemetery in Tallulah. Most members of the extended Sevier family in Louisiana are buried here.[1]

Sevier kept a hunting camp on the Tensas River. He had such interest in thoroughbred horse racing that his son-in-law, Dr. Thomas Pirone, placed a racing form in Sevier's coat pocket before he was buried. The form was from the 1973 Kentucky Derby won by Secretariat, an event for which Sevier had been in the stands.[4]

In a 1974 "Baghdad on the Bayou" column of the Madison Journal, editor Carroll Regan recalls Sevier's political clout:

Election fever has hit Tallulah again, and it hardly seems that four years have passed since the last battle for municipal offices. ... Perhaps, though, the most unusual aspect of this race is that it'll be the first time in over 40 years that Mayor W. P. (Buck) Sevier hasn't offered himself for election. It would probably be hard for him to admit so soon, but we bet he'll miss the job before long. Tallulah and her people have always been first, last and always with him—a more loyal citizen she has never had. When elected mayor in 1946, he had already served as alderman for three terms. Well known in banking as well as political circles, he has made Tallulah a fine ambassador wherever he has traveled. His leadership will be missed, but his good citizenship, we are sure, will be with us always. ...

"Character" is really not an apt description of Buck Sevier. "Legend" is more fitting. So great was the admiration for him that I don't think he ever had opposition for mayor, except maybe once in his early career. This carried over even when blacks started seeking public office. They didn't run against him either. No wonder. He was respected because he was fair to blacks as well as whites, both as a mayor and as a banker. ...[7]



  1. 1.0 1.1 "Tallulah Cemeteries". rootsweb.ancestry. http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~lamadiso/cemeteries/smsasl.htm. Retrieved July 24, 2013. 
  2. Exact dates confirmed by the mayor's office in Tallulah, Louisiana
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Sevier Family of Madison Parish, Louisiana". rootsweb.ancestry.com. http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~lamadiso/articles/sevierfamily/sevierfamily.htm. Retrieved July 23, 2013. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "William Putnam Sevier, Jr., Mayor of Tallulah, Madison Parish, Louisiana". rootswebancestry.com. http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~lamadiso/bios/sevierwp.txt. Retrieved July 24, 2013. 
  5. "LBA Past Chairmen". lba.org. http://www.lba.org/content.cfm?id=63. Retrieved July 24, 2013. 
  6. Charles L. Sanders, "Black Lawman in KKK Territory". Ebony Magazine, January 1970, pp. 57-64. https://books.google.com/books?id=bVP7JyMGSaEC&pg=PA57&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=2#v=onepage&q&f=false. Retrieved July 26, 2013. 
  7. Carroll Regan, "Baghdad on the Bayou", Madison Journal, February 1974

External links

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