When I learned that John Hampton Stennis, the only son of former U.S. Senator John C. Stennis, passed away last week in Jackson at the age of 78, I was reminded that he almost served in Washington, D.C. like his father.
It was always believed by many observers that he would follow in his father's footsteps; he served our state in the nation's capitol from 1947 to 1988. However he had a different path in service, practicing law with former Gov. William Winter and serving in the state House of Representatives from 1969 to 1984, rising to chairman of the Judiciary A Committee.
The most telling of the man was in 1978 when there was an opening in Mississippi's 4th Congressional District when the incumbent Thad Cochran vacated his seat to run for the U.S. Senate. John Hampton ran for the open congressional seat along with fourteen other candidates. He sought to run a different kind of campaign from years past.
He hired blacks on his campaign staff and actively sought support of black voters in the district. He won the primary but lost in the November general election. However, the candidate who got elected had to resign from office three years later on revelations of his personal life.
John Hampton knew of the candidate's personal history back in 1978 and it could have been used to ensure his victory, but Stennis would not go that way, he wanted to win on his own merits. Years later he admitted he had no regrets on that decision.
He could have won that election and become a Congressman from Mississippi and then been in good standing to move to the U.S. Senate a decade later when the elder Stennis retired in 1988 just as Cochran did in 1978 upon the retirement of Jim Eastland.
John Hampton left a progressive legacy earned from his defeated election. He was ready for this state to move forward in demonstrating his progressive views on Civil Rights during his campaign for congress. He earned the confidence of leaders in the black community. He also demonstrated with his opponent in the election that a man can't build himself up by tearing another man down. These standards he set in a defeated campaign should live on today.
Ken Strachan is a former mayor of North Carrollton and serves as Carroll County Coroner.