The Online Museum Store of the Alabama Department of Archives & History
Deep South Dynasty
A Confederate veteran and son of a slaveholder, John Hollis Bankhead held political office almost continuously from 1865 until his death in 1920, first in state-level positions and ultimately in Congress–in the House then in the Senate–for thirty-three years. Two of his three sons, John Jr. and William, followed in their father’s political footsteps. John Jr., a successful corporate attorney, was elected to the state legislature and then to the US Senate in 1930; William was elected to the House of Representatives in 1916 and chosen Speaker of the House in 1936. Together, father and sons played key roles in crafting and maintaining a conservative political culture, legal code, and economic system that facilitated economic opportunities for cotton farmers, coal barons, and emerging industries in Alabama and across the South while perpetuating White supremacy. Daughter Marie Bankhead Owen extended the family’s cultural power during her thirty-five-year tenure as director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History. From this position and through her work with groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy, she embraced and disseminated a historical narrative steeped in Lost Cause mythology that validated the power and privilege of White elites and naturalized the second-class status of African Americans. William’s daughter, actress Tallulah Bankhead, benefited from her family’s rich political bloodlines and in turn lent them a touch of glamour and made the Bankheads modern. Frederickson’s meticulously researched examination of this once-powerful but now largely forgotten southern family is a sweeping and complex story of the region and its relationship with the wider world over the course of eight decades, from the wreckage of the Civil War to the dawn of the nuclear age.