|Kent Harbison Courtney|
October 23, 1918|
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
|Died||August 12, 1997(aged 78)|
New Orleans, Louisiana
|Alma mater||Tulane University|
|Occupation||Journalist; Political activist|
|Political party||Democratic-turned-States Rights Party|
|Spouse(s)||Phoebe Courtney (divorced)|
Kent Harbinson Courtney (October 23, 1918 – August 12, 1997) was a leading figure in the "Radical Right" of American politics from the 1950s to the 1970s. Courtney was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, but when he was a child his family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana. He later relocated to Alexandria in Rapides Parish and the largest city in Central Louisiana.
Courtney served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and then worked as a pilot for Pan American Airlines. Later, he was a commercial officer with the British consulate in New Orleans. For a time, he was a public relations spokesman for a fruit shipping company. In 1950, he received a degree in business administration from Tulane University in New Orleans. His sister, Claire Courtney, also graduated from Tulane. Courtney then taught economics, banking, and marketing for three years at Tulane.
He was a member of the American Legion and served on its "Americanism" committee. In 1954, he was named chairman of the New Orleans branch of Ten Million Americans Mobilizing For Justice, an interest group formed to defend U.S. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy against censure.
In 1954, Courtney lost a Democratic race for the New Orleans City Council, when deLesseps Story "Chep" Morrison, Sr., was mayor. One of the winners in that council election was future Lieutenant Governor James E. Fitzmorris, Jr. Thereafter, Courtney and his wife, Phoebe (March 13, 1918 – September 14, 1998), launched their Free Men Speak newspaper, which was renamed the Independent American. Courtney traveled a great deal during this period to address right-wing groups around the country while his wife edited the newspaper.
In 1956, Courtney organized a campaign to prevent pro-civil rights professor Walter Gellhorn of Columbia University in New York City from lecturing at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.
Rallying for a new political party
In October 1959, Courtney sponsored a two-day meeting in Chicago, which included a banquet to honor Robert W. Welch, Jr., the founder of the anticommunist John Birch Society. William F. Buckley, Jr., publisher of National Review magazine and a leading columnist, also attended. The meeting called for the establishment of a new party on grounds that the Republicans were too similar in philosophy to the Democrats and would not offer conservative voters sufficient choice in general elections. The rally for a new party was promoted by columnists Tom Anderson of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and Medford Evans, Utah Republican Governor J. Bracken Lee, and investigative conservative journalist and former FBI agent Dan Smoot.
Running for governor and presidential elector
On April 19, 1960, Courtney ran as the Louisiana States Rights Party gubernatorial nominee and received 12,515 votes (less than 2.5 percent). The winner was Democratic former Governor Jimmie Davis, elected to his second nonconsecutive term. Also in that gubernatorial general election was the Republican nominee, Francis Grevemberg, former superintendent of the Louisiana State Police.
Kent Courtney's brother, Cy David Francis Courtney (1924-1995), a New Orleans lawyer, had been an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in 1959 on a segregationist intraparty ticket with gubernatorial hopeful William M. Rainach, a state senator from Claiborne Parish. Cy Courtney lost out to fellow Democrat Taddy Aycock, a conservative from Franklin in St. Mary Parish. Ironically, Kent Courtney, as a member of a third party, could not actually vote for his brother in the then closed Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.
In the general election held on November 8, 1960, Kent Courtney was a States Rights Party presidential elector, along with future Republican U.S. Representative and Governor David C. Treen and the conservative firebrand Leander Perez, often called the political boss of Plaquemines Parsh. The Democratic ticket of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson handily won Louisiana's electoral votes.
After the gubernatorial disaster, Courtney organized a southern conference that again included columnists Tom Anderson and Medford Evans as speakers, along with other controversial right-wing figures Matt Cvetic, David Molthrop, Robert Nesmith, Harold Poeschel, and Clayton Rand.
Courtney and Goldwater
In July 1960, Courtney organized a "Goldwater for President" rally in Chicago on the eve of the Republican National Convention. He hoped to derail the certain nomination of Vice President Richard M. Nixon as the presidential nominee. Courtney considered Nixon as liberal as nearly any Democrat and also grew disillusioned with Goldwater because he perceived the Arizona senator as too accommodating to the moderates in the Republican Party. In January 1964, Mrs. Courtney wrote about Courtney's meeting with Goldwater after the senator announced his presidential candidacy. According to Phoebe, "Kent told Goldwater that on the basis of the strong anti-communist position contained in his opening announcement that the Independent American would support him."
In April 1961, Courtney sponsored a "Convention of Conservatives" to call again for a new political party. He claimed that Goldwater, who had once called the Eisenhower administration a "dime store New Deal," had been tainted by "socialism". Courtney and seventeen others signed a "Declaration of Conservative Principles." Phoebe Courtney had urged Goldwater to quit the GOP and to campaign as an independent conservative. The Courtneys were outraged when Goldwater said that were he a New Yorker, he would vote in 1962 to reelect Governor Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller and U.S. Senator Jacob K. Javits, both liberal Republicans.
In the 1964 pre-convention campaign, Goldwater's last intraparty rival, Governor William Warren Scranton, Sr., of Pennsylvania, questioned the senator's connections with Kent Courtney. Scranton asked why Courtney, identified nationally as a "radical," was supporting any Republican candidate for president.
Despite their reservations, the Courtneys still voted for Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election over the victorious Lyndon Johnson.
The Conservative Society of America
On April 15, 1961, Courtney formed the "Conservative Society of America" in Chicago and served as the national chairman of the new organization. The announced purpose was to support conservatives already in Congress and to recruit new candidates who would oppose liberal and/or socialist-voting congressmen regardless of partisan affiliation. By 1962, he hired Ward Poag of Nashville, Tennessee, a former John Birch Society coordinator, as national field organizer for his group. In June 1962, Courtney announced his CSA had 1,500 members representing forty-seven states. Among CSA endorsers on CSA letterhead were Bryton Barron, Medford Evans, Dan Hanson, George J. Hess, J. Bracken Lee, Harold Poeschel, Frank Ranuzzi, E. Merrill Root, and Major General Charles Willoughby.
A member of the John Birch Society, Courtney endorsed the views expressed by Robert W. Welch, Jr., in his controversial book The Politician, which claimed that former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a "conscious, dedicated agent of the communist conspiracy." Many Republican candidates at the time repudiated the John Birch Society in part because of outrage over Welch's book.
In 1962, Look magazine declared that Courtney's CSA had a staff of fifteen and an income of $133,000 in 1960 and $181,000 in 1961. The CSA also rated members of Congress. In 1962, it declared that there were only two 100 percent conservative Senators, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina (still a Democrat) and Republican John Tower of Texas, and three perfect House conservatives, James B. Utt of California, Clare Hoffman of Michigan, and Bruce Alger of Texas. Goldwater received an 88 percent rating, but Senate Republican Leader Everett McKinley Dirksen of Illinois garnered only a 64 percent rating. Over the years, Tower would lose his high standing with the most conservative Republicans as he steadily moderated his views. Alger's staunchly conservative views presumably contributed to his defeat for reelection by Democrat Earle Cabell in the Democratic landslide of 1964.
Courtney, also in 1962, published America's Unelected Rulers, a book which claimed that the private organization Council on Foreign Relations was seeking to hijack American foreign policy to create world government.
As in 1960, Courtney refused to support Richard Nixon in the 1968 presidential election and worked in the American Independent Party campaign waged by former Governor George Corley Wallace, Jr., of Alabama.
In defense of segregation
Courtney agreed with former Professor Medford Evans of Northwestern State University (then Northwestern State College) in Natchitoches, Louisiana, who declared that it would be "impossible" to integrate white and black society. Evans further said that integration was one of the two chief communist operations designed to bring about world conflict. Courtney was also active in the White Citizens Councils, organized to fight the desegregation of public schools, once the United States Supreme Court issued Brown v. Board of Education.
Courtney was a strong supporter of staunchly conservative Democratic Congressman John Rarick of St. Francisville in West Feliciana Parish. Rarick ran for governor in 1967; so did Cy Courtney. For Kent Courtney to have been able to vote for either Rarick or his brother in that primary election, he would have had to have been a registered Democrat at the time. In that same Democratic primary, Courtney was supporting another right-wing fixture in Louisiana, Ned O'Neal Touchstone, a Shreveport bookstore owner, who was challenging Louisiana Education Superintendent William J. "Bill" Dodd, a major figure in the moderate Democrat establishment at that time.
The Alexandria years
Sometimes prior to 1973, Courtney relocated to Alexandria to serve as an aide to Democrat-turned-Republican Mayor Ed Karst. Though Karst was originally from New Orleans, records do not clearly reveal how the two became politically connected. Karst vacated the mayoral office in June 1973. As mayor, he had not been particularly known for conservative policy issues, and Karst later left the Republican Party.
Kent Courtney surfaced again in 1976, when, running as an Independent, he challenged the reelection of popular Eighth District Democratic U.S. Representative Gillis William Long, also of Alexandria. A third-party conservative, Dr. S. R. Abrahmson of Marksville, the seat of Avoyelles Parish, had also challenged Long four years earlier. In that 1972 election, Long had easily prevailed: 72,607 votes (68.6 percent); Abramson, 17,844 (16.8 percent); and Republican Roy C. Strickland, then of Gonzales in Ascension Parish, 15,517 (14.6 percent). Courtney polled only 6,526 votes, or 5.8 percent against Long, more than 11,000 votes fewer than Abramson had received in 1972. No Republican filed for the race in 1976; there is speculation that at least half of Courtney's vote came from regular Republicans who wanted an alternative to Long.
The Courtneys divorced, and Phoebe relocated to Littleton in Jefferson County, Colorado, where she continued to publish so-called "Tax Fax" pamphlets that the couple had begun years earlier.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation did not investigate the Courtneys, but Director J. Edgar Hoover referred to them in a reply to an inquiry as "known rabble rousers and hate mongers."
- The New York Times, April 15, 1961
- Oklahoma City Daily Oklahoman, June 8, 1962
- Time magazine, December 8, 1961
- Conservative Society of America Newsletter, September 24, 1966
- America's Unelected Rulers by Kent and Phoebe Courtney
- Look magazine, March 13, 1962
- Robert W. Welch, Jr., The Politician
- FBI file: HQ 94-57456,#6 (October 24, 1962)
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