New in the ADAH Collections: Photograph Negatives of Governor Fob James’ Administration

Photographer Kevin Glackmeyer worked with the Alabama Office of the Governor during the administrations of Governors Jim Folsom, Fob James, and Bob Riley. In July 2019, the Alabama Department of Archives and History received a collection of his photographic negatives documenting Governor Fob James’ second term (1995 – 1999). The negatives capture his inauguration, speeches, appearances, and attended events. They also capture Alabama politicians, including former Lieutenant Governor Lucy Baxley, former Chief Justice Roy Moore, and former Governors Jim Folsom, Don Siegelman, and George Wallace, as well as federal officials such as U.S. Representative John Lewis, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, and President George Bush. Finally, the negatives capture such significant individuals as photographer Spider Martin and Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks and significant moments of the era, such as the first pilgrimage of a congressional delegation to Selma in 1998.

Forrest Hood “Fob” James, Jr. was born in the east Alabama mill town of Lanett on September 15, 1934. James’ father operated a food concession business in the Lanett Cotton Mills, which employed the majority of Lanett’s residents. James attended public schools in Lanett and the neighboring town of West Point, Georgia, until transferring as a sophomore to Baylor School, a private preparatory military academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy upon his graduation in 1955 but instead chose to accept a football scholarship to the Auburn Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University). James played left halfback for Auburn’s football team and gained All-American status by his senior year in 1955. That same year, he married Bobbie May Mooney of Decatur, Alabama.

After graduating from Auburn in 1956 with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, James headed north to Montreal, Canada, where he played professional football with the Alouettes for one season. He then served two years as a second lieutenant in the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Fob and Bobbie James had four sons; their second-born, Greg, had cystic fibrosis. To pay for Greg’s medical bills, James returned to Alabama to work as an engineer with a Montgomery tractor company and then as a construction superintendent at a Mobile road-paving company.

James made a bold career move in 1961 by founding Diversified Products, Inc. in Opelika, not far from his hometown. He imagined replacing cast-iron barbells, which would rust and ruin floors, with concrete coated in “Orbatron” plastic. The company grew tremendously over the next fifteen years and began manufacturing farm, industry, and trucking equipment in addition to fitness equipment. By the time the company merged with the Liggett Group in 1977, its sales amounted to about one billion dollars annually. During this period of success, however, James also experienced loss; his son, Greg, passed away from cystic fibrosis at age eight in 1967.

In the 1970s, James served as president of the Alabama Citizens for Transportation Committee and briefly as a member of the State Republican Executive Committee. At the time, Democrats dominated Alabama politics; Alabama had not elected a Republican governor in nearly a century. James switched from the Republican to the Democratic party before running for governor in 1978. He defeated Attorney General Bill Baxley in the primary election and Cullman County Probate Judge Guy Hunt in the general election. 

In keeping with his campaign theme – a “New Beginning” for Alabamians – James’ filled a vacancy in the Alabama Supreme Court by appointing Oscar W. Adams, who then became the first African American elected to statewide constitutional office in Alabama. James’ appointed director of the Department of Pensions and Security, Gary Cooper, was the first African American to head a major state agency in Alabama in over a century. During his first term, James fought for improvements to the state’s K-12 education, mental health system, prisons, Medicaid, and highways. In 1981, he established the Gregory Fleming James Cystic Fibrosis Research Center at UAB in honor of his son.

Unfortunately, James faced economic problems resulting from the recession of the late 1970s. He consolidated state agencies and instituted a hiring freeze to reduce state spending by ten percent. Some initiatives of his first administration were not successful. Both his proposal to draft a new state constitution and his proposal to grant home rule to counties and cities were rejected by the legislature. He persuaded the legislature to enact twenty anti-crime bills in 1982, but because he failed to deliver them to the Secretary of State within the required ten-day period, the bills never became law. In the same year, James enacted a bill that encouraged voluntary prayer in public schools. The United States Supreme Court declared this bill unconstitutional in the 1985 case Wallace v. Jaffree. James chose not to run again for governor in 1982, but ran in 1986 and 1990, only to be defeated in both primaries.

After his first term as governor, semi-retired Fob James led a varied business career. He was part owner of Orange Beach Marina, the CEO of Coastal Erosion Control, Inc., and the CEO of Escambia County Environmental Corporation.

Reflecting a transition from Democratic to Republican dominance in Alabama politics, James switched political parties for the second time to run for governor as a Republican in 1994. His second term mirrored his first: he appointed Aubrey Miller, an African American woman, as director of the Tourism Department and continued to focus on K-12 education reform. In 1995, the James Educational Foundation Act required some local schools to raise property taxes to meet a minimum amount and allowed the state superintendent of education to assume control of schools which did not meet standardized test standards. Some Alabamians were frustrated with James’ lack of support for colleges and universities, his lack of focus on economic development, and his battles with the federal government on issues surrounding the separation of church and state. He was defeated in his run for a third term by Democrat Don Siegelman in 1998.

Today, Fob James resides in Alabama with his wife Bobbie. He has ten grandchildren.

To view photograph negatives and other records from Governor James’ second term, visit the ADAH Research Room

Sources:

“Alabama Governors: Forrest Hood (Fob) James, Jr.” Alabama Department of Archives and History. https://archives.alabama.gov/govs_list/g_james.html.

“Forrest Hood ‘Fob’ James, Jr.” Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. https://www.ashof.org/inductees/fob-james/.

Jenkins, Ray. “The New Governor of Alabama.” The New York Times, 16 January 1979. https://www.nytimes.com/1979/01/16/archives/the-new-governor-of-alabama-forrest-hood-james-jr-man-in-the-news-a.html.

Stewart, William H. “Forrest ‘Fob’ James Jr. (1979-83, 1995-99).” Encyclopedia of Alabama. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1469.

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