Lucille May Grace

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Lucille May Grace​

Louisiana Register of State Lands​
(no longer an elected position)
Preceded by Fred J. Grace ​
Succeeded by Ellen Bryan Moore
In office
1956​ – 1957​
Preceded by Ellen Bryan Moore​

Born October 3, 1900​
Plaquemine, Iberville Parish
Louisiana, USA
Died December 22, 1957 (aged 57)​
Baton Rouge, Louisiana​
Resting place St. John's Cemetery in Plaquemine, Louisiana​
Nationality American
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Fred Columbus Dent, Sr.​
Children Fred Columbus Dent, Jr.

Joelyn Dent Collins
Parents:
Fred J. and May Dardenne Grace​

Residence Baton Rouge, Louisiana​
Alma mater Academy of the Sacred Heart (Grand Coteau)​

Louisiana State University

Religion Roman Catholicism

​ ​Lucille May Grace, a.k.a. Mrs. Fred Columbus Dent Sr., (October 3, 1900 – December 22, 1957), was the first woman to attain statewide elected office in Louisiana. A Democrat, "Miss Grace," as she preferred to be called, became Register of the State Land Office in 1931 on appointment of Governor Huey Pierce Long Jr.[1] She succeeded her father, who died in office, for whom she had previously worked. She was elected register in her own right in 1932, 1936, 1940, 1944, 1948, and 1956.​[2]​ ​

Background

Lucille Grace was born in Plaquemine in Iberville Parish, located south of the capital city of Baton Rouge, to Fred J. Grace (1871-1931) and the former May Azema Dardenne (1873-1960). She graduated in 1919 from the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau near Opelousas in St. Landry Parish. She thereafter received a bachelor's degree from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. She was secretary-treasurer of her LSU freshman class, the first woman to have attained that distinction. She was also a member of Phi Kappa Phi honor society, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.[2]

Though in 1933, she married Fred Columbus Dent Sr. (1909–1973), of Baton Rouge, she kept the name "Miss Lucille May Grace" because that was the name by which voters recognized her. While Miss Grace was of an "aristocratic" bearing, she ran on the "populist" Long ticket and became well liked among her state's voters, both in the Long faction and the anti-Long group as well. A newspaper editor wrote of Miss Grace in 1939 that: "the mere placing (of) her name on a state ticket means she will be returned... to the position of Register of the State Land Office by a larger vote than she received four years ago..."​[3]

Miss Grace was regarded as an efficient businesswoman and executive. She held the register's position from 1931 to 1952, when she instead ran for governor, and again from 1956 until her death in 1957.​[3]

Democratic runoff politics, 1944

In 1944, Earl Kemp Long, who had been governor for an abbreviated term from 1939 to 1940, ran for lieutenant governor but faced a Democratic runoff against J. Emile Verret, a small businessman and a school board member from Iberia Parish. Long lost the runoff to Verret, but he had been the high votegetter in the first primary. If there had been no gubernatorial runoff that year, Long would have been the automatic lieutenant governor nominee. Louisiana law at the time provided that there would be no second primaries for other constitutional offices unless there was also a gubernatorial contest. Long hence could have won if the "Long" candidate for governor, Lewis Lovering Morgan of Covington in St. Tammany Parish, had withdrawn from the runoff with Jimmie Davis.​[4]

Miss Grace was among a group of Democrats who persuaded Morgan to remain in the runoff against Davis. In effect, she was helping to sink Earl Long. Having lost his 1940 bid for governor and then his 1944 race for lieutenant governor, Earl Long might no longer be a viable candidate in Louisiana politics. Miss Grace had nothing to lose with the runoffs proceeding, for she had already been nominated in the first primary for another term as Register of State Lands[5]

Similarly, Wade Omer Martin, Jr. (1911–1990), the Democratic nominee for secretary of state in 1944, had similarly been nominated in the primary and faced no runoff election. Martin urged Morgan to proceed with the runoff. Earl Long did not forget what he saw as their treachery against him even though both continued to run and be nominated and elected as "Long" candidates.[5]

Miss Grace ran for governor in 1951, fifty-two years before Louisiana elected in 2003 its first ever female governor, Democrat Kathleen Blanco. Miss Grace ran eighth among nine primary candidates — Louisiana voters would not then seriously consider a woman as governor, but she made headlines in her race.​[3]

Miss Grace targets opponent Hale Boggs

Miss Grace accused a gubernatorial rival, Congressman Hale Boggs of New Orleans of either being a communist or having been a communist in his youth. At the instigation of Leander Henry Perez, Sr. (1891-1969), the political boss of Plaquemines Parish (not to to be confused with Miss Grace's hometown of Plaquemine), Miss Grace sued Boggs in an unsuccessful effort to force him from the race. She charged that his ties to the "red menace" or "sympathy" with communism rendered him ineligible to be governor under the provisions of the then Louisiana Constitution of 1921, since superseded in 1974.[6]

Garry Boulard's The Big Lie: Hale Boggs, Lucille May Grace, and Leander Perez in 1951 (2001) is the definitive work on the Boggs-Perez-Grace rivalry. According to a brochure advertising Boulard's book: Boggs and Perez had quarreled for two decades even before the 1951-52 gubernatorial race in which Perez talked Miss Grace into accusing one of her opponents, specifically, Hale Boggs of being a communist in Boggs' early years. Through interviews with many key players in the incident, Boulard blends oral history with material from more than a dozen archives to create an incisive survey of three Louisiana politicians and how the 1951-52 elections forever changed their lives."[6][7]

Other 1952 campaign developments

Leander Perez, a wealthy businessman who virtually owned his own parish of Plaquemines claimed that Hale Boggs had been involved in communist subversion when Boggs was a college student. Perez, a segregationist, also brought up racial issues. He objected to Boggs' relatively moderate positions on race at the time. When New Orleans public schools were first integrated during the 1959-1960 academic year, Perez warned whites that they would likely lose control over their public schools. Boggs still maintained a nominal segregationist position himself and voted against passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as did all eight Louisiana U.S. House members and both U.S. Senator, Allen J. Ellender and Russell Long, as well.​

William J. "Bill" Dodd, another gubernatorial candidate in 1952, recalled in his memoirs entitled Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics that Perez "used Miss Grace to accuse Hale Boggs of having been a communist and of still being a communist sympathizer. A suit was filed to keep Boggs off the ballot. The suit plus a month or two of daily negative publicity killed Boggs and Miss Grace before they got started good."​[5]

Soon Perez ditched Miss Grace as his gubernatorial preference and endorsed another losing candidate, James M. McLemore, a landowner, stockman, and auction-barn operator in Alexandria. McLemore was the first candidate for governor in the twentieth century to base a campaign primarily on racial matters, speaking out particularly against miscegenation. He also ran again for governor in 1956, when Earl Long won his third and last term in the office..​ ​

A final year as Register of State Lands

Miss Grace returned to the Long ticket in 1956 once more to seek the register's position. Dodd said that Miss Grace could not have won without Earl Long's support. Dodd noted that Miss Grace's affection for Huey Long did not extend to Huey's brother, Earl.​[5]

Miss Grace unseated incumbent anti-Long Register Ellen Bryan Moore, who had defeated the Longite, Mary Evelyn Dickerson Parker (1920-2015), in the Democratic primary four years earlier.

Death in office

Miss Grace became ill in 1957 and died in office, as had her father twenty-six years earlier. Her husband, Fred Dent Sr., sought the register's office in the 1959 Democratic primary, running on the intra-party ticket of Mayor deLesseps Story "Chep" Morrison, Sr., of New Orleans, but he was defeated by Ellen Bryan Moore.[8] It was odd that Dent would have run with Morrison considering Miss Grace's fierce attacks against U.S. Representative Hale Boggs in the 1951 governor's race, considering that Boggs had once been a law partner of Morrison.

In addition to her husband, Miss Grace was survived by a son, Fred C. Dent Jr. (1937–2010), a captain in the United States Army Special Forces who wore the Green Beret. Dent Jr., the father of actress Catherine Dent (born 1965), was a former state commissioner of financial institutions and headed the group Tax Busters.[9] He ran as a Republican for the Mayor-Presidency of East Baton Rouge Parish in 2000 but polled less than 6 percent of the votes in the nonpartisan blanket primary. Victory went to another Republican, Bobby Simpson of Baker.[10] The Dents also had a daughter, Joelyn Dent Collins of Richmond, Virginia.[9]​ ​ The Dents are interred at St. John's Cemetery in Plaquemine.[9]

References

  1. Minden Herald, April 28, 1955, p. 1.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Lucille May Grace," A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Lucille May Grace. Internet Archive Wayback Machine through Louisiana Secretary of State. Retrieved on Septembe3r 2, 2019.
  4. Long, Earl Kemp. Louisiana101.com. Retrieved on September 2, 2019.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 William J. "Bill" Dodd, Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics (Baton Rouge: Claitor's Publishing, 1991​).
  6. 6.0 6.1 Garry Boulard, The Big Lie: Hale Boggs, Lucille May Grace and Leander Perez in 1951 (Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing, 2001)​.
  7. The Big Lie: Hale Boggs, Lucille May Grace, and Leander Perez in 1951. RALPH Magazine. Retrieved on September 2, 2019.
  8. "Chep Morrison And Ticket Here Monday," Minden Herald, September 17, 1959, p. 1.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Obituary of Fred Columbus Dent Jr.. The Baton Rouge Advocate (September 14, 2010).
  10. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 7, 2000.

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