Joe L. Evins presiding over the
United States House of
L. Evins represented Tennessee's fourth congressional district in the
United States House of Representatives for 30 years. He was first
elected in 1946 and retired at the end of his term in January of
1977. At the time of his retirement, he was the longest serving
member of the House of Representatives in the history of the state of
Tennessee. He was affectionately referred to as the
"Dean" of the Tennessee delegation by his fellow house members
Evins served under six presidents: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson,
Nixon and Ford, and four Speakers of the House: Sam Rayburn of
Texas, Joe Martin and John McCormack both of Massachusetts and
Carl Albert of Oklahoma. In addition, he served with nearly
1500 congressmen from the various 50 states.
his many terms in office, Congressman Evins achieved a position of
enormous power and influence. He was the fifth ranking member on
the important and influential Appropriations Committee. For eight
years he served as Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on
Independent Agencies and the Department of Housing and Urban Development
Appropriations, which recommends funding for some 24 boards, bureaus,
commissions, agencies and departments of the federal government.
addition, he chaired the Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Works
Appropriations which controls funds for the vast public works programs
throughout the nation. Because of his influence, Congressman Evins
was able to secure millions of dollars in federal money for projects
within his district as well as the state of Tennessee. These
projects ranged in size from a few thousand dollars to upgrade
electrical service in Byrdstown to $10 million for the Oak Ridge
Chairman of the House Select Committee on Small Business, Congressman
Evins was instrumental in helping the five million small businesses
throughout the nation. He also served as Chairman of the Speaker's
Personnel Committee which controls some 400 staff positions in and
around the U.S. House of Representatives.
Evins was an early and remained a strong supporter of the space
program. As Chairman of the Public Works Subcommittee, he was in
an influential position to recommend and secure funding for projects at
Red Stone Arsenal just across the state line in Huntsville, Alabama, as
well as Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tullahoma,
Tennessee. The engines for the Apollo Spacecraft were tested at
the Arnold Engineering Center.
used his influence to obtain funding and support for Arnold Engineering
Center, the University of Tennessee Space Institute, Oak Ridge National
Laboratory and smaller projects that made funds available for
engineering and ecological studies at Tennessee Technological University
in Cookeville. In doing so, he helped lay a strong foundation for
the technology available to our state today.
Congressman Evins (second row - right) with
President Eisenhower and Dr. Werner von Braun viewing rocket test firing
at Red Stone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama
Evins was a friend and supporter of President Lyndon Johnson. Both
men shared a strong conviction that government should help all people, not
just the rich and powerful.
Congressman Evins looks
on as President Lyndon
Johnson signs legislation
the current city and county governments have done much to improve the
quality of life in Smithville and DeKalb County, much of the ground work
was laid by the tireless efforts of Joe L.
Evins was instrumental in the passage of the Model Cities Act which
provided money for cities to build new infrastructure. This included
new courthouses, city halls and waste water treatment facilities.
Although the program was generally reserved for larger cities, Evins was
able to designate his home town of Smithville as a Model City under the
act. The results of this action are still evident today, and Smithville
has many modern facilities.
The DeKalb County Courthouse, Smithville City Hall and Alexandria City
Hall were all built in the 1970s. Smithville built a
state-of-the-art water intake plant as well as a modern waste water
treatment facility. Hundreds of miles of water lines were laid in
DeKalb County which allowed rural citizens access to a safe, clean and
dependable source of water. The local electric and telephone
services also benefited from grants obtained through the Model Cities
|Congressman Evins was a strong supporter of education as well.
Realizing that not all people are suited for college, he introduced the
Vocational School Act. This act provided the funds for a
vocational school in each of the 3,050 counties in which such schools
did not already exist.
Evins intended the Vocational School Act to serve two purposes.
The first would allow young men and women the opportunity to learn a
trade in preparation for entry into the job market after graduation
from high school. The second would allow unemployed adults the
opportunity to learn new skills, thus enabling them to re-enter the
job market. Additionally the workers would have the
opportunity for continuing education that allowed them to stay
abreast of new technologies.
Congressman Evins confers with President Johnson at a
meeting at the White House
Congressman Evins takes time to talk with his staff after a busy day.
Evins stayed in close touch with the people at home. He was
popular among his constituents and seldom faced serious opposition in
his re-election bids.
of this was due to his genuine love for the people of Tennessee.
Countless numbers came to him for help, such as coal miners
disabled by black lung disease, veterans who had been denied medical
treatment and widows in need of social security. No problem was
too large or small and in the majority of cases, Evins obtained the much
friendships cut across party lines and although he was a Democrat, some
of his staunchest supporters were Republicans. He maintained good
working relationships with many elected Republicans such as Senator
Howard Baker, Representative Jimmy Quillen of Kingsport and the late
Representative John Duncan of Knoxville. If it was good for
Tennessee, Evins' support could be counted on regardless of party
never passed up an opportunity to promote Tennessee and continued to do
so long past his retirement, whether it was bringing new industry into
the state or plugging the Smithville Fiddlers' Jamboree.
L. Evins was born in the Blend community of DeKalb County in 1910, the
son of James Edgar Evins and Myrtie Goodson Evins. He attended the
public schools of DeKalb County and graduated from Vanderbilt University
in 1933. He received his law degree from Cumberland University Law
School in 1934 and did post-graduate work at George Washington
University Law School.
entered public service in 1934 as a member of the legal staff and later
assistant secretary of the Federal Trade Commission. He
resigned in 1941 and volunteered for military service, he served in the
U.S. Army for four years, including two years in the European
Theater. He was discharged with the rank of major.
Shortly after returning home from the war, Evins challenged the
incumbent Congressman Harold C. "Doc" Earthman of
Murfreesboro. Many people predicted Evins couldn't win because
Congressman Earthman was a seasoned campaigner with a forceful
Howard Baker, Senator Bill Brock, President and Mrs. Nixon,
Representative Jimmy Quillen and Congressman Joe L. Evins in front of
Air Force One.
Congressman Joe L. Evins (second from left) is shown
with freshman congressmen at the White House with President Harry Truman
(first row center). The smiling young man behind and between
Congressman Evins and President Truman is Massachusetts Congressman John
F. Kennedy - later elected President of the United States.
after an exciting campaign, Evins emerged the winner with 23,956 to
17,368 votes or 58 % of the vote.
L. Evins married the former Ann Smartt, daughter of Judge R. W. and Mrs.
Ann Fancher Smartt of Warren County, Tennessee. The Evinses have
three daughters, Joanna (Mrs. Malcolm Carnahan), Jane (Mrs. Robert
Leonard) and Mary (Mrs. Gaius Overton) and eight grandchildren.
library at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville houses the
archives of Congressman Evins' papers and memorabilia from his many
years of public service.
authored the book UNDERSTANDING CONGRESS which contains a detailed
explanation of how Congress works. It has been used as a text in
more detailed account of Congressman Evins' life is found in the book
EVINS OF TENNESSEE by Susan B. Graves. It is available at the
Smithville Public Library.
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