DeKalb County, Tennessee

 

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Who was Joe L. Evins?

Joe L. Evins Appalachian Center for Craft
 
 

Joe L. Evins presiding over the House of Representatives
Joe L. Evins presiding over the
United States House of Representatives

Joe 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 from Tennessee.

Congressman 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.

During 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.

In 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 National Laboratory.  

As 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.
 
Congressman 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.

Evins 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
Congressman Evins (second row - right) with President Eisenhower and Dr. Werner von Braun viewing rocket test firing at Red Stone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama

Congressman 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
Congressman Evins looks
on as President Lyndon Johnson signs legislation

Although 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.

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 Program.
 
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. 

 

Joe L. Enins and President Lyndon B. Johnson
Congressman Evins confers with President Johnson at a meeting at the White House

Joe L. Evins
Congressman Evins takes time to talk with his staff after a busy day.

Congressman 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.

Much 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 needed benefits.

His 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 lines. 

Evins 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. 

 

Joe 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.

Evins 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 personality.

Senators, Baker, Brock, President and Mrs. Nixon, Rep. Jimmy Quillen and Joe L. Evins
Senator Howard Baker, Senator Bill Brock, President and Mrs. Nixon, Representative Jimmy Quillen and Congressman Joe L. Evins in front of Air Force One.

President Harry S. Truman Joe L. Evins Joe L. Evins John F. Kennedy Joe L. Evins - 1946 Election to Congress
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.
But after an exciting campaign, Evins emerged the winner with 23,956 to 17,368 votes or 58 % of the vote. 

Joe 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.

The library at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville houses the archives of Congressman Evins' papers and memorabilia from his many years of public service. 

Evins authored the book UNDERSTANDING CONGRESS which contains a detailed explanation of how Congress works.  It has been used as a text in various institutions.

A 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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