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Frank W. Boykin,
1885-1969

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I know it is a great honor to be in Congress, but the trouble is that I canít keep from working Ďmost too hard. When you think that you are one of 435 making the laws that will govern 126,000,000 people, it certainly makes you think of responsibility. I havenít been in anything that I didnít always want to do my part, and even if I didnít have but 5% interest in a company, I always worked just like the whole thing belonged to me. Well, that is the way I have been trying to do the job here. I am trying to handle my part of it just like I owned all of it. That is the way you have to do in anything in which you are interested. If you canít do it that way, I think you ought to get out.


Frank W. Boykin
Letter to his wife and children
25 August 1937

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Frank William Boykin was born on February 21, 1885, the fourth of ten children. His parents, James and Glo Boykin, were sharecroppers in Bladon Springs, Alabama, a small community in Choctaw County. In 1893 the family moved to southeastern Washington County, where James ran a store that serviced the railroad and several nearby industrial towns. Finding this introduction to business and industry more profitable than a classroom education, eight-year-old Frank quit school to work as a waterboy for a local railroad construction crew. The pay was only thirty-five cents a day, but the job taught him to be resourceful, alert, and proactive. By age twenty-one he was co-owner of a company that manufactured railroad ties and turpentine, and this early success led to lucrative ventures in timber, lumber, farming, minerals, real estate, and shipbuilding.

On December 31, 1913, Boykin married Ocllo Gunn of Thomasville, Alabama. The couple moved to Mobile in 1915, and there they raised five children: Frances Ocllo, born in 1915; Frank William, Jr., 1918; twins James Robert (Bob) and John Gunn (Jack), 1921; and Richard Ainsworth (Dick), 1923. Mobile, one of the oldest and largest cities in the state, proved a boon for Boykin's professional and political exploits. The city's coastal location made it a ready market for his naval stores and shipbuilding. The region's natural resources provided great opportunities for investment and development. And as the heart of Alabama's first congressional district, Mobile gave Boykin the exposure he needed to earn almost three decades in the United States House of Representatives.

Seven southwestern counties made up Alabama's first district in the early twentieth century: Choctaw, Clarke, Marengo, Mobile, Monroe, Washington, and Wilcox. In 1935 the region's representative, John McDuffie, resigned to accept an appointment to the U.S. District Court in southern Alabama. Local Democratic party leaders, impressed by Boykin's constant promotion of the district, encouraged him to run for the vacant seat. He lacked political experience, but he easily won the position and held it through the next thirteen congressional elections. Though Boykin made an unsuccessful bid for the Senate after John Bankhead's death in 1946, his position in the House was secure for almost twenty-eight years (from July 30, 1935, to January 3, 1963).

During his congressional tenure, Boykin's goal was to make his district realize its economic potential. To do this he secured federal appropriations and building contracts, advertised local resources and attractions, and invited industries such as Vanity Fair Mills, International Paper Company, and Mathieson Chemical Corporation. Boykin also served in several legislative groups: Committee on Patents; Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds; Committee on Veterans' Affairs and its Subcommittee on Housing; and Committee on Merchant Marines and Fisheries and its Subcommittee on Fish and Wildlife. In 1951 he was dean of the Alabama delegation, having served in the House of Representatives longer than any of his fellow congressmen.

Boykin was defeated in the unusual 1962 congressional election. Alabama had lost a seat in the House of Representatives because of demographic shifts in the recent census, but the state legislators could not agree on a redistricting solution in time for the 1962 race. They settled instead on the "9-8 plan," which would give them another two years to debate and decide. According to this system, primaries would be held in the old districts, and the remaining nine candidates would compete statewide for the eight available seats. Thus Alabama would have representatives at-large for the 88th Congress.

Boykin won the regional primary but finished last in the state; the campaign had been difficult and intense. He accepted the defeat quietly, briefly seeking further political appointments before busying himself with personal affairs. But even with the health and legal difficulties he experienced the last few years of his life, Boykin never stopped working for the first district. He continued to praise, promote, and defend it until the end. Boykin died of congestive heart failure on March 12, 1969, in Washington, D.C. He was buried at Pine Crest Cemetery in Mobile. This man from rural Alabama, who had traveled the world and hobnobbed with celebrities and dignitaries, left an estate worth millions . . . yet his permanent address was never more than eighty-five miles from his humble birthplace.

Frank Boykin was a character. His name was synonymous with the phrase "Everything is made for love", an enigmatic maxim that he spoke, shouted, wrote, and sang. He was large and loud, eccentric and indefatigable, generous and flamboyant. He loved hunting and dogs and parties and people. He rose early, worked hard, and won allies with his persistence, hospitality, and Southern drawl. Charmer, storyteller, businessman, unofficial state ambassador, and consummate Southern politician--a product of his time and the last of a generation. A newspaper headline once read, "U.S. Engineers' Efficiency Shown in Conducting Tour of Congressmen; Boykin of Alabama Adds Much Zest." That was Frank W. Boykin. He was a congressman. He was from Alabama. And he was zest incarnate.

Additional sources

Only two significant sources of biographical information are available on Boykin. The first is a subjective biography, Everythingís Made for Love in This Manís World: Vignettes from the Life of Frank Boykin. Boykin commissioned author and cousin Edward Boykin to write the book, and his family had it published four years after his death. A copy is available in the reference department of the Alabama Department of Archives and History. Click here to search the online catalog.

The other Boykin biography appeared in the Mobile Register in 2001. Staff reporter Sam Hodges produced a week-long series of articles that explored the congressman's character and career, paying special attention to the anecdotes and idiosyncrasies for which Boykin was best known. His extensive research and interviewing resulted in an entertaining and informative tribute to one of the most colorful figures in twentieth-century Alabama politics. Click here to view the series online.


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