City celebrates Elliott’s landmark legislation with open house

Posted 9/2/18

The Carl Elliott House Museum will be open during Foothills Festival in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the National Defense Education …

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City celebrates Elliott’s landmark legislation with open house


The Carl Elliott House Museum will be open during Foothills Festival in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the National Defense Education Act (NDEA).

The NDEA was one of the most significant pieces of legislation that Elliott, a Jasper attorney, spearheaded while serving in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1949 to 1965. He died in 1999 in Jasper. 

His former home, located at the corner of  Birmingham Avenue and 17th Street, a block behind the Jasper Civic Center, is owned and managed by Bevill State Community College. The city of Jasper maintains the grounds.

The home, which is normally open by appointment only, will be open on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"We opted to do this the weekend of the Foothills Festival because we will have so many people in downtown Jasper. Many individuals that are unaware of this historic jewel in downtown Jasper can take a break from the heat and learn a little about all of the amazing things Carl A. Elliott did for our country," said Tana Collins, director of public relations for Bevill State.

Today, Sept. 2, marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the NDEA.

Education had been a longtime concern of Elliott’s. While a student at the University of Alabama, he had a personal meeting with President Franklin Roosevelt about college scholarships. Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman, practically laughed the newly-elected Elliott out of his office when he broached the subject of federal aid for education.

“A lot of legislation arises out of precedent. There were no precedents in this field,” Mary Jolley, Elliott's longtime friend and assistant, told the Daily Mountain Eagle in 2013. “There had never been a federal loan program to help people go to college except the GI Bill. For the general population, there was nothing.”

The legislation was opposed by key House leaders and had virtually no support among his fellow Southerners, who believed that accepting federal money for education would lead to integration.

“He had introduced an education bill every year for 10 years, but what made it finally come together was Sputnik,” Lenora Cannon, Elliott’s daughter, told the Daily Mountain Eagle in 2013.

News that the Soviets had beaten the United States into space sent shock waves throughout the country. Americans were behind, and education was the way to catch up. Elliott and Sen. Lister Hill of Alabama jumped at the chance to write and introduce a bill to “strengthen the national defense and to encourage and assist in the expansion and improvement of educational programs to meet critical national needs and for other purposes.”

By 1965, less than a decade after its passage, the NDEA had helped more than 750,000 students go to college.

When Elliott was thrust into the national spotlight in 1990 as the first recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, he received hundreds of letters thanking him for opening the doors of higher education to them. One woman from Washington wrote that she and two of her siblings went to school on NDEA loans.

“We had very little personal money... Our parents were deceased, and there were no relatives who had money that they could use to support our education.

Without the loans, none of my family would have been able to attend college. Thank you for your courage. I regret that the price you paid for courage was so high,” she said.

Elliott lost his Congressional seat in a statewide runoff in 1964.

The Daily Mountain Eagle reported that he had “apparently been victimized by his ‘Southern liberal attitudes.’”

In a front page editorial, the Eagle wrote, “It was not Elliott who lost in Tuesday’s election... it was those progressive minded individuals of Jasper, Walker County and the ‘Old 7th Congressional District.’ It was all the people who voted for him and saw their hopes shattered and it was the foolish, benighted individuals who did not vote for him and who ruined our chances for a place in the sun."