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Frank Burton Ellis


Frank Burton Ellis

Frank Burton Ellis
Louisiana State Senator from St. Tammany Parish
In office
Preceded by A. Esco Knight
Succeeded by H. H. Richardson
U.S. District Judge in New Orleans
In office
April 12, 1962 – November 16, 1965

senior status until death

Preceded by J. Skelly Wright
Succeeded by Unspecified; new judgeships were created after Ellis's retirement
Personal details
Born (1907-02-10)February 10, 1907
Covington, St. Tammany Parish
Louisiana, United States
Died November 5, 1969(1969-11-05) (aged 62)
Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) (1) Alice Grima Ellis (married 1934-divorced)

(2) Marjorie L. Wheatley Ellis (1965-1969, his death)

Children Three children
Alma mater Gulf Coast Military Academy

Louisiana State University Law Center

Occupation Lawyer
Religion Presbyterian

Frank Burton Ellis (February 10, 1907–November 5, 1969) was a New Orleans, Louisiana, attorney and Democratic politician who served in the Louisiana State Senate, as director of the Office of Civil Defense and Mobilization in the administration of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, and as a judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in the latter part of his career. As civil defense director, he pushed strongly for the establishment of fallout shelters as essential to civilian protection during the Cold War.[1][2] On the bench, he slowed down the pace of desegregation in Orleans Parish schools and sided with Tulane University administrators in a key case against that institution.[3]

Early years

Ellis was born in secretary of the interior under U.S. President Grover Cleveland. Burton was descended on both sides from a line of slaveholders and Confederate military men and civic and government leaders. He was well-connected politically, among other relations being a second cousin of Robert Stephen Ellis, Jr. (born 1899), a Louisiana state circuit court judge who was a son-in-law of U.S. Representative Bolivar E. Kemp and a brother-in-law of Louisiana Attorney General Bolivar Edwards Kemp, Jr. Ellis attended Gulf Coast Military Academy in Gulfport, Mississippi. In 1929, Ellis received his L.L.B. degree from the Louisiana State University Law Center in Baton Rouge.[4]

Louisiana politics

He engaged in the private practice of law until 1961 while also dabbling in politics. He was a special assistant attorney general in Louisiana[3] and, as a state senator from 1940 to 1944 from St. Tammany Parish,[5] he was also the Senate president pro tempore.[3]

His Senate term occurred during the anti-Long administration of Governor Sam Houston Jones of Lake Charles. Ellis did not seek reelection in 1944 but ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor, when Earl Kemp Long was also in the race for the second position. Ellis ran on the gubernatorial slate headed by Sam Caldwell, the mayor of Shreveport.[6] The winner of the lieutenant governor's position was J. Emile Verret of Iberia Parish, elected with the winning gubernatorial candidate Jimmie Davis. Ellis was later politically close to Earl Long as well as Long's nephew, U.S. Senator Russell B. Long, and to Long's powerful aide, municipal Judge Edmund Reggie[7] of Crowley in Acadia Parish, later the father-in-law of U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

In 1948, 1952, and 1956, Ellis was a delegate to each Democratic National Convention. In 1948, he, like Governor Long, supported President Harry S Truman, rather than the official Louisiana state Democratic choice, then Governor J. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, later a U.S. senator. In 1960, Ellis, along with Reggie, were electors for Kennedy and Johnson, the easy winner of Louisiana's then ten electoral votes.[7]

U.S. Senate race, 1954

In 1954, Ellis ran against the Huey Long protégé and entrenched incumbent Allen J. Ellender of Houma in Terrebonne Parish for the Senate even though Ellender was close to Russell Long. Ellis was handily defeated in the Democratic primary. In his campaign, Ellis vowed if elected to conduct the office without regard to "race or creed" and labeled himself a champion of farmers and the "working man." Speaking for the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, he vowed to "eliminate by rational methods radical and left-wing elements in and out of government," a view consistent with the outlook of conservatives in the McCarthy era.[8] Ellis challenged Ellender's seniority, having claimed that longevity "means nothing without leadership and progressive thinking."[9] Ellender led the race with 268,054 (59.1 percent) to 162,775 (35.9 percent) for Ellis, with the remaining 4 percent for minor candidates. A third candidate, W. Gilbert Fauk, a state representative, also ran in the Senate primary. Ellender then retained his seat without Republican opposition.[10]

Civil defense director

In 1961, President Kennedy named Ellis to direct the new civil defense office. He was also a member of the National Security Council. He took on his assignment with zeal: "Heretofore, there has been a lack of federal leadership and example — the very qualities we must now exhibit if we are to convince a skeptical Congress and a disinterested public."[7] Ellis declared the civil defense office "completely inadequate," and he demanded a larger budget and Cabinet-rank status. In April 1961, without informing Kennedy, he proposed $300 million for his department, instead of the $104 million approved in the last Dwight D. Eisenhower budget. He claimed that greater funding was essential to construct more bomb shelters, improve existing shelters, stockpile medicines, and expand the educational programs of the agency. Turned down by the administration, Ellis ruffled feathers further with his decision to proceed with his budget plans. He attempted to insert a clause into FHA loan contracts to require bomb shelters. The Presbyterian Ellis even vowed to go to Rome to plead with Pope Paul VI to order such shelters in the basement of every Catholic church.[7] Ellis's civil defense office was renamed the Office of Emergenc Planning as of July 20, 1961.[1]

Federal judgeship

With Ellis in runaway bureaucratic mode, Kennedy removed him from the agency by appointing him in 1962 to the federal bench in New Orleans to the seat being vacated by J. Skelly Wright, a Truman appointee who had been in the forefront of civil rights rulings and was given a promotion to the circuit court in Washington, D.C.. In his three-year tenure on the bench, Judge Ellis frequently ruled in favor of segregationists. On December 5, 1962, his decision in Guillory v. Administrators of Tulane University of Louisiana sided squarely with Tulane in regard to compulsory desegregation.[3] Unlike Wright, who had not wavered in pursuing desegregation, Ellis "approached civil rights litigation with a strong concern for local white opinion and a determination to avoid drastic actions that would destabilize established educational educations. Ellis's early years on the bench were marked by his evident desire to slow down and scale back Skelly Wright's ambitious agenda for the integration of New Orleans public schools, and he approached the Tulane case in a similar spirit of judicial retrenchment."[11] At the time, Tulane and the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the city's leading newspaper, had both resisted integration.[3]

Marriages and death

Ellis was twice married. By his first union in 1934 to the former Alice Grima (1905–1993), he had three children. Alice was the daughter of George Grima, a commission merchant, whose four older brothers had fought for the Confederacy. Ellis divorced Alice, and in 1965, having retired early from the bench, he married 34-year-old Marjorie L. Wheatley of New Orleans. The marriage lasted until his death four years later in Tangipahoa Parish at the age of sixty-two.[3] He is interred in the parish seat of Amite.


  1. ^ a b "The Federal Leaders". Retrieved September 7, 2010. 
  2. ^ "The Eisenhower Ten". Retrieved September 7, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Judge Frank Burton Ellis: A Brief Biography and Selected Genealogy". Retrieved September 6, 2010. 
  4. ^ U.S. government, "Frank B. Ellis," Biographical Directory of Federal Judges
  5. ^ "Members of the Louisiana State Senate, 1880-2012". Retrieved September 6, 2010. 
  6. ^ Minden Herald, January 14, 1944, p. 5
  7. ^ a b c d "Frank Burton Ellis: The Bureaucrat". Retrieved September 6, 2010. 
  8. ^ Minden Herald, Minden, Louisiana, June 18, 1954, p. 2
  9. ^ Minden Herald, July 16, 1954, p. 3
  10. ^ Numan V. Bartley and Hugh D. Graham, Southern Elections: County and Precinct Data, 1950-1972, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978, p. 122
  11. ^ Quoted in Clarence L. Mohr and Joseph E. Gordon, Tulane: The Emergence of a Modern University, 1945-1980, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001, p. 227
Political offices
Preceded by
A. Esco Knight
Louisiana State Senator from St. Tammany Parish) Frank Burton Ellis
Succeeded by
H.H. Richardson
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