JOHN J. MCKEITHEN was born in Grayson, Caldwell Parish, Louisiana, on May 28, 1918. He received his early education in the Caldwell Parish public schools. He later attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge after a short stint at High Point College in High Point, North Carolina, a small Methodist institution. He received his bachelor’s degree and his juris doctor from Louisiana State University. During World War II, McKeithen served with distinction in the 77th Infantry Division in the Pacific Theater of Operation, participating in numerous engagements including the battle for Okinawa. He obtained the rank of first lieutenant. Following the war, he returned to Columbia, Louisiana, where he opened a law office. McKeithen served as a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives (1948-52) and the Louisiana Public Service Commission (1954-64). He was elected Governor of Louisiana in 1964. During his tenure, he proved to be the state’s foremost ambassador for economic development. He worked tirelessly selling Louisiana to business and industrial leaders, and by 1972 Louisiana led the south in economic expansion. The building of the Superdome in New Orleans was greeted by its share of naysayers, but McKeithen’s determination prevailed, and the Superdome became one of Louisiana’s greatest economic investments in history, generating millions of dollars annually for the economies of both New Orleans and the state. Implementation of the state’s strongest code of ethics for public officials, establishment of an insurance program for state employees, and reform of the state’s correctional system were other major achievements of his two administrations. It was in the field of race relations, however, that McKeithen displayed the unique brand of statesmanship that set him apart from other Southern governors of the period. Louisiana was spared the racial turmoil experienced in other states primarily because of his leadership. For example, in 1965, when a racial crisis occurred, Governor McKeithen responded by calling for a cooling-off period and appointing a biracial Louisiana Commission on Human Relations to help quell the situation. His success in race relations was exemplified with his appointments of Israel Augustine and Ernest “Dutch” Morial to judgeships in New Orleans, the first African-Americans to be so appointed since Reconstruction. McKeithen’s accomplishments during his first term did not go unnoticed by the state’s electorate, which, late in his initial term, approved a constitutional amendment allowing governors to serve consecutive terms. He was then overwhelmingly reelected in 1968, becoming the first governor this century to be elected to back-to-back terms. In 1968, Governor McKeithen served on the National Governors Association’s Executive Committee. He left public life in 1972, retiring to his farm in Caldwell Parish, where he continued practicing law and managing an oil and gas exploration company. He later established a law practice in Baton Rouge as well. He passed away on June 4, 1999.
Dawson III, Joseph G. The Louisiana Governors: From Iberville to Edwards. Baton Rouge: Lousiana State University Press, 1990.
Governors of the American States, Commonwealths and Territories, National Governors' Conference, 1971.