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Congressional and Political Research Center

Providing information on federal, state, and local politics and politicians

The John C. Stennis Collection

Collection Overview

The Stennis Collection contains files, documents, photographs, audio/video material, oral histories, and memorabilia that document the career of United States Senator John C. Stennis, a Democrat from Mississippi who served in the Senate forty-two years. A few items relate to his pre-Senate career as a member of the Mississippi Legislature, as a District Attorney, and as a Circuit Judge. Senator Stennis was a Kemper County native, and an alumnus of Mississippi State University and the University of Virginia Law School. After leaving the Senate in 1989, Stennis resided on the MSU campus and lectured to political science classes until failing health forced him into a nursing home. He died in 1995.

Senator Stennis was a key player in the Joe McCarthy episode, and he served on a variety of significant committees. He was the first chair of the Select Committee on Standards and Conduct, was actively involved in the development of the U. S. space program via the Aeronautical and Space Sciences Committee, and was chair of the Armed Services Committee and its Preparedness Subcommittee. In the latter two positions, he had a highly visible role in the Vietnam War era. Stennis also was active in the Appropriations Committee, which he chaired near the end of his career, and was involved in transportation studies and legislation. Since he was serving in the Senate during the Civil Rights revolution of the 1960s, his papers reflect his active role on that era, both in Mississippi and nation-wide. Though he never served on foreign relations committees, Stennis kept abreast of world affairs. His interest in that area is documented in the collection, by such materials as a diary he kept during a trip to Russia in 1958. His collection thus provides rich details of world, American, and Mississippi history during the latter half of the twentieth century.

The Collection consists of some 2,500 cubic feet of materials arranged in over fifty series. The series arrangement is basically that devised by Stennis’ office staff; the arrangement involved assigned subject areas with accompanying numerical code numbers. For example, Series 1 is The President, Series 2-Department of State, Series 3-Department of the Treasury, Series 4-Department of Defense, etc. This arrangement has created some processing problems because the original coding system was modified twice which meant that items in a subject series might have different code numbers, depending on their creation date. Therefore, to avoid having to create multiple sets of guides, we arbitrarily made the numbering system consistent for the files dated 1947-1977. In 1978, the Senator’s staff starting using a Capitol Hill computer service that created computer printouts as guides to documents. The designation of documents was completely changed from the old numbering system to a more complex system. We are toying with the idea of taking these computer files and assigning them numbers under the old system in order to facilitate use by researchers. The problem is the enormous staff time this would take. It may be necessary to take that plunge, however, since toward the end of the Senator’s career, when many of his veteran staffers were moving to other jobs, the computer-based numbering system broke down, and files were boxed without having been designated in the system. Such files are not coded at all; in fact they are just “there”.

Since the Collection is mostly open (except for certain case files in various subject areas), we are prioritizing processing steps. Step one is to make sure we have all folder titles listed for each series and guides that describe and give locations of all other items. Then we will proceed with analysis and indexes. Some series in which we anticipate heavy research use have processed through the second priority level. Examples are Series 29-Civil Rights and Series 50-Politics. Our current thinking regarding computer applications is that we need to find a database that can be easily adapted to our website.

Folder title lists are available in-house for most of the series. Specific series descriptions and folder titles will eventually be added to the website on a selected basis.