John Julian McKeithen (May 28, 1918 – June 4, 1999) was an American lawyer, politician, and the 49th governor of Louisiana, serving from 1964 to 1972. A Democrat and attorney from the rural town of Columbia, he first served in other state offices. In 1967 he gained passage after his first term of a constitutional amendment to allow governors to serve two successive terms. He was the first governor of his state in the twentieth century to be elected and serve two consecutive terms. He strongly advocated the construction of the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.
|49th Governor of Louisiana|
May 12, 1964 – May 9, 1972
|Lieutenant||Clarence C. "Taddy" Aycock|
|Preceded by||James H. Davis|
|Succeeded by||Edwin Edwards|
|Louisiana Public Service Commissioner from District 3 (North Louisiana)|
January 1, 1955 – May 1964
|Preceded by||Harvey Broyles|
|Succeeded by||John S. Hunt, II|
|Louisiana State Representative for District 20 (Caldwell Parish)|
|Preceded by||V. E. Claunch|
|Succeeded by||Johnnie W. Calton|
John Julian McKeithen
May 28, 1918
Grayson, Louisiana, U.S.
|Died||June 4, 1999 (aged 81)|
Columbia, Louisiana, U.S.
|Resting place||Hogan Cemetery|
Caldwell Parish, Louisiana, U.S.
Marjorie Howell Funderburk (m. 1942)
|Children||6, including W. Fox McKeithen|
|Alma mater||Louisiana State University (LLB)|
|Branch/service||United States Army|
|Years of service||1942–1946|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
He had served in the US Army in the Pacific Theater during World War II. During the Civil Rights era, in 1965 McKeithen intervened in events in Bogalusa, Louisiana, to end violence after the Ku Klux Klan continued to violently resist change for African Americans, following passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He established a commission to work on social transition in the state.
- 1 Early life
- 2 State legislator and public service commissioner
- 3 Election as governor, 1963–64
- 4 McKeithen as governor
- 5 After governorship
- 6 Hogan Cemetery
- 7 References
- 8 External links
McKeithen was born in the village of Grayson just south of Columbia in Caldwell Parish, the son of contractor and farmer, Jesse J. McKeithen and the former DeEtte Eglin. He graduated from high school there and attended college in High Point, North Carolina. While in North Carolina he befriended Terry Sanford  . In 1942, he earned his law degree from Louisiana State University Law Center in the capital city of Baton Rouge.
From 1942–1946, during World War II, McKeithen served as a first lieutenant in the 77th Infantry Division, United States Army in the Pacific Theater of Operations. He fought in the battles of Guam, Gulf of Leyte, Ie Shima, and Okinawa. He was awarded two Bronze Star Medals and the Distinguished Service Cross.
After the war, McKeithen started practicing law in Columbia. On June 14, 1942, he married a young teacher, Marjorie "Margie" Howell Funderburk (September 30, 1919 – March 24, 2004). She had a twin sister, Margaret Funderburk. Reared in Winnsboro, Marjorie graduated from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston. She taught mathematics and chemistry at Jena High School in Jena and, thereafter, at the Ward 5 School in Caldwell Parish.
The McKeithens had six children: their oldest son was Jesse Jay McKeithen (1943–1998). Their son Fox McKeithen (1946–2005) became a politician, being elected as State Representative and Louisiana Secretary of State. Their daughters are Rebecca Ann, Melissa Sue, Pamela Clare, and Jenneva Maude. Marjorie McKeithen was the homemaker at their Hogan Plantation, yielding the spotlight to her popular husband, whom she affectionately called "J. J."
State legislator and public service commissionerEdit
McKeithen joined the Democratic Party, still the only competitive party in the state since disenfranchisement of blacks at the turn of the century. He was elected as a Louisiana state representative in 1948. He became a prominent floor leader for Governor Earl Kemp Long. As a legislator, McKeithen consistently voted for tax increases, believing that the government had to invest in the state. In the 1948 session, he supported the implementation of the 2 percent state sales tax, a 2-cent-per-gallon increase in gasoline taxes, higher tobacco and alcohol levies, taxes on chain stores, greater severance taxes, and higher rates on electricity.
In 1952, as a 33-year-old state legislator, McKeithen was an unsuccessful Democratic primary candidate for lieutenant governor on a slate headed by gubernatorial candidate Carlos Spaht and supported by the Longs. The "anti-Longs", led that year by Judge Robert F. Kennon of Minden, won the governorship and other top positions. In a runoff election, McKeithen lost the lieutenant governor's race to C. E. "Cap" Barham of Ruston, who had originally run on the gubernatorial intra-party ticket with U.S. Representative Thomas Hale Boggs, Sr., of New Orleans. Barham switched to the Kennon ticket in the runoff against McKeithen. Once in office, Kennon and Barham were often at odds.
McKeithen was elected to the Louisiana Public Service Commission, serving from 1955 to 1964. In the 1954 Democratic primary for the PSC, he defeated incumbent Harvey Broyles and a second challenger, Louis S. "Buck" Hooper (1902–1984). Because Louisiana was essentially a one-party Democratic state due to the disenfranchisement of blacks since the turn of the century, McKeithen was unopposed in the general election. During the primary campaign, he had called for an investigation regarding the disparity in charges between in-state and out-of-state long-distance telephone calls, having noted that it was cheaper to call from Shreveport to Jackson, Mississippi, than from Shreveport to Monroe.
McKeithen represented Huey Long's old north Louisiana district, and was described as making populist attacks on the Southern Bell Telephone Company. He was credited with preserving the traditional nickel telephone call, when most states had raised rates to a dime or higher at pay phone outlets. (In the early 21st century, this service is very rare in the age of individual cellular phones.) In the 1960 Democratic primary, McKeithen defeated Hooper again.
When McKeithen left the PSC after being elected as governor, he appointed John S. Hunt, II (1928–2001), of Monroe, a nephew of Governors Huey and Earl Long, to finish his term. In 1966 Hunt won a six-year term on the PSC in the Democratic runoff primary, defeating State Representative John Sidney Garrett of Haynesville. McKeithen supported the choice of Garrett as Speaker of the Louisiana House.
Election as governor, 1963–64Edit
In his gubernatorial race, McKeithen retained the young political consultant Gus Weill to manage the campaign. A Lafayette native, Weill had earlier done similar work for Jimmie Davis, a former governor. After the election, Weill served during the first term as McKeithen's executive secretary.
In the first primary in December 1963, McKeithen faced a wide array of intra-party opponents, including former Governor Robert Kennon; Shelby M. Jackson, who was a segregationist Education Superintendent; and Addison Roswell Thompson, a taxicab operator from New Orleans who was known to be a high-ranking Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Frank Voelker, Jr., of Lake Providence, the former chairman of the Louisiana State Sovereignty Commission, ran too but did poorly in polls, and withdrew to become Kennon's campaign manager. Kennon finished in fourth place in the primary.
Three LSU scholars described McKeithen as he launched his first gubernatorial campaign by the following:
McKeithen is ... dependent on identification with the Longs for establishing himself initially in the campaign. His organizational supporters are much less impressive than those behind [U.S. Representative] Gillis Long. He is obviously intent on strengthening his Long identification by emphasis on his proximity to Earl Long and neutralizing Gillis Long's strength by tying him to the national party and localizing his own candidacy. ... His potential for victory appears secondary to his capacity to split essential votes that might seriously injure Gillis Long's efforts. At the same time, the situation is fluid enough that McKeithen cannot be counted out altogether.
McKeithen, with Earl Long's widow, Blanche Long as his campaign manager, fought to win the backing of the still-influential 'Longite' forces. He otherwise ran on a reform platform, promising to "clean up the mess in Baton Rouge." He also ran as a defender of segregation, having criticized what he described as the meddling of U.S. President John F. Kennedy in Louisiana politics. McKeithen benefited from grass-roots support generated by Aubrey W. Young of Monroe, an organizer for Alcoholics Anonymous; he later worked to establish drug and alcohol treatment programs through the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.
McKeithen emerged in the primary in second place to frontrunner DeLesseps Story "Chep" Morrison, Sr., with Gillis Long third and Robert Kennon fourth. In the runoff campaign, McKeithen rallied the supporters of fifth-place finisher Shelby Jackson by warning of the dangers of a NAACP "bloc vote" for Morrison. McKeithen won the runoff, 492,905 (52.2 percent) to 451,161 (47.8 percent). Though he had maintained segregation, he indicated that he welcomed African-American support in the primary. A low percentage of African Americans had managed to register to vote, overcoming the state's barriers. The Republican Party, which they had supported during Reconstruction, had been fatally weakened for decades as blacks had been essentially excluded from politics since the turn of the 20th century.
McKeithen ran as a populist. The following quote from his 1963–64 campaign is inscribed on his tomb:
I wasn't born to material wealth, nor do I have claim to an aristocratic name. But if I am elected governor, it will prove that any mother's son can aspire to the highest political office of this state. I've come this far because you the people have given me your support – with all the professional politicians, power brokers and big money people fighting me every step of the way. Because I owe you so much, you can be assured when I raise my hand to take the oath of office as Governor of Louisiana, there will be a prayer in my heart that God will always guide me to do what is best for the state and all the people in it. We'll win this race, but I need your help. Won't you help me?
Edward Kennon, a nephew of former Governor Robert Kennon and a Minden contractor who later held McKeithen's former seat on the Louisiana Public Service Commission, campaigned actively against McKeithen in the 1963–1964 gubernatorial race. Kennon recalled that McKeithen in the 1960 PSC campaign boasted of his support from both organized labor and its long-term president Victor Bussie and the NAACP. At the time, candidates in Louisiana were identified on the ballot by race.
McKeithen said, "There's room in Louisiana for all people, for all races. They must be treated with dignity and respect without ridicule and without abuse. In his campaign advertising, he railed against bloc voting by African Americans, which he said "results in government that is anti-business and which penalizes the man who is willing to work for a living."
McKeithen overcame the conservative Republican Party candidate Charlton Havard Lyons, Sr., a Shreveport oilman, in the first seriously contested Louisiana gubernatorial general election since Reconstruction. McKeithen defeated Lyons, 469,589 (60.7 percent) to 297,753 (37.5 percent).
McKeithen as governorEdit
McKeithen was inaugurated in Baton Rouge on May 12, 1964. Judge James E. Bolin of Minden administered the oath of office. C. H. "Sammy" Downs, an aide and adviser to the governor, was the master of ceremonies for the festivities.
McKeithen's two terms as governor were characterized by economic expansion and job creation. He pushed for expansion of the state's industrial sector and called a special session to create a Labor Management Commission of Inquiry to resolve a strike in Baton Rouge early in his first term. He offered tax concessions to bring new industry to the state, particularly along the Mississippi River corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. In 1966 and 1967, he conducted a "right to profit" campaign. After he antagonized organized labor, the governor received death threats, and a bomb exploded in the state senate chamber.
McKeithen signed legislation establishing a state code of ethics for elected and appointed public officials, the investment of idle funds to bring additional interest income to the state, and disclosure of the state's previously secret unclassified payroll, three proposals sponsored in the state House by Representative Joe Henry Cooper of Mansfield in northwestern Louisiana.
When McKeithen was elected, Louisiana governors were limited by law to one term, as the legislature wanted to retain control. Politicians had to sit out a term if they wanted to seek second or third terms as governor. McKeithen sponsored "Amendment 1" in the 1966 general election, which voters approved. He could seek a succeeding second term in the 1967–1968 election cycle.
McKeithen named Aubrey Young as his aide-de-camp and as a colonel in the Louisiana State Police. He removed Young in 1967 after reports surfaced of a bribery attempt and involvement with mobster Carlos Marcello. Life Magazine reported that when McKeithen threatened to fire Young over the proposed bribery, Young resigned.
McKeithen's other close advisors included former State Senator William R. "Billy" Boles, Sr., a high-powered Monroe attorney and banker, and Theodore "Ted" Jones, who advised him on the newly established federal Medicare program. McKeithen also depended strongly on Senator Sixty Rayburn of Bogalusa, a favorite of organized labor, and the Democrat constituency groups. He named Leon Gary, former mayor of Houma, as his director of the Department of Public Works. In 1969, he replaced Gary with his executive counsel C. H. "Sammy" Downs, who served until 1972.
In 1967, McKeithen elevated Ralph Perlman, a business graduate of Columbia University in New York, as the state budget director. Perlman held this position for twenty-one years, under four governors of both parties.
He named the Louisiana Tech University English professor Robert C. Snyder, who worked to establish the Lincoln Parish Library, to the state board of library commissioners. In 1967, McKeithen named David Wade, a retired Lieutenant General of the Air Force, as director of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. The next year, he assigned him as adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard.
McKeithen considered returning the colorful state Senator Dudley J. LeBlanc of Abbeville to the position of Senate President Pro Tempore, a slot that LeBlanc had filled from 1948 to 1952. The governor changed his mind as opposition developed; LeBlanc was considered politically damaged from the 1950s by his promotion of the patent medicine Hadacol. McKeithen tapped E. W. Gravolet of Pointe à la Hache as the Senate President Pro Tempore. Vail M. Delony of East Carroll Parish was the Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives until his death in 1967, when the position passed to John Sidney Garrett of Claiborne Parish.
McKeithen recruited African Americans into his administration, including Jesse N. Stone, a Bienville Parish native, whom he named to head the Louisiana Commission on Human Relations, Rights and Responsibilities. Stone was later appointed as president of the Southern University System, serving from 1974–1985.
Re-election campaign, 1967Edit
McKeithen's reelection campaign of 1967 was, for all practical purposes, held on November 8, 1966, when voters approved his "pet" Amendment 1, which for the first time allowed Louisiana governors to succeed themselves—for one additional four-year term. They could also sit out a term and return for a third or fourth term thereafter, as Edwin Washington Edwards did in 1983 and 1991. In September 1966, McKeithen announced while at the Southern Governors Conference in Gilbertsville, Kentucky, that he would run again if Amendment 1 were approved.
Opponents of Amendment 1 included former governor Jimmie Davis and two of his past political associates, legislative floor leader State Representative Risley C. Triche of Napoleonville and Fred W. Huenefeld, Jr. (born December 1929), Davis' welfare director from Monroe. McKeithen's rival from 1963, Gillis Long, also worked against the amendment. Supporters of Amendment 1 included Victor Bussie of the AFL-CIO, U.S. senators Allen J. Ellender and Russell Long, the Republican physician Alton Ochsner of New Orleans, and most of the state newspapers, including the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, Alexandria Daily Town Talk, Shreveport Times, and the since defunct Shreveport Journal.
McKeithen was so popular that he easily took the 1967 Democratic Party primary. His main opponent was freshman U.S. Representative John Rarick, a conservative Indiana-born politician from the Sixth District of St. Francisville. He was backed by elements of the Ku Klux Klan. Rarick did not warm to rural voters, and his strict constitutionalist views did not appeal to many in the statewide electorate. People responded positively to McKeithen's folksy mannerisms and trademark "Won't you 'hep me?" appeal. Aware of heightened feelings among many in the state against civil rights, which had achieved national legislation authorizing enforcement of the franchise for African Americans, Republicans did not field a candidate for governor in the general election on February 6, 1968.
McKeithen used his influence to defeat a state senator in northwestern Louisiana. Harold Montgomery of Doyline was unseated after two terms by a challenger of the same surname but no relation, attorney John Willard "Jack" Montgomery from Minden.
The 1968 Presidential ElectionEdit
In the spring of 1968 McKeithen was approached by Representative Hale Boggs and Vice President Hubert H Humphrey with an offer to become Humphrey's running mate: the thinking was that as a Southern Governor McKeithen could bring balance to the Democratic ticket. McKeithen seriously considered the offer. However, the chaos at the Democratic National Convention lead him to reconsider. In the event he wasn't selected.
During the fall campaign McKeithen endorsed the election of Humphrey for the U.S. presidency. He had been neutral in the 1964 contest between Lyndon B. Johnson and Barry M. Goldwater. The support for Humphrey brought McKeithen into conflict with local backers of George C. Wallace, a former Democratic governor of Alabama who ran on the American Independent Party ticket, which opposed the civil rights laws that Congress had passed. McKeithen ally C. H. "Sammy" Downs worked in the Wallace campaign.
In the 1972 and 1976 campaigns he supported the candidacy of his long-time friend, former North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford.
Second term as governorEdit
During his second term, pushing for the construction of the Superdome in New Orleans was one of McKeithen's priorities. He believed that it would help stimulate tourism and businesses in the port city. Despite initial misgivings by many, McKeithen was responsible for gaining approval of construction of the Louisiana Superdome, as it was originally called, by the Legislature. He asserted the benefits of associated economic development would be worth the high cost.
McKeithen faced legislative opposition by a group of mostly young reformers known as the "Young Turks." One of their leaders was Robert G. "Bob" Jones, a state representative from Lake Charles and the son of former Governor Sam Houston Jones. Jones objected to state funding of the Superdome in New Orleans and many state bond projects. The Young Turks favored a "pay-as-you-go" approach, rather than too much bonded indebtedness. Jones ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1975.
In 1968, McKeithen launched a campaign to remove deadheads, or workers performing few productive tasks, from the state payroll. He faced a $61 million shortfall in the upcoming budget. In 1970 he gained passage of a 2-cent sales tax increase to fund higher pay for teachers and state employees. He worked to expand construction on many public college and university campuses. He reformed the Department of Corrections and improved conditions at Angola State Penitentiary.
In the summer of 1968, McKeithen's life was threatened after he began an investigation into labor-management racketeering. One man admitted to having received $5,000 to kill the governor. McKeithen's security was enlarged, and no further threats were reported.
In 1968, McKeithen suspended the controversial, colorful Sheriff Jessel Ourso of Iberville Parish, who was indicted in a repeated series of federal and state corruption charges. Ourso received acquittals or hung juries in all of them. He died in office in 1978 at the age of forty-six.
McKeithen tapped freshman state Representative Chris Faser, Jr., of Baton Rouge, a confidant of former Governor Jimmie Davis, as the administration floor leader in the state House during the second term.
McKeithen's administration was criticized in the national press. Journalist David Chandler reported in Life magazine that the Mafia had influence in Louisiana's state government. Thirty-nine state and local officials were eventually indicted for illegal activities, but no ties were found to McKeithen himself.
The McKeithen administration lost popularity in its second term in part because of voter opposition to a one-cent increase in the state sales tax in the summer of 1970. This was levied to fund pay increases for teachers and state employees. There was also a three-cent rise in cigarette taxes. The new revenues were projected to generate $120 million.
Our country has gone too far to protect individual rights of citizens. We are now protecting the very persons who are trying to destroy our country from within. Russia, with all its might, would not dare to try to destroy the United States by force, but we are allowing the radicals, the scum of the country, to begin to destroy us from within.
McKeithen and raceEdit
McKeithen, presiding over Louisiana during the turbulent civil rights era, had an ambiguous record on race relations. He was elected in 1964 as a segregationist and used race-baiting rhetoric in his campaign. He fought publicly with President Lyndon Johnson's Office of Economic Opportunity and tried to appoint segregationist Shelby Jackson to head the state's management of federal War on Poverty funds. As late as 1965, McKeithen publicly stated his support for segregation as the best system for Louisiana, but he later moderated his views on race relations.
He personally intervened to stem racial violence in Bogalusa in 1965. After repeated attacks by the KKK on civil rights activists in this mill town and resistance to change authorized by national legislation, African Americans founded a chapter of the Deacons for Defense and Justice, an armed self-defense group. That summer there were numerous violent confrontations. McKeithen established a Biracial Commission on Human Rights, Relations, and Responsibilities to work on easing tensions and managing transition. He appointed Israel Augustine and Ernest "Dutch" Morial as Louisiana's first African-American judges since Reconstruction. But during 1967 disturbances, McKeithen took a hard line, threatening to have authorities shoot looters and rioters. McKeithen later became a national spokesperson for the opposition to busing school children to achieve integration.
John Martzell, a New Orleans attorney and executive secretary of the State Human Relations Commission from 1966 to 1972, said that McKeithen's efforts to promote racial harmony remained little known.
"The most important thing he did came in a speech he delivered to the AFL-CIO convention in Baton Rouge in the summer of 1966," Martzell said.
"He pointed to some blacks in the audience and said, 'I know I'm not leaving this state, and I don't think you're leaving either. So we've got to solve our problem.' It was giving the imprimatur of the state Governor to solving racial differences. Previous governors had always proclaimed massive resistance to integration. He had a huge impact."
In 1969, McKeithen sent 250 Louisiana National Guard troops into Baton Rouge to support a curfew declared by Mayor-President, W. W. Dumas. He was trying to suppress rioting that had broken out after police fatally shot a fleeing 17-year-old black suspect. The officer was temporarily suspended from the force, as was customary. Dumas said he would fully support police in such instances.
Former Governor George Wallace of Alabama urged McKeithen in 1967 to take the leadership against the civil rights movement, but he declined, having told Wallace, "I just don't feel as strongly about it as you do, George."
In April 2016, nearly half a century after events, The Monroe News-Star reported that McKeithen in the summer of 1965 arranged for $10,000 of private funds to be sent to Bogalusa to be divided equally between leaders of the Ku Klux Klan leadership and the Deacons for Defense, to keep peace during racial demonstrations in Washington Parish. McKeithen's counselor, Gus Weill, said that the payments "bought peace". The payments were made through the now defunct Fountain Insurance Agency in Baton Rouge, the owner of which was a member of the Louisiana State Sovereignty Commission. McKeithen supporters helped raise the funds for this purpose. The unnamed agent mailed "insurance checks" to the recipients' homes and was later reimbursed by the Sovereignty Commission, since disbanded.
The late James C. Kelly, a police chief in Monroe known for his opposition to the KKK, was found to have been a conduit for other payments to Klan leaders. The Federal Bureau of Investigation noted that rank-and-file Klansmen were at first unaware of the payments to their leaders, but they began to question the loyalty of the leadership after learning that Chief Kelly had paid $200 to Houston Morris, a leader in Monroe.
Edward F. Renwick, director of the Loyola University New Orleans Institute of Politics and specialist on McKeithen's career, credited him with four major accomplishments: beginning to end segregation in Louisiana, gaining approval for construction of the Superdome, leadership in the passage of a state constitutional amendment to permit governors to serve two successive four-year terms, and developing consensus politics.
In his last days as governor in the spring of 1972, McKeithen spoke before the AFL-CIO convention. He credited union president Victor Bussie with having helped him to achieve what McKeithen considered the landmarks of his tenure in office: industrial expansion, improved race relations, prison reform, and increases in the pay of teachers and state employees. The latter required an unpopular increase in 1970 from 2 to 3 cents in the state sales tax.
The McKeithen administration had some instances of corruption. In January 1972, former public works director C. H. "Sammy" Downs, who had served as a state senator from Alexandria, was indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with the sale of voting machines to the state. McKeithen's commissioner of administration, W. W. McDougall, was indicted in March 1972 for giving false statements to a grand jury in Alexandria concerning an investigation into insurance company kickbacks to state legislators.
In his April 1972 speech, McKeithen told the union delegates that he abhorred corruption in government. He discouraged the idea that all public servants were corrupt, saying:
There are too many people with evil minds and evil hearts that can't help but believe that anybody in public office can't help but steal everything that isn't nailed down.
After he left office in the spring of 1972, McKeithen sought the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the death of Allen J. Ellender, a long-term Democratic incumbent. The filing deadline had closed for the Democratic primary, so McKeithen ran as an Independent in the general election. He had to explain to Democratic-registered voters, the great majority of the Louisiana electorate at the time, why they should vote for him. In 1963, he had stressed voting by party affiliation as a reason why registered Democrats should support him against the Republican candidate Lyons. He lost to the Democratic nominee, J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., a former Louisiana state Senator.
The Republican Senate nominee in the contest was Ben C. Toledano, a lawyer and journalist who had run for mayor of New Orleans in 1970. A fourth candidate was Hall Lyons, a Lafayette oilman and the younger son of Charlton Lyons. Hall Lyons left the Louisiana GOP to run for the Senate as the nominee of the American Independent Party. George C. Wallace of Alabama had run as an AIP candidate for U.S. President in 1968 against Nixon and Hubert Humphrey.
In 1972 Republicans Richard M. Nixon and Spiro T. Agnew easily carried Louisiana in the presidential election, as white conservatives in Louisiana and other southern states were voting more solidly for national Republican candidates. (white conservatives have since mostly shifted into the Republican Party.)
In 1983, Governor David C. Treen, a Republican, appointed the Democrat McKeithen to the LSU Board of Supervisors. He served until 1988, resigning because of exhaustion and a heavy work schedule. In his later years, McKeithen practiced law in Columbia and in Baton Rouge with his granddaughter, Marjorie. She was named for his wife, her grandmother. In 1991, McKeithen made headlines by resigning from his local country club after it barred a black high school golfer from playing in a tournament there.
The McKeithens' younger son, W. Fox McKeithen (1946–2005), became an attorney and politician like his father. He was elected to the Louisiana legislature, serving two terms (1984–1988). In 1987 he was elected as secretary of state, serving 1988–2005. After his first election as secretary of state in 1987, he switched his party affiliation to Republican. Both his father and daughter, who were staunchly Democratic, were surprised. His daughter ran for Louisiana's 6th congressional district seat in Baton Rouge in 1998. When Fox McKeithen died in 2005, Sam Hanna Sr. wrote a moving column about his relationship with all the McKeithen family.
In 1993, McKeithen was among the first thirteen inductees into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield. Fox McKeithen was inducted posthumously in 2006. John McKeithen died in 1999.
McKeithen is interred in the private Hogan Cemetery, which bears the same name as his estate. His wife Marjorie and their two sons, Jesse Jay McKeithen and Walter Fox McKeithen, were also buried at the gravesite. It is located off Louisiana Highway 559. Behind the graves is a wooded area alongside scenic Long Lake.
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- Benjamin J. Guthrie & W. Pat Jennings (1973). "Statistics of the Presidential and Congressional Election of November 7, 1972" (PDF). p. 18. Retrieved September 5, 2011.
- Minden Press-Herald, July 29, 1988, p. 1
- "Press Association honors the late Sam Hanna, Sr., May 18, 2006". ouachitacitizen.com. Retrieved December 29, 2009.
- Dawson, Joseph G. The Louisiana Governors: From Iberville to Edwards. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1990.
- Miriam G. Reeves. The Governors of Louisiana. Pelican, 1998.
- Charles W. Tapp. "The Gubernatorial Election of 1964: An Affirmation of Political Trends." Louisiana Academy of Sciences XXVII (1964)
- "McKeithen: a great salesman for Louisiana" Baton Rouge State-Times/Morning Advocate, June 5, 1999.
- State of Louisiana – Biography
- Encyclopedia Louisiana entry on John McKeithen
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuI1Ec772jc Panel Discussion on the Administration of Governor John McKeithen
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEDrmKjBpZQ Jim Brown Reflects on Governor McKeithen
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sztqqHvJNG4 The Other Governor, documentary on the Administration of John J. McKeithen
|Louisiana House of Representatives|
V. E. Claunch
| Louisiana State Representative for Caldwell Parish
Johnnie W. Calton
| Louisiana Public Service Commissioner for the former District 3 (North Louisiana)
John S. Hunt, II
| Governor of Louisiana
May 12, 1964–May 9, 1972