Page in the United States House
Although my father was a prominent Baptist Minister in
Atlanta, Georgia he had always been extremely interested in politics and government. He had an extremely outgoing and winning
personality that most certainly would have led him to have gotten into politics himself had God not called him into the Gospel
ministry. He often told me and others that before that call his ambition was to become a United States Senator. While he never
engaged in partisan politics he was extremely interested in government and politics and became a close friend and counselor
in spiritual matters to almost every politician and official in the state of Georgia during the years of his ministry and
work in Atlanta (1944 – 1996). My feeling is that he wanted to pass on his great interest and unrealized ambition to
me, his only son, by enrolling me in the Page program for what he thought was going to be only three or so months until Congress
adjourned in 1949. It worked. I later was elected three times to the Georgia
State Senate, became Chairman of the largest Senate delegation (Fulton County), and was the principal plaintiff in Wesberry v. Sanders (376 US 1), the landmark Supreme Court case that in 1964 ordered the reapportionment of the
US House of Representatives where I had served as a Page.
I ended up serving three years as a Page. My initial appointment was by Congressman James C. Davis of Georgia’s 5th District in
1949. While my first month’s service was an absolutely miserable new experience to me, by the second month I came to
love the work and the experience in spite of the long hours and hard discipline. Congress did not adjourn that year until
November and by that time I was very anxious to continue but Congressman Davis had already arranged for another Page for the
At my urgent behest, for the 1950 year my father arranged
for another good friend of his, Congressman Brooks Hays of Arkansas to sponsor me as a Page.
I was also his first Page. I continued in Page School during this time for my full 10th grade year but as
it was an election year Congress adjourned in August and I went home to Atlanta
thinking my Page service was over.
For 1951 both Congressmen Davis and Hays had already
scheduled new Pages. In addition my father was extremely anxious that his only son come back home to finish high school, so
anxious in fact that he allowed me to buy with my savings from my salary a brand new Chevrolet convertible on the condition
that I would agree to stay in Atlanta. He was somewhat repentant that he had gotten me into the Page service taking me away
from home for so long. My mother had passed away when I was seven years of age and though my father had later remarried he
and I were very, very close.
In spite of having acquired a brand new car just a few
days before my 16th birthday when I was eligible for my drivers’ license I was miserable and bored to death back in
Atlanta attending 11th grade high school during the fall of 1950. All I could think about was Washington. As the
opening of Congress approached in 1951 I begged my father to allow me to go back to visit Washington for the first two weeks’
opening of Congress and President Truman's State of the Union address. My father, who loved me very much, could never say
“no” so I drove my car to my grandmother's residence in Columbia South Carolina, left it there and took the Silver
Meteor train on to Washington. While there I was like a fish back in home waters. I covered Capitol Hill visiting all my old friends and mentors and made it well known
that I would really like to come back as a Page again. By a miracle that I have never really understood, during those two
weeks some rather extraordinary arrangements were made for me to have special joint patronage under Congressmen Davis and
Hays as a Page even though they each already had another Page in service as well. I have never known how those arrangements
came about, apparently through the actions of several older friends I had made in the Capitol who looked out for me and did
me one of the greatest favors of my entire life. I wish I could somehow thank them.
I did not know how my father would react. I knew his
heart would be broken by my leaving Atlanta again. I was sure he would take my car away from me as took the train back to
tell him I was going back to Washington. But I was greatly blessed by a father who loved me above everything else in the world.
He not only agreed for me to return to Washington but let me drive my car and gave me a Gulf Oil credit card to pay for the
gasoline. So I was able to serve my third and last year as a Page during 1951.
After my father had committed my going to Washington
he became concerned about me being there all alone as was the custom. He decided to do something very unusual. My father,
my stepmother and I drove to Washington during the last week of February 1949. My father had prevailed upon my very dear stepmother
who loved us both very much to actually stay in Washington with me. When we arrived he began searching for an apartment. Another
miracle happened; he found an apartment in the Methodist building right across the street from the Capitol and the Supreme
Court building. It was available for short-term rental and we immediately moved in. During the rest of the year my father
would come to Washington whenever he could for short visits. He developed a close friendship with another apartment dweller
in the same building, Dr. James Shera Montgomery, Chaplain of the House. They became such good friends that when Dr. Montgomery
took his vacation in August 1949 he asked my father to replace him. Thus something totally unplanned occurred. My father served as Acting Chaplain of the House during that month. It was one of the highlights of his
entire life as he became a friend many of the Congressmen from across the nation.
I will never forget my first day as a Page. Although
on the preceding Friday I had visited with my parents Capitol Page School then located in the basement of the Capitol, that
first morning when I left the Methodist building and crossed the Capitol grounds in the dark morning hours seeking to enter
I became confused and went around to the back side of the Capitol where I knew the Page school was located. I climbed the
steps and could actually see through the windows the Pages arriving in the classrooms but I could not find the door through
which to enter the building. It was very cold at 6:15 AM on March 1, 1949. I was wearing a suit and tie as required but had
no overcoat. I walked around and around that side of the Capitol getting colder and colder until finally it dawned on me that
the door must be on the other side of the building. I finally walked all the way around that large building and found the
entrance under the steps on the Senate side of the Capitol. There the Capitol police explained to me how to get downstairs
to Page school. So I was very frustrated and very late on my first day of school and work.
Once I got to the House Floor after school was out at
9:15 AM the very dynamic and ebullient Republican Chief Page Joe Bartlett began my induction into what turned out to be a
rather premature and frightening service in the United States Marine Corps located in a corner of the floor of the United
States House of Representatives. Joe had served in the Marines and did not realize he was now out so he ran the Republican
Page operation like a small unit of the Marines.
My father had been somewhat mortified that I was assigned
to work on the Republican side as all our family, being from the South, were lifelong Democrats. He got over it slowly after
understanding that all Page patronage was with the majority party. Actually it was a wonderful thing as I was a spoiled only
son who desperately needed the militant discipline that only Joe Bartlett was capable of delivering under the cover of the
world’s greatest democracy’s legislative chamber.
One of the first things Joe did was show me the electronic
Page summoning system of the House Floor, give me an indecipherable card with a diagram of the seating and index of call numbers
and a pictorial directory of the members of Congress. He then told me that I would be expected to learn to recognize all the
Republican Members by name both when I was facing them and when I came up behind them on the House floor at their electronic
call to run errands for them. I thought he was crazy. I knew I could never learn all those names and faces, much less the
backs of their heads. Yet within a couple months I had learned all of them. I had no choice.
And within a few months more I had learned most of the Democrats as well, not because I had to, but because I had learned
to love the work and it was my job. I will never forget Joe. In fact his voice still rings in my years saying, “Sit
up straight, Jimmy,” “Hold your shoulders up, Jimmy,” “Walk faster, Jimmy,” “Be alert,
Jimmy,”…Jimmy this and Jimmy that. What an experience for a 14 year old boy. Joe was my first mentor and he still
is now 62 years later. His own story of a career serving the US government beginning as a Page inspired us all. He later bounced
back between the Capitol and the Marines finally becoming House Reading Clerk as well as a Marine General. Joe only failed
at one thing…making me a Republican…but he came very close. I remained a Democrat for many years but now I am
an Independent who votes Republican most of the time. (see more about Joe Bartlett below).
Duties and Responsibilities
In those days just about everything concerned with legislation
was printed on paper and had to be sorted out and delivered to everyone concerned on Capitol Hill. So a Page’s main duty involved delivering documents or otherwise making them available. We picked
up documents usually ordered by Congressmen's offices by telephone and delivered them either to the office or committees or
on occasion to members on the floor itself. Of course our most visible duty was answering the electronic summons of Members
seated on the floor of the House when they wanted some errand run. Often we would pick up correspondence to be signed from
a Congressman's office, bring it over to him and, once signed, take it back to his office. Occasionally we would have to take
or pick up materials from a Senator’s office to deliver to a House Member. Of course there were numerous other kinds
of errands but these were the most common. Our first duty in the morning when we arrived from Page School before the session
started was to place the previous days Congressional record in a binder under each Member’s seat. A sort of old-fashioned
hard binder was laced up with shoestring type laces that we had to tie in place. On Saturday mornings we unlaced and took
out all that week’s old Congressional records leaving the binder empty to be refilled starting the following Monday
morning. The old Congressional records were bound and stored in a dark part of the Capitol basement available to be sent if
requested to Congressmen who wanted additional copies of a particular speech or day's activity. Those were my responsibilities
during my first year in 1949 as a “Bench” Page. The term “bench”
referred to the fact that there were two benches to seat the Pages in each of the two back corners of the Chamber, one corner
for service to Democrats and the other for Republicans. In the middle at the
“V” was the Page Overseer’s desk which had the electronic summoning system built into it with small red
lights that lit when a Member pushed a button at his seat. Bench Pages were differentiated from usually more senior “Telephone
Pages” that answered the cloakroom telephones for Members. As in the House itself at that time all Page promotions were
based upon seniority.
Since most Pages served only a year or less (some only
a month) I was fortunate to be promoted to Assistant Republican Overseer in 1950 and very shortly thereafter to Overseer of
Republican Pages. This was a cushy job that involved no running of errands, just sitting at the desk and directing the work
of the Bench Pages. What really made it a soft job was that the custom had long been established that the Overseer and Assistant
Overseer alternated working every other hour so I now had every other hour off during normal working hours. Most of the time
when the House was in session I stayed on the floor and listened to debates and I came to know a great deal about the workings
of the House and the entire legislative process. At other times I would take my hourly recess as an opportunity to visit friends
in the Capitol building and talk to them. I learned a great deal in this manner.
The Overseer's duties primarily involved assigning tasks
to each of the Pages in such a way that the work was distributed on equal basis and that each had opportunities to do different
things as well gaining a broad experience. The Overseer also maintained a written
log of all the errands run and duties performed by the Pages. Of course when the House was in session the Overseer had to
keep a sharp eye on the panel of red electric lights so that anytime a light flashed on he could dispatch a page to answer
the Member’s call immediately. There was nothing more embarrassing than failing to see a light when a member called
due to being distracted by a conversation or perhaps what was happening on the Floor itself. I tried to develop a strong discipline
of keeping my eyes on the panel no matter what else I was doing. Serving as House
Republican Overseer of Pages was my first supervisory challenge and my favorite assignment as a Page. During this time Chief
Page Joe Bartlett went back on active duty in the Marines and the fellow who was named to replace him, a handicapped war veteran,
had no experience in the House, little interest in the Pages and exercised practically no supervision over us. I had to keep
things going with as much of Joe’s discipline as possible. Some Pages found it hard to accept discipline from another
Page who was their age. I ended up having the only fist fight of my entire life with one upstart down in the basement tunnels
under the Capitol. Nevertheless things worked out well and we got our job done with honor.
Capitol Page School
During my first year Page School was located in the basement
of the Capitol building itself. It was soon moved to the fourth floor of the Library of Congress across the street from the
Capitol. The curriculum was pretty much the same as high school in Atlanta except for the fact that it did not include, due
to time limitations, non-essential activities such as physical education, shop, study hall, music and art. That suited me
just fine because what I really liked at school was the serious study part. I made good grades even though the schedule of
school early in the morning followed by a full day's work was rather unusual. The school was part of the District of Columbia
public school system and had excellent teachers in my opinion. I believe I received as good or better education than I would
have in the Atlanta public school system. I was active in the few extracurricular activities that existed, became a member
of the National Honor Society and the Student Council. During my last semester I was elected President of the Student Council.
I would have to say however that I learned a lot more on the floor of the House and in talking with friends in the Capitol
than I did in school.
I did not have the privilege of graduating from Capitol
Page school due to another rather miraculous occurrence. One of the Pages from South Carolina had taken the entrance exams
at Harvard while in the 11th grade and gained admission directly without doing the 12th grade. When I heard about this I thought
it was a great idea but I wanted to go to a Southern University so I applied to take the entrance exams at Duke University,
drove down to Durham, North Carolina, took the exams and was also admitted immediately without having to take the 12th grade.
I was also given a small financial scholarship to help with costs apparently based on the high grades I made on the exams.
I did participate in the Page School graduation ceremony
in June 1951 as well as the senior prom since I was the Student Council President. At the graduation ceremony I served as
Marshall and led the procession of the graduates down the aisle at the beginning and back at the end, but I never got a CPS
diploma. However that summer I attended a nighttime summer school at Emerson Institute which mainly provided classes for returning
servicemen under the G.I. Bill of Rights and obtained enough credits to get a high school diploma from Emerson Institute.
This was made possible because several of us had also obtained some extra credits by taking a streetcar to attend night school
classes after work during the regular school year. During this time our hours
were from 6:15 AM until 10:00 PM but it was worth it. This prepared me for later on when I worked my way through college while
raising a family observing similar hours.
A Typical Day
As indicated the Page’s day started when the alarm
clock went off about 5:15 in the morning making it possible to get to school by 6:15 AM if one lived on Capitol Hill. In early
1951 I lived for a while in northern Virginia and had to start out much earlier. School lasted three hours or so and was out
around 9:15 AM so work began at 9:30 on the House floor and involved putting out the Congressional Records, running errands
and doing all sorts of things with occasional short periods of time off for the Bench Pages. Of course once I became Overseer,
as mentioned, I had every hour off providing the opportunity to learn all I could about what was going on and to spend some
time talking to friends. We usually had both snacks and lunch in the cloakroom where a snack bar was maintained for members
by Helen, a black lady whose father before her had run the snack bar. She had an outgoing personality and provided us with
excellent food of the type young boys (and Congressmen) appreciated. It would be called “fast food” today. Helen
became a good friend to all of us. She was probably the first black person I ever knew as a friend as I had come up in the
segregated South where I had almost no contact at all with black people. Even in Washington at Page School and among the Pages,
all were white males in those days.
My second black friend, to whom I became even closer,
was George Robinson who worked in the House Document Room in a sort of an attic annex on the fourth floor of the Capitol building
all by himself. We would often have to obtain certain documents from that part of the Document Room so during my first year
I got to know George and we became good friends even though there was probably a difference of 40 years in our ages. George
was a Republican from Colorado. We talked politics a great deal and he taught me a lot. During the second and third years
when I had every other hour off I would often find my way up to the attic where George worked to spend time talking to him
because I enjoyed it and learned a lot from him. I guess he was my second mentor. Those two friendships lasted for many years
after I left a service. For many years thereafter whenever I traveled to Washington I would always stop by the Capitol to
say hello to both Helen and George. Helen ran the snack bar for many more years and George moved over to the balcony of the
House chamber as a doorkeeper. Finally it became very difficult to see these friends as Capitol security became so strict
that I could not get in the building during visits to Washington.
Back in the days when I was a Page Washington was a pretty
tranquil place. Crime was not in the news and Pages were unsupervised and free to live wherever they wanted. While during
my first year I lived with my stepmother at the Methodist Building, my second and third years were more typical of the Page’s
life. I lived for short periods in quite a number of different places. The first one was a boarding house which a lady maintained
primarily for pages on New Jersey Avenue just beyond the House Office Buildings. Later on I moved around to different places
living for a time in the basement of the Dodge Hotel where neighbors included the members of the Washington Senators baseball
team among others. Then I lived in another boarding house located across from the Senate office Building just behind the Methodist
Building rooming with another Page. After I brought my car to Washington I lived in a Virginia with a family who were friends
of my parents for a while but the commute was very tough due to the early morning school hours so I finally ended up renting
an apartment with two other Pages on B Street just across from what was then called the Old House Office Building and the
Library of Congress. In those days even though there was no supervision at all over Pages very few pages had problems or got
into trouble. I only remember one or two who had discipline imposed on them but then it was either from their congressman
or from their parents. We grew up very fast as Pages because we were on our own and most of us got married very young as I
The Cloakroom staff consisted mainly of the older Telephone
Pages and Helen, already described. We were all friends and worked closely together. The Doorkeeper of the House was “Fishbait”
Miller who became a very close friend of my father over the following years but
I personally had little to do with him. Ralph R, Roberts was Clerk of the House. I hardly knew him but his nephew, John Roberts was a Page and a close friend.
House Members in 1949 who would go on to greater fame
were Richard Nixon, John Kennedy, Gerald Ford, and quite a few others who moved on to the Senate. Congressman Gavin of Pennsylvania took a particular interest in me and encouraged me. He also became a friend of my father.
During my time there were no special events organized
for the Pages other than events at Page School. We did attend the annual Congressional baseball game and the annual air show
at Andrews Air Base. I was really so busy between school and work that I had no time for other events or activities. One summer
we enjoyed weekend canoeing on the Potomac until we were overturned by a passing motor boat and had to return via streetcar
During the time of my service the House Chamber was completely
remodeled and for several months House sessions were held in the Ways & Means
Committee Room in what was then called the New House Office Building. This room was far too small and the sessions were often
crowded. We Pages had to sit at the front of the Chamber (like the Senate Pages still do but in chairs) and watch for Members
to snap their fingers or motion for us to attend them. Indian Prime Minister Nehru spoke to a joint session during that time
and I was in a picture of his speech along with two other Pages that appeared nationwide in the My Weekly Reader publication distributed to schools across the nation. I wish I had retained a copy of it.
When we returned to the House Chamber I was the first
House Republican Page Overseer to use the new, shiny and technologically updated Page call desk a great improvement for us.
It replaced the old wooden desk that had become very ugly over the years due to Pages carving their names, initials and messages
in it. To this day the Chamber has continued to appear the same as when it was then redecorated. When I see it on television now a great lump forms in my throat and I become very sentimental. Over the
years following my service I would return and take friends on tours of the Capitol and if they were special personalities
I would ask Joe Bartlett, then House Republican Reading Clerk, to invite them onto the House floor while not in session. Everyone
loved to sit in the Speaker’s chair. Once security became very strict this was no longer possible.
Two Memorable Addresses
I became extremely interested in the legislative process
and the matters before the House and never missed an important speech or debate but there were two absolutely unforgettable
addresses that constitute my most unforgettable experiences. The first was Richard
Nixon’s address under a Special Order late in the afternoon on January 26, 1950 exposing the Alger Hiss “Pumpkin
Papers” revealed by Whittaker Chambers. The second and even more important address was General Douglas MacArthur’s
“Old Soldiers Never Die” farewell address on April 19, 1951 upon his return after being relieved of command by
President Truman. I hope one day to write in more detail about these two events.
We Pages hated Special Orders because they usually caused
us to have to work overtime. Members reserved time in advance usually 5 to 15 minutes for speeches at the end of the day’s
session when all business was complete and most Members had left the floor. Their reservations were printed in advance in
the Daily Digest so we would always know ahead of time how many short speeches were planned at the end of each day’s
session. Usually they would all be very short with an occasional speech reserved for 30 minutes to our dismay. We were startled
when Richard Nixon reserved a few weeks early a full hour for an afternoon Special Order. As the date approached a new Daily
Digest came out indicating he had increased the request to two hours, something absolutely unheard of. Needless to say we
were mortified that we would have to sit through a two hour speech to an empty chamber and probably wouldn't get home until
evening. The big day came and we received another big shock. Normally during special order sessions that would only be two
of three members on the floor, usually one from each party and the person speaking. The purpose of the Special Order was really
just to get the speech in the Congressional Record.
On this day as the hour approached…I believe it
was about 5:00 PM…instead of the chamber emptying out, it got more and more crowded until finally almost every member
of Congress was on the floor as Richard Nixon began his speech and it dawned on us that we were going to see something historic.
Incredibly the speech lasted more than two hours, almost three, and no one left the chamber.
I remember standing at the back rail listening standing beside the then House Republican Overseer, also a political
junkie like me and a good friend, Bob Curtis who was a dedicated Republican. Bob turned to me near the end of the speech and
said, “You know what, Jim, Richard Nixon will be elected President of the United States in 1984.” Bob was right
about the election of Nixon but his time estimate was a bit late.
When Nixon finished speaking he received a standing ovation
from every single Member of the House on both sides of the aisle. Many observers said they had never seen anything like it
in the House Chamber.
The most excitement I ever saw in Washington while a
Page was when President Truman fired General MacArthur. The Republicans were apoplectic. Former Speaker Joe Martin was so
flushed that we expected him to have a heart attack any minute. There was talk of impeaching Truman. Democrats were in panic
and many of them did not support the decision but did not speak publicly about it. So
General MacArthur came home to speak to the historic joint session with more security in the Capitol Building than I had ever
seen. There was also more press coverage than I had ever seen. That was it only time I ever pulled rank as Overseer. I had
my assistant man the Page desk and I went down the front of the chamber to be as close as possible to General MacArthur. You
can see me in the pictures of the event under the portrait of Gen. Lafayette.
As the dignitaries entered the chamber there were the
great heroes of World War II that I had read and seen so much about in the news reels of the war. The most compelling character was General Wainwright thin and frail, never able to recover his full health
after the Bataan Death March.
Speaking to a packed chamber, MacArthur was probably
the greatest orator I ever heard in my life. He maintained the rapt attention of every member of Congress throughout the speech.
I learned later from Pages on the Democratic side that at some point Congresswoman Bosone of Maryland had rushed from the
chamber in tears. But what stunned me as a 16-year-old boy who had been taught from childhood that grown men don’t cry…what
went on right in front of me not more than 1 yard away…became a lifelong memory. Now a California Senator, Richard Nixon,
was seated on the end of the row directly in front of me. On his other side was the other California Senator William Knowland.
As the speech became more and more a tragic goodbye message
from one of the greatest military heroes the world has ever known I looked at Nixon through my own tear filled eyes and saw
to my amazement tears streaming down his face ashamedly with no effort to wipe them away. Senator Knowland was wiping his
eyes with a handkerchief and probably almost everybody in the chamber was doing the same, but my eyes were riveted on the
man I looked up to and admired and on one occasion had been able to speak with as we walked over to the House Office Building
together, the man who had made the historic Pumpkin Papers speech, overcome completely by emotion to such an extent that I
even today am moved with emotion as I try to describe it. I was crying too, but I was only a 16-year-old boy and he was a
grown man and a United States Senator. Ever since that moment I have always had a feeling of injustice about many of the evil
things that have been said about Nixon. Some of them may be true but I had the unusual privilege of seeing him in a moment
in his life when he was very honestly displaying a kind of patriotism to the United States of America like I have never ever
seen anywhere else.
Nixon’s tears impressed me even more than MacArthur’s
speech. In later years in Atlanta I worked in support of his presidential campaign even though I was a Democrat. This caused
me problems when I ran for Alderman and lost, then for the Georgia Senate and won, but I have never regretted it and would
do it again. Nixon was not the man many have painted him as being.
The Impact of Page Service on My Life
Life is a never ending educational experience and as
I reflect now, some 60 years later, I would observe two things. The earlier that education and learning enter person's life
the more impact it is likely to have. Secondly, I believe I learned more during
my three years under the dome of the United States Capitol than I did at any other time in my life including college, graduate
school and a whole life full of very unusual opportunities to gain knowledge.
My Baptist preacher father imbued me with a duty to serve
my country, something he longed to do but which in his case was superseded by his duty to serve God. By arranging for me to
become a Page he assured me of an experience that would change my life forever. Since that time I have never been interested
in anything else except government and politics and to this day, even as I live in retirement far to the south in Quito Ecuador,
I follow the public affairs of the United States and all its political campaigns in great detail and with much interest greatly
aided by cable TV and the Internet. I also follow politics in all the Latin American countries as I have worked in them all.
My great dream, of course, was to return to the Capitol
as a Congressman. But I learned many years ago as a young State Senator that even though I could not hope to achieve higher
elective public office as I and my father had both dreamed, I could serve in numerous and unusual ways and that is what I
have tried to do ever since.
In college, after dabbling in other fields of study,
including political science, I found I had a talent for accounting and became a Certified Public Accountant expecting to work
exclusively in business affairs, but my interest in government led me to specialize in governmental accounting, auditing and
financial management as well as fighting corruption at a time when few CPA’s had such an interest. This in turn led
me to gain some reputation first in Georgia and later internationally in these areas. I am sure that my professional career
would not have taken such an unusual turn had I not served as a Page.
Reapportionment of the US House of Representatives
While I never realized my dream of going back to Washington
as a Congressman, I did have the chance to do what I believe was a service to the House of Representatives where I grew from
a boy into a man. Once the US Supreme Court decided to enter the “thicket” of state legislative reapportionment
in the Baker v. Carr decision it became clear to me that the Court could no longer
sidestep the even greater question of fair Congressional district apportionment. I became the principal plaintiff in the case
that eventually was decided as Wesberry v. Sanders (376 US 1) in which the Court
ordered that all US Congressional districts be reapportioned fairly after each decennial census as originally conceived and
agreed to by the founders of the country. That decision restored the long ignored terms of the Great Compromise reached in
the Constitutional Convention of 1789 that made it possible to form the United States of America. Had I never been a Page
in the House, I could never have conceived of this historic litigation.