Spessard L. Holland, father of the 24th amendment to the U. S. Constitution, was a man for all seasons-scholar, athlete, war hero, attorney, and statesman.
Benjamin Franklin Holland, father of Spessard, was born December 15, 1846, Carroll County, Georgia. Benjamin was the son of Lindsey and Elizabeth (Lassetter) Holland. During the Civil War, he served as a recruit in Company I, 2nd Regt., Georgia State Line, in which his father was orderly sergeant, from January 1864 to May 1864, when Benjamin was brigaded with regular troops in Cummings Brigade, Stephenson Division, Hood’s Corps, and, along with his father, was wounded on June 22, 1864 while making a charge on the federal line at Kulp’s Farm. His company was disbanded in March 1865. A graduate of Bowdoin College, he in 1882 moved to Florida and settled at Bartow where he founded Polk County’s first abstract company. Benjamin F. Holland died January 5, 1925. At Monroe County, West Virginia on September 7, 1890, he married Fannie Virginia Spessard, a native of Craig County, Virginia. Fannie, who prior to her marriage, was a schoolteacher, had come to Florida in 1889 and died in 1930. The Hollands helped organize the First Methodist Church of Bartow. They had three children: Spessard Lindsey, Frank L. (1895-1966), Virginia 1898-1986, Mrs. Roy Trent Gallemore).(1)
Spessard Lindsey Holland was born July 10, 1892, Bartow, Florida. He attended the Bartow public schools and graduated from Summerlin Institute (later Bartow High School) in 1909. He received his Ph.B. degree magna cum laude at Emory College (now Emory University) in 1912. From 1912-14, he taught at the high school in Warrenton, Georgia. He then entered the University of Florida where, while attending law school, he taught high school in the sub-freshman department (high school) of the university. The first elected president of the student body and a member of the law school debating society, he received his L.L.B. degree in 1916. At Emory and Florida, he lettered in track, football, basketball, and baseball. He made such an impressive showing as a pitcher in an exhibition game against the Philadelphia Athletics in 1916 that Connie Mack offered him a contract, but he declined. He qualified for a Rhodes Scholarship, but was unable to accept it due to World War 1.(2)
Soon after the United States entered World War 1, Holland in 1917 volunteered and was later commissioned a second lieutenant in the Coast Artillery Corps. With the 31st Artillery Brigade, Headquarters Battery, Lt. Holland was sent to France where he served as a brigade judge advocate and assistant adjutant. Transferred at his request to the Air Service, Signal Corps, he was assigned to the 24th Aero Squadron where he, mostly with Lt. George E. Goldwaithe of New York City, saw action as an aerial observer and gunner gathering information and taking photographs behind the enemy lines, prior to and during offensives over the Meuse-Argonne, Champaign, St. Mihiel, and Luneville sectors, during which action he downed two enemy planes. On a mission, Goldwaithe and Holland's plane was hit and crash landed in a crater behind American lines. On December 11, 1918, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for valor in action. The citation, signed by John J. Pershing, Commander-in-Chief, read: “First Lieutenant Spessard L. Holland, C. A. C. Observer 24th, Aero Squadron, distinguished himself by extra-ordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United States at Bois de Banthville, France, on 15 October 1918 and in recognition of his gallant conduct I have awarded him in the name of the President the Distinguished Service Cross.” Returned to the United States, he was promoted to captain and toured for the Victory Loan Drive. Capt. Holland resigned his commission in July 1919.(3)
Holland had a distinguished law practice in Bartow. Admitted to the Florida Bar in 1916, he became a junior partner with R. B. Huffaker in the law firm of Huffaker and Holland in Bartow, but his practice was suspended while he served in World War 1. After his discharge, he resumed his private law practice, but soon after was appointed Prosecuting Attorney of Polk County. In 1920 he was elected County Judge for a four-year term and re-elected in 1924. In 1929 he returned to private practice with William F. Bevis as Holland and Bevis, which firm became with the addition of Robert L. Hughes, Jr. in 1933 Holland, Bevis & Hughes; Holland, Bevis & McRae, 1946; Holland, Bevis, McRae & Smith, 1953; Holland, Bevis, & Smith, 1961; Holland, Bevis, Smith & Kibler, 1964; Holland, Bevis, Smith, Kibler & Hall, 1965. Merging with a Tampa law firm in 1968, the practice became Holland & Knight, now one of the most prestigious law firms of Florida. The firm’s most important case, of which Holland made the closing argument in October 1959, was the Tidelands Case, in which the U. S. Supreme Court confirmed Texas and Florida’s claim to its tidelands to a distance of 10.35 land miles from its coast in the Gulf of Mexico.(4)
Holland was elected to represent Polk County in the Florida Senate in the Democratic primary in June 1932 and re-elected in 1936. During every session, he was a member of the school committee, helped draft and co-introduced the Florida School Code, supported measures to improve the schools, raise the pay of teachers and provide for their retirement. He supported workmen’s compensation, unemployment insurance, citrus law reforms, and repeal of the state poll tax in 1937. He sponsored measures for the reduction of taxes and consistently opposed the sales tax. (5)
In 1940, Holland was elected Governor of Florida and served January 7, 1941 to January 2, 1945. As Florida’s World War 11 Governor, he promoted the establishment of military bases in the state and mobilized the home front. His administration accomplished many notable acts. In January 1941, the teachers’ retirement system was put into effect. The state’s public schools were placed on a sounder financial basis. The state’s finances were strengthened by reform of the tax system and refinancing of the state’s debt. In this regard the property tax legislation mandated uniform assessments at actual value and tax deeds were validated, thus resulting in increased and prompter tax collections. Recommended by him and adopted were four constitutional amendments, i.e., pledging gasoline taxes for highway betterment, lowering of the intangible tax, a provision for amending the constitution in a shorter period, and creation of the Game and Fresh Water Commission. In 1943 at a conference of governors at Denver, he help secure revision of railroad freight rates, which aided the South. In 1944, he negotiated deeding of thousands of acres of Florida marsh or submerged land to the United States, which in due time became part of the Everglades National Park, which he was instrumental in establishing in 1947. During his term, he prevented a lynching of three Negroes at Quincy by ordering them transferred to the Tallahassee jail, to which the mob followed. Holland confronted the would-be lynchers, who backed down.(6)
Holland Family at Inaguration, January 7, 1941
Ivanhoe and Mary Holland, 1941
Holland was elected to the U. S. Senate in 1946. He was only the second ex-governor of Florida to be elected to the Senate and the first Florida native to serve as both Governor and Senator. Following the death of Senator Charles O. Andrews on September 18, 1946, he was appointed on September 25 by Governor Millard Caldwell to fill out the unexpired term. On January 3, 1947, he commenced his regular six-year term. He, subsequently, was re-elected in 1952, 1958, and 1964. Having never been defeated for public office, he retired in January 1971. A conservative Democrat aligned with the Southern bloc, he was a key figuring in preserving the filibuster and maintained civil rights were matters of states’ rights. He vowed of the civil right bill in 1964, “We’ll stand up and fight as long as we can.” The most important achievement of his legislative career, however, was that he was the major sponsor of the 24th amendment to the Constitution, which abolished the poll tax, which long had been used to disenfranchise black voters. Other legislation he supported included the Marshall Plan, Taft-Hartley labor law, Tidelands Act of 1946 and its successor the Submerged Lands Act of 1953, the Pan American Highway, and foreign aid. He was one of the original sponsors of statehood for Alaska and the first Southerner to support statehood for Hawaii. Although he never chaired a major committee, he was, nevertheless, considered as one of the sixth or seventh most powerful senators as he skillfully combined seniority, connections, and friendship to achieve his goals. At retirement, he was serving on the agriculture and forestry, appropriations, and aeronautical and space science committees.(7)
He was involved in various civic and fraternal organizations and received numerous honors. He served as a member of the board of visitors of the U. S. service academies and as a trustee of Emory University, Florida Southern College, and Florida Presbyterian College. He was a recipient of honorary degrees of LL.D. from Rollins, Florida Southern College, Florida State colleges and Emory University in 1941, Florida State University in 1956, and the University of Miami in 1962; D.C.L. from the University of Florida in 1953, and H.H.D. from the University of Tampa in 1956. The Golden Rose of Canada was conferred upon him. Named for him, among others, were the Spessard L. Holland Law Center at the University of Florida and the Holland Building in Tallahassee. He was a member of the American and Florida bar associations, Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Tau Omega, and Phi Delta Phi. Other associations included Sons of the American Revolution, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Masons (33rd degree Shriner), Kiwanis Club of Bartow, and Elks. He was a conservationist and enjoyed bird watching, which his wife introduced him; also a hunter and fisherman. He was a baseball and football fan and played tennis. His hobby was collecting Florida books.(8)
Spessard L. Holland died of a heart attack on November 6, 1971 at his home at 1005 South Broadway, Bartow. On November 8, the body, with a uniformed honor guard from MacDill Air Force Base in attendance, lay in state at the First United Methodist Church, of which Holland was a lifelong member, from 9 A. M. until 3 P. M. Funeral services, with Rev. Lee R. Van Sickle officiating, followed at 4 P. M. at the church. Members of the law firm of Holland & Knight served as pallbearers. Interment was in the Holland family plot in Wildwood Cemetery. Floyd Christian, State Education Commissioner, said of him: “No one distinguished himself in public life as much as Senator Holland, both as a governor and a senator. He truly represented the people...He truly was a great public servant.” (9)
At Lakeland, Florida on February 8, 1919, he married Mary Agnes Groover, born July 31, 1896, Fort White, Florida, daughter of Dr. William Rowan Groover, a Lakeland physician and businessman, and Mary Matilda “Mollie” (Knowles) Groover. Mary, several weeks after suffering a stroke, died March 22, 1975 at Bartow Memorial Hospital and was buried in Wildwood Cemetery.(10)
They had four children:
1. Spesssard Lindsey Holland, Jr., born May 26, 1921, Lakeland; died March 26, 1989, Melbourne, FL; buried Florida Memorial Gardens, Melbourne; married (1) Elizabeth Jeanette Logan; (2) Dorothy Durrance Bryan; (3) Rita Hinchman McDaniel.
2. Mary Groover Holland, born Oct. 24, 1924, Bartow; died Dec. 4, 1997, Tallahassee; buried Evergreen Cemetery, Carrabelle; married Jefferson Davis Lewis.
3. William Benjamin Holland, born Sept. 20, 1926, Bartow; died Jan. 30, 1974, Winter Haven, FL; buried Lakeside Cemetery, Winter Haven; married (1) Claudia Croy; (2) Lynn Smith Anderson.
4. Ivanhoe Elizabeth Holland, born June 28, 1930, Bartow; married (1) Augustus Henry King 111; (2) Richard Bellaire Craney.(11)
My thanks are extended to Dr. Canter Brown, Jr. for his research assistance.
(1) "Soldier's Pension Claim" and Widow's Pension Claim," Florida Archives; “Information About Spessard Lindsey Holland United States Senator From Florida,” page 1; Canter Brown, Jr., In the Midst of All That Makes Life Worth Living Polk County, Florida, to 1940 (Tallahassee), 2001, page 135; “Biographical Sketch of the Life of Spessard L. Holland,” Verticle Files, State Library of Florida, Tallahassee, n.d.; “Spessard L. Holland Dies Suddenly at 79,” Polk County Democrat, November 8, 1971; Social Security Death Index. “Information..’ has that Fannie Virginia (Spessard) Holland came to Florida in 1888, but Fanny, as she spelled her name, in “Widow’s Pension Claim” of January 20, 1925 avowed that she “had continuously resided in the State of Florida since the 1st day of September, 1889.” “Register of Marriages” in the pension application has that Fannie V. Spessard was 29 years old when married; thus she was born ca. 1861. In "Widow's Pension Claim" of January 20, 1925, her name was printed "Fanny V. Holland," but the same has "That she was lawfully married to the said Benjamin Franklin Holland under the name of Fannie V. Spessard in the County of Monroe State of West Virginia on the 9th day of September, 1890..." She, however, signed her name "Fanny V. Holland." The pension was granted to "Mrs. Fannie V. Holland." Frank L. Holland was born October 7, 1895 and died in March 1966 at Winter Haven, Florida. Virginia Holland was born May 23, 1898; married in December 1919 Roy Trent Gallemore; died in February 1986, Bartow.
(2) Allen Morris, The Florida Handbook 1949-1950 (Tallahassee), 1949; page 132; “Information About Spessard Lindsey Holland United States Senator From Florida,” page 1; “Spessard Holland Was A Man of Many Labels,” The Polk County Democrat, November 8, 1971.
(3) National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Volume 58, page 451; “Biographical Sketch of the Life of Spessard L. Holland,” Verticle Files, State Library of Florida, Tallahassee.
(4) National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Volume 58, page 450; “24th Amendment Was Greatest Highlight of Distinguished Career,” The Polk County Democrat, November 8, 1971.
(5) Canter Brown, Jr., In the Midst of All That Makes Life Worth Living Polk County, Florida, to 1940, pages 301, 319; Allen Morris, The Florida Handbook 1949-1950 (Tallahassee), 1949; page 132; “Biographical Sketch of the Life of Spessard L. Holland,” Verticle Files, State Library of Florida, Tallahassee. Zora Neale Hurston for his courageous action in repealing the state poll tax and other reasons designated Holland “my ideal of a southern statesman.” Holland and Senator Ernest Graham of Miami were the duo responsible for the state poll tax’s demise. See Brown, page 319.
(6) National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Volume 58, page 450; “Information About Spessard Lindsey Holland United States Senator From Florida,” page 3; Allen Morris, The Florida Handbook 1949-1950 (Tallahassee), 1949; pages 132-133; Allen Morris, The Florida Handbook 1977-1978, 16th edition (Tallahassee, Florida), 1977, pages 130-131, 494-495; “Rights Bill Fight Vowed By Holland, The Tampa Tribune, April 23, 1964; “24th Amendment Was Greatest Highlight of Distinguished Career,” The Polk County Democrat, November 8, 1971; “He Stopped Lynch Mobs Twice -- in Lakeland, Tally,” The Polk County Democrat, November 8, 1971. In a field of eleven candidates in the first Democratic primary, of 481,337 votes cast, he received 118,862 votes to runner-up Francis P. Whitehair of DeLand’s 95,431. In the second primary he tallied 272,718 votes to win over Whitehair, who received 206,158 votes. In the general election, in which there was no Republican opponent, he received 334,152 votes. Holland had also in the 1930s at Lakeland prevented a mob from lynching two men, who had shot to death two Lakeland police officers.
(7) “Information About Spessard Lindsey Holland United States Senator From Florida,” page 1; Allen Morris, The Florida Handbook 1977-1978, 16th edition (Tallahassee, Florida), 1977, pages 497-499; National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Volume 58, page 450-451; James Malone, “Spessard Holland Dies, Senator for 25 Years,” Miami Herald, November 7, 1971; “24th Amendment Was Greatest Highlight of Distinguished Career,” The Polk County Democrat, November 8, 1971. He was nominated to the U. S. Senate on May 7, 1946 in the first Democratic primary by receiving 204,352 votes to down his major opponent R. A. (Lex) Green, who got 109,040, while two others tallied only 23,153 In the general election he defeated Republican J. Harry Schad by 156,232 (78.7%) to 42,408. He was only the second ex-governor of Florida to be elected to the Senate and the first Florida native to serve as both Governor and Senator. Following the death of Senator Charles O. Andrews on September 18, 1946, he was appointed on September 25 by Governor Millard Caldwell to fill out the unexpired term. On January 3, 1947, he commenced his regular six-year term. In the Democratic primary of 1952, he outpolled William A. Gaston by 485,515 to 91,011and received 616,665 votes in the uncontested general election. In the Democratic primary in 1958, he turned back Claude Pepper 408,084 to 321,377 and in the general election he handily vanquished Republican Leland Hyzer by 386,113 (71.2%) to 155,956. In the Democratic primary in 1964, he made short work of Brailey Odham by a margin of 676,014 to 289,454 and in the general election mastered future governor Claude R. Kirk, Jr. 997,585 (64%) to 562,212. In regard the poll tax, Senator Holland, emulating his successful repeal of it as a state senator, introduced the amendment in 1949 and persisted in every succeeding Congress until 1962 when it was approved by the 87th Congress; subsequently, it was ratified by three-fourths of the states and became the 24th Amendment in 1964. Although a Democrat, Holland was “often branded a Republican in philosophy and voting.” See “Sen. Holland Paid A Tribute,” Tallahassee Democrat, September 30, 1966.
(8) “Information About Spessard Lindsey Holland United States Senator From Florida,” page 1; National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Volume 58, page 450-451.
(9) “Spessard L. Holland Dies Suddenly at 79,” Polk County Democrat, November 8, 1971; “Florida Leaders Mourn the Death Of Sen. Holland,” Times-Union And Journal, Jacksonville, Sunday, November 7, 1971.
(10) National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Volume 58, page 451; “Mary Holland dies at 78,” Tallahassee Democrat, March 23, 1975.
(11) National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Volume 58, page 451; Freddie and Hugh Wright, March 14, 2002.
This profile, sans endnotes, was published in The Polk County Historical Quarterly, June 2002.