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Sidney J. Catts, Sr
Birth: Jul. 31, 1863
Death: Mar. 9, 1936
DeFuniak Springs
Walton County
Florida, USA

Florida Governor. Sidney Johnston Catts was born on the old Catts Plantation in the village Pleasant Hill near Selma, Alabama to parents, Adeline Rebecca Smyly and Samuel Walker Catts, a wealthy landowner. While being watched by his nanny as a toddler, Catts lost sight in his right eye when the point of a pair of scissors punctured the eye; hence all photos show the left profile of his face. He studied at Auburn and Howard University in Alabama, but earned a law degree from Cumberland University in Tennessee in 1882. He married Alice May Campbell on November 18, 1886 in Collirene, Alabama and eight children were born to this union. Early on, he ran for a local political office but lost the election along with his interest in law. In 1886 Catts was ordained as Baptist minister then in 1911 relocated to Florida to take a church assignment. It was soon after that Catts resigned his vocation of insurance for the soul to selling fraternal life insurance door to door, thus meeting the "little people" and spreading his political ideas to others. A political unknown in Florida, he campaigned for the office of governor by walking miles and miles covering Florida with a Bible in one hand and carrying a loaded revolver in the other. Catts was a colorful candidate standing 6-foot tall, weighting over 200 pounds and a mass of fiery red hair. He often flamboyantly stood on a stump preaching a political sermon to his supporters while wiping sweat from his ruddy red face with a large handkerchief or cooling himself with a palmetto fan. It is said that he based his political truths on "Religion, Race, and Rum", and often compared to colorful political figure Huey Long of Louisiana. He won the Democratic ticket; but the Florida Supreme court was not satisfied with the ballot count, thus ordered a recount, which he lost by just a few votes. At this point, he received the nomination of the Prohibition Party. On Election Day in 1916, Sidney Catts became the 22nd Governor of Florida with 43% of the votes and the remaining candidates dividing the rest. He was the one of two candidates from the Prohibition Party to ever obtain such a high position in government; the other was Charles Hiram Randall of California, who served in Congress 1915 to 1921. Catts was always a true Democrat. It is well documented that Catts had a deep prejudice against the Roman Catholic Church and the black race, and he publicly verbalized his beliefs as the truth to anyone that would listen. In 1919, he supported the lynching of two black men then followed with remarks that Florida's white women needed protection from black men. Florida had 13 lynching of black men without lawful trials by 1920. His administration was a turbulent one since many of the state's political leaders opposed his reasoning on these matters. Catts did have some positive accomplishments: Federal aide for road improvements, aide to dependent children, improvement of state mental health facilities, change in election laws, draining of Everglades, increased pensions for old soldiers, Seminole Reservation, labor laws, and created the program of "The Friend of the Convicts". At the dismay of the Roman Catholic Church, he passed taxation of church property with the exception of the church and pastor's home and same required license for public, private and denominational schoolteachers including nuns. Endorsing suffrage for women, he appointed a woman to his staff, and a statewide Prohibition Act was passed at his prodding. During the 19 months that the United States was in World War I, Catts lead the state with more than 40,000 Floridians serving in the military including the governor's son Rozier, several military training bases started in Florida, and Floridians purchased millions of dollars in Liberty Bonds. Florida farmers grew tons of food for the Allied war effort, and to promote this, Governor Catts proclaimed May 6, 1917 as National Crisis Day to urge Florida farmers to produce more food, and to encourage food conservation throughout the state On the other hand, he shocked many of his followers by supporting legalized gambling and, late in his term, his administration was attacked with charges of peonage and counterfeiting. Catts was ineligible to run for reelection in 1920, but he ran for the U. S. Senate as a Democrat, but captured less than 30% of the vote as Floridians had enough of his style of politics. The York Times ran a detailed article about his colorful life on Sunday, May 29, 1921, and reported that he was arrested for peonage. More articles in the same newspaper, in addition to the Washington Post, the Florida Times Union and other national newspapers, stated Catts had accepted money to pardon criminals, one being a man serving life sentence for a murder at the center of a bootlegging ring. Catts was arrested for forcing labor on two former black convicts at his DeFuniak Springs farm. Although Catts was acquitted in 1922 of all charges, people still remembered these incidents. After a move to Atlanta, Catts established his short-lived business of making patent medicines, such as Catts' Hog Tonic. Catts ran for Florida Governor in 1924 and 1928, losing both times. Catts was one of the Democrats who worked against 1928 Presidential nominee Al Smith due to his religion, which was Roman Catholic. Catts held membership in the Freemasonry, Guardian of Liberty, Knights of Pythias and Woodmen of the World. Governor Sidney Catts' biography was published in 1977, "Cracker Messiah," by Wayne Flint and published by Louisiana State University Press. (bio by: Linda Davis) 
 
Family links: 
 Spouse:
  Alice May Campbell Catts (1863 - 1949)*
 
 Children:
  Sidney Johnston Catts (1894 - 1969)*
  Walter Ivey Catts (1896 - 1916)*
  Rosier Dulaney Catts (1897 - 1935)*
 
*Calculated relationship
 
Burial:
Magnolia Cemetery
DeFuniak Springs
Walton County
Florida, USA
 
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Originally Created by: Mark Pawelczak
Record added: Sep 30, 2002
Find A Grave Memorial# 6813114
Sidney J. Catts, Sr
Added by: Garver Graver
 
Sidney J. Catts, Sr
Added by: Dorothy Sunday
 
Sidney J. Catts, Sr
Added by: Dorothy Sunday
 
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- Ernest Sharpe Jr
 Added: Feb. 8, 2014

- Mario Ragucci
 Added: Mar. 24, 2013
Rest in peace.
-Anonymous
 Added: Jan. 10, 2013
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