Reflections: Wardell, BBQ, MFA and LBJ

Friday, February 9, 2018

(Originally posted December 27, 2012)

There is a story behind this photo taken in Wardell, Missouri, in the 1950s.

Most readers will recognize the central figure in the dark suit holding a Stetson hat in his right hand as Lyndon Baines Johnson, 36th president of the United States. Popularly known as LBJ, Johnson at the time of the photo was the Senate majority leader.

But, what in the world is he doing in Wardell?

It all starts with the man standing on the far right: that is Hilton Bracey of Portageville. Hilton worked for MFA and was a close friend of Missouri Senator Stewart Symington. Symington is standing second from the left next to Johnson. Bracey was Symington's "point man" in Southeast Missouri, and Symington usually ran things past him before doing anything that involved the area.

O. H. Acom Farms of Wardell was hosting its annual barbecue at the cotton gin in Wardell and contacted Bracey to see if he could arrange for Senator Symington to come and say a few words to the crowd. Bracey contacted Symington and issued the invitation. This was a big event in the Missouri Bootheel, and it was one any state official would want to attend.

Symington wanted to attend but he had a problem and a real conflict. It seems he had already promised Senator Johnson he would go to Texas that same day and make a speech there. Johnson as Senate majority leader had a serious interest in being the next president. Symington was also interested in being the next president. Both men were real contenders -- and friends. The Texas invitation was an important one for Symington.

Symington explained his "conflict" to Bracey, but he also had a proposal.

"We could stop over in Memphis on our way to Texas if you could arrange to fly us up to Caruthersville," Symington said.

Symington went on the explain Johnson would only fly in a twin-engine private plane. Bracey located one in Cairo and arranged for it to pick up the pair of Senators in Memphis and fly them back after the barbecue. Bracey chauffeured the pair back and forth from Caruthersville to Wardell. Bracey recalled that Johnson apologized that he was very tired and slept most of the time in the car.

Also on the platform with the cotton bales are Abbie Story (second from the right) from Mississippi County who was a close friend of Bracey, Congressman Paul Jones from Kennett who is speaking to Johnson, and Emerson Smith (next to Bracey) who was the farm manager for O. H. Acom farms.

A few years after this photo, Senator John F. Kennedy won the Democrat Presidential nomination and picked Johnson over Symington as his running mate.

You should know the rest of the story about LBJ.

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