Estes Kefauver Image Collection

Estes Kefauver was a big name in 1950s politics, but his name is surprisingly unfamiliar to the current generation. Kefauver (1903-1963), a UT alumnus and East Tennessee native, served in the U.S. House of Representatives for almost ten years (1939-1949), the U.S. Senate for almost 15 years (1949-1963), and twice ran for President.

Kefauver's victory in the New Hampshire primary during the 1952 presidential campaign prompted then sitting President Harry Truman to withdraw from the race. In 1956 he bested John F. Kennedy to become the vice-presidential candidate on the Democratic Party ticket, alongside presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson.

Kefauver rose to national prominence as head of the 1950-51 Senate hearings on organized crime. His name became a household word as early television viewers watched the so-called Kefauver Committee grilling crime bosses on live, prime-time tv.

Other defining issues of Kefauver's career were consumer protection and exposing uncompetitive concentration and price gouging in various U.S. industries. His Senate Antitrust and Monopoly Subcommittee took on the pharmaceutical industry over deceptive advertising and excessive profits made at the expense of consumers. Kefauver's signature legislative achievement, the Kefauver-Harris Drug Act, led to improved drug safety.

For a Southern Democrat of the time, Kefauver was liberal in his views, supporting organized labor and, in general, civil rights. He almost lost reelection to the Senate in 1954 for refusing to denounce the Supreme Court's landmark desegregation decision, Brown v. Board of Education. He and Tennessee's other senator, Albert Gore Sr., were the only Southern senators who refused to sign the pro-segregation Southern Manifesto.

Because of his progressive stance on issues, he had already run afoul of Tennessee's Democratic Party boss, E.H. Crump, who accused Kefauver of being a raccoon-like Communist puppet. Kefauver donned a coonskin cap during a speech and rejoined, "I may be a pet coon, but I'm not Boss Crump's pet coon." The coonskin cap thereafter became Kefauver's trademark.