Democrat Frank William Boykin (1885-1969) was one of the longest-serving congressmen from Alabama. Representing Alabama's First District in the southwest corner of the state from 1935 to 1963, he was recognized for his optimistic and exuberant nature and dedication as a public servant. Despite humble beginnings, Boykin became an energetic and extremely wealthy entrepreneur, businessman, and industrialist and a patron of Mobile and his district.
Boykin was born near Bladon Springs, Choctaw County, on February 21, 1885, the fourth of ten children to James Clark and Glovinia Ermenia (Ainsworth) Boykin. From a family of sharecroppers, Boykin attended public schools but left after completing the fourth grade and was largely self-taught for the remainder of his life. In 1893, the family moved to Fairford, Washington County, where he worked as a clerk in the family store and eventually became store manager. At 12 years old, Boykin later claimed, he rose from being the water boy of a Washington County railroad construction crew to become a train dispatcher and conductor.
Boykin would make fortunes from his interests in land, timber, turpentine, sawmills, and commissary stores in Malcolm, McIntosh, and Fairford, skillfully exploiting Mobile's coastal location and the region's natural resources. At the age of 15, he became the manager of a railroad commissary operated by the Seaboard Manufacturing Company of Kansas City. The next year, he built the first brick store in Washington County with John Everett, and in 1905 he moved to Malcolm in that county, where he had bought a sawmill that manufactured railroad ties. He married Ocllo Gunn of Thomasville in neighboring Clarke County on December 31, 1913, and the couple would have five children.
In 1915, Boykin moved to Mobile, Mobile County, where he and Everett formed a business partnership that included livestock raising, timber, lumber, and naval stores production, sawmills, commissaries, and land deals, some of which were found to be questionable. They operated businesses in Washington and Mobile counties on land that was traditionally owned and settled by the Choctaw Indians. Boykin and Everett hired the Choctaws to work shares of the land but then acquired ownership of those shares in exchange for debts incurred at the commissaries and their inability to pay property taxes. After Everett died in 1927, Boykin became the administrator of his estate and in 1939 bought out the Everett family's interest in their companies for $8,800. The deal was approved by Boykin's brother Matt Boykin, who was the acting probate judge.
Later, Boykin helped organize a number of corporations and became president of the Washington Lumber and Turpentine Company and an officer of several other corporations. In 1930, Boykin's Gulf Properties Corporation purchased most of Dauphin Island and organized the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo. (Boykin and his partners sold those rights to the event to the Mobile Chamber of Commerce for nearly $1 million in 1953.) By 1934, he was one of the wealthiest and most successful businessmen in the Gulf Coast area and three years later founded the Tensaw Land and Timber Company, which acquired more than 100,000 acres of prime timberland in Mobile, Baldwin, and Washington counties.
In the 1940s, Boykin acquired a majority of 92,000 acres of land previously owned by the United States Lumber and Cotton Company. When a large salt dome was discovered below his property in McIntosh, Boykin established the Alabama Salt Corporation under his children's names and bought additional land rights around the dome. During the 1940s and 1950s, he fostered the establishment of a chemical-producing center by encouraging the Mathieson Chemical Company to build a plant nearby to produce chlorine and caustic soda. Boykin also persuaded the Geigy Chemical Company and Courtaulds Ltd., as well as the Alabama Power Company, to build plants. Boykin signed lucrative long-term timber leases on 100,000 acres to the Regis Paper Company in the mid-1950s and acquired more than 160,000 acres in Washington and Mobile counties as the Tensaw Land and Timber Company, which would make him a multi-millionaire and the wealthiest man in Mobile. He would later acquire large tracts in Maryland and Virginia near Washington D.C., which led to charges of corruption against him in the early 1960s.
In 1934, Boykin was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives from Alabama's First District after the resignation of John McDuffie. The district at the time encompassed Choctaw, Marengo, Clarke, Wilcox, Monroe, Washington, and Mobile counties. During his congressional career, he became known for his entertaining parties, his phrase, "Everything's Made for Love," support for legislation that he personally benefitted from, and his tendency to miss votes. He frequently hosted and issued invitations to fellow lawmakers, military officials, business leaders and other dignitaries for hunting trips on his land, which made him popular and brought Washington officials to Mobile.
While in Congress, Boykin was recognized as pro-business, anti-organized labor, isolationist on foreign affairs, and an opponent of legislation guaranteeing civil rights for African Americans. He opposed Pres. Harry Truman's civil rights efforts in the late 1940s but did not formally join the Dixiecrats in 1948. In 1956, he was among the 101 congressmen of the Deep South who signed the "Southern Manifesto" protesting the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education ruling. He was, however, known for his efforts on behalf of individual black constituents.
Boykin served on the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds and Committee on Veteran's Affairs subcommittee on Housing and was a senior member of the Committee on Merchant Marines and Fisheries subcommittee on Fish and Wildlife. He also chaired the Committee on Patents from 1943 to 1947, his only chairmanship despite many years in Congress. Overall, he was concerned with the economic and industrial development of Alabama and public improvement for his constituents. He encouraged many companies, including Vanity Fair Mills and International Paper Company, to open facilities in his district, where unemployment was high and tax revenue was low. In 1935, Boykin helped obtain federal funding to build the Bankhead Tunnel below the Mobile River; it opened in 1941. Also that year, he persuaded Congress to fund the expansion of the Port of Mobile and the construction of Brookley Air Force Base (present-day Mobile Downtown Airport).
Boykin unsuccessfully ran for the Senate seat of John Hollis Bankhead II, who died in office in 1946. In 1951, with the retirement of Sam Hobbs, Boykin became the longest-serving member of the Alabama delegation. He was defeated in the 1962 congressional election because of demographic shifts and the redrawing of Alabama's First District. He retired and returned to Mobile, where city officials proclaimed a Frank Boykin Day in his honor.
Boykin would have his share of legal troubles. In late 1923, federal agents arrested numerous people, including Boykin, for violating prohibition laws. During what became known as Mobile's "whiskey trials," which ran from 1924 to 1925, he was accused of providing protection to bootleggers and was one of the more prominent defendants. In February 1925, a jury found Boykin guilty of conspiracy and violation of a tariff act and prohibition laws, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans later overturned the conviction. In July 1963, he was convicted on charges of conspiracy and conflict of interest relating to his purchase of 8,000 acres of timberland in Maryland near Waldorf and 5,000 acres in Stafford County, Virginia during the 1950s. In 1958, he sold the Maryland property for $6 million to a development firm. When the firm struggled to make payments on the property, U.S. Representative Thomas Johnson introduced Boykin to savings and loan executive J. Kenneth Edlin, who offered to buy the property for $9 million. Boykin accepted $250,000 in cashier checks from Edlin as a down payment. But for attempting to have some mail fraud charges against Edlin dismissed, Boykin was indicted and convicted on conflict of interest and conspiracy charges. He served six months' probation, paid a fine, and received a full pardon from Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson on December 17, 1965.
Boykin died from congestive heart failure in Washington, D.C., on March 12, 1969, and was buried in Pine Crest Cemetery in Mobile. Structures in Mobile and Washington counties named in his honor including the Frank Boykin Towers (a public-housing facility in Mobile), the Frank W. and Rob M. Boykin Wildlife Management Area, Frank William Boykin Highway, and Frank W. Boykin Elementary School in McIntosh. Huntingdon College also established the Frank William Boykin Scholarship in his memory.
In 1973, Boykin's family published his autobiography, Everything's Made for Love in this Man's World: Vignettes from the Life of Frank W. Boykin, which some objective observers have criticized as embellished. The Mobile Press-Register published an in-depth and lengthy series on Boykin's life in 2001, which provides a detailed account of his business and
Boykin, Edward. Everything's Made for Love in this Man's World: Vignettes from the Life of Frank W. Boykin. Mobile: Edward Boykin, 1973.
Frank W. Boykin Papers, Alabama Department of Archives and History. Mongtomery, Alabama.
Brett J. Derbes
Published September 20, 2012
Last updated September 21, 2012