During the 1966 Arkansas gubernatorial campaign, race-baiter "Justice Jim" Johnson brought his fiery Southern political discourse to a new level. Trying desperately to paint his rival Winthrop Rockefeller as a "big-city queer," Johnson succeeded in introducing Arkansans to a new type of social deviant.
On an early morning campaign stop, supporters for "Justice Jim" Johnson broke out in song.
The Rich Man from the Mountain
With All of His Grace
His Boots Made of Leather and
His Panties of Lace
With His Greedy Grin, All Over His Face
His Hunger for Power That's
Held in His Paw
Reaches for the State of Arkansas. ...
The man of boots of leather and panties of lace, the rich man from the mountain, Winthrop Rockefeller, was close to becoming the first Republican governor since Reconstruction.
The well-heeled Rockefeller had come to Arkansas in the mid-fifties bringing with him no real political ambitions but hardly escaping his New York playboy image. Rumors of his possible sub rosa East Coast homosexuality soon followed him. Rockefeller purchased extensive farm lands and made his home atop scenic Petit Jean Mountain. Once there, rumors continued to spread. Some hinted that his mountain retreat was in actuality a haven for his rumored alcoholism and his vast stockpiles of pornography.
When Orval Faubus suddenly announced his "retirement" from public office in 1966, a long and vicious battle ensued for his Democratic heir. From the Democratic primary election emerged "Justice Jim" Johnson, a race-baiter and the man considered by many to have pushed Faubus, whom he deemed Arkansas's "nigger lover," into the national showdown outside of Central High.
Johnson had a formidable opponent in Rockefeller and immediately set out to discredit him on the grounds of his sexuality. Johnson had labeled Rockefeller as the "prissy sissy" and "winsome Winnie" since his days as head of the Industrial Development Commission. In 1955, in Arkansas Faith, Johnson's newsletter for his group the White Citizens Council, Johnson's accusations as to Rockefeller's sexuality were extremely subtle, but always called to mind the burning and irrevocably linked issues of race and sexuality.
When he moved to Arkansas, Rockefeller brought his trusted aide, a black man, James E. Hudson, to run his ranch operations. Johnson's publications described Hudson as a "wiry, balding negro who has been Winthrop's right hand man since the two first teamed up as young men in New York City 18 years ago." The publication states that Hudson was afforded so much respect and responsibility from Rockefeller that locals went along, "granting him a courtesy all too rare in most southern states." The Arkansas Faith further reported, "they called him 'Mister'." From that point, Johnson would do more than hint at the nature of their relationship. The rumor that Rockefeller "sodomized black men" was now added to the litany of charges against him.
Though Johnson was a Southern Democrat in the strictest sense, his White Citizens Council began to circulate a publication entitled "Republicans for Better Government." In it, Rockefeller was labeled with every term that might be considered incendiary in Southern politics, branding him everything from a socialist to a devout internationalist. On the front page, a picture of a "lithe, handsome, and nearly nude valentine" appeared next to a photograph of Rockefeller. In fact, the two were actually at the same function. Rockefeller was judging costumes at a 1949 Valentines ball benefiting the Urban League in New York City. The pictures originally appeared in Life magazine. Now, some 16 years later, they were being used to confuse the protected and currently under siege boundaries of race by painting Rockefeller as a sexual culprit and big city suspect who could further threaten such delicate boundaries. Johnson continued to campaign vigorously and used what he could to back this idea, but he was no longer subtle in speaking of Rockefeller's supposed sexuality. An article entitled "Winthrop Rockefeller – A Homosexual??" cited various other "sources" to expose Rockefeller's alleged "homophile nature." The article begins with a source entitled The Secret Life of Walter Winchell that details Rockefeller's supposed first visit to a New York City brothel in an effort to steer him towards heterosexism. He was 16, the source contended, and was sent there to "to be taught that all things could be bought for money and to be kept from the clutches of homosexuals."
Other sources hinted at something improper in the Rockefeller and Hudson relationship. The article featured an excerpt from a source entitled Rockefeller Public Enemy No. 1. In it, there was a rather dubious quotation from Rockefeller explaining his reasons for relocating to Arkansas. Rockefeller was quoted as stating that "my Army 'boy friend,' Jim Hudson, would not come to New York, so I went to Arkansas to be with him." The article went on to use another source, Those Rockefeller Brothers, to allege that Hudson and Rockefeller had spent months touring the country by car and that "Winthrop calls Hudson his 'assistant' because he says he has never been able to think of any other title for the Negro."
Despite Johnson's efforts, voters narrowly awarded Rockefeller the governor's office in the 1966 election and he would go on to serve a difficult second term. Adding to his misery were the rumors of alcoholism that had dogged him most of his life. Though not successful in his bid for governor, "Justice Jim" Johnson had succeeded in creating a political discourse that combined race and sexuality and further brought it into the mainstream.
Editor's note: Rumors about Rockefeller's sexuality remained just that, rumors. One of his marriages produced a son.