Clarence Benton “Buddie” Newman was born on 8 May 1921 in Valley Park, Mississippi, the son of a state legislator who also worked as a section foreman for the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad (later part of the Illinois Central line). As a boy, Newman accompanied his father to Jackson to serve as a legislative page. There, he met many of the state’s major politicians, such as Fielding Wright, Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives and a future governor. After high school, Newman went to work for Southern Natural Gas Company, but with the outbreak of World War II he enlisted in the military, serving in the Pacific Theater from 1942 to 1945. When Newman returned to Issaquena County after the war, he resumed his job with the gas company and began farming. In 1947 he won election to the Mississippi Senate, and politics soon became his primary vocation. He served one term in the upper chamber of the legislature before moving to the Mississippi House, where he won reelection eight times, serving through 1988. During his forty-year legislative career, Newman became one of the state’s most powerful and ultimately most controversial politicians.
Very early in his stint in the Mississippi House, Newman developed a close relationship with Walter Sillers, the forceful Speaker who ruled from 1944 to 1966. Sillers placed the young lawmaker on the influential Ways and Means Committee and in 1964 made him chair of the committee, a post he held until 1975. While in the legislature in the 1960s he strongly supported segregation, and he was closely involved with Gov. Ross Barnett during the crisis over the integration of the University of Mississippi. In a 1993 interview, Newman declared that African Americans “should have an opportunity to vote. They should have an opportunity for an education, but I would be lying to tell you today if I believe they ought to go to school together. I don’t believe that. . . . I don’t believe they ought to be in school together. And I don’t think they ought to marry. I think that there’s a place that they ought to be separated.”
In 1976 Newman became Speaker, serving in that capacity until his retirement. Like Wright and Sillers before him, Newman closely guarded the power of the state’s most influential body, but by the mid-1980s he faced challenges to his rule. Some observers trace the decline of Newman’s power to his initial lackluster support for Gov. William Winter’s Education Reform Act. During the 1982 legislative session, Newman killed Winter’s public kindergarten bill by adjourning the House on a crucial deadline day without a vote. The press pummeled Newman for his action. The Speaker soon changed his position and went on to play a key role in securing passage of the education reform package during a special session later in the year. In 1983, however, a group of freshman legislators tried to change the rules to reduce Newman’s power. Newman responded by punishing the rebels, a tactic Sillers had used to great effect. Times, however, had obviously changed, and resentment over Newman’s actions festered. By 1987 the reformers had a majority, and it was clear that Newman would not be reelected Speaker after the 1988 elections.
Newman chose to withdraw from politics and returned to Valley Park, where he operated a farm and a railroad museum until his death on 13 October 2002.
- Bill Minor, Eyes on Mississippi: A Fifty-Year Chronicle of Change (2001)
- Andrew P. Mullins Jr., Building Consensus: A History of the Passage of the Mississippi Education Reform Act of 1982 (1992)
- “Oral History with Mr. C. B. Newman” (1992, 1993), Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage, University of Southern Mississippi, http://digilib.usm.edu/cdm/ref/collection/coh/id/5953