Furnifold Simmons, Democratic Power Broker

Furnifold Simmons ca. 1908. Image from Library of CongressOn January 20, 1854, Furnifold Simmons, a major 20th century politico, was born near Pollocksville in Jones County.  Simmons would become famous for his five terms in the U.S. Senate and his dominance of the Democratic political machine which then held sway in state politics.

After graduating from what is now Duke University in 1873, Simmons moved to Goldsboro and then to New Bern to practice law. He was elected to his first political position, the U.S. House of Representatives, in 1886. He lost his first bid for reelection to Henry P. Cheatham, an African American.

As the chairman of the Democratic state executive committee in 1892, and again from 1898 to 1907, Simmons gained statewide political prominence and power. He was deeply involved in engineering the white supremacy campaigns of 1898 and 1900.

In the U.S. Senate, Simmons was largely responsible for the creation of Fort Bragg during World War I and for the construction of the Intracoastal Waterway. In 1928, he drew national attention for his outspoken opposition to the presidential candidacy of Democrat Alfred E. Smith of New York, favoring Herbert Hoover. He was defeated in the Democratic primary in 1930, largely because he chose not to support Smith.

For more, check out A Day of Blood: The 1898 Wilmington Race Riot from North Carolina Historical Publications.

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