This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

A Tricky Chessboard: Albert Rains, New Deal Liberalism, and Southern Progressivism in Alabama




Haeuser, Erik

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis




Alabama during the post-World War II period until the late 1960s was represented by a group of Democratic congressmen that has been described as the most liberal and progressive in the nation. Collectively, they were a powerful force for organized labor, federal aid programs, affordable housing, and the rapid modernization and industrialization of the state. Albert Rains was a member of this group, serving in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1945-1965. During his tenure, he was known as one of the most powerful figures in Congress. Rains was the main force behind the passing of numerous housing laws, irrevocably shaping American housing in the twentieth century. Rains was also a leading voice for the protection and preservation of historic sites across the nation. His work on With Heritage So Rich encouraged Congress to pass the National Historic Preservation Act, which has left an indelible mark on American historic preservation and public history. Though he wielded tremendous influence in Congress in favor of housing, preservation, and labor, Rains remained an avowed segregationist. His belief in segregation threatened to overshadow his legislative successes and legacy. The housing bills successfully pushed by Rains created a financial climate hostile to African American home owners and home-buyers, and his slum clearance and urban renewal programs proved calamitous to African American communities across the country. Indeed, Rains’s belief in segregation seeped into his work in historic preservation as well, most noticeably in the case of Horseshoe Bend, which has been accused of whitewashing history and promoting attitudes of white supremacy. Thus, Rains has a mixed legacy as one of the twentieth century’s most accomplished congressmen, and also as the product of a segregationist South that ultimately harmed his political career, legacy, and the livelihoods of incalculable Americans.