Received a call today from a reader in Rochester, New York, wondering where was our entry on John J. Wicker Jr. (1893–1985). Well, we don’t have one, and truth be told, probably won’t, which is all the more reason I should publish here what I’ve been able to dig up. The short version: Wicker Jr. was a Richmond lawyer, state senator, and Democratic Party muckety-muck* who in 1962 sent a telegram to John F. Kennedy scolding the president for crediting the Pilgrims with America’s first Thanksgiving when that honor should, in fact, go to Virginians. (As all honors should, right?) Kennedy corrected himself the next year.
Here’s the slightly longer version:
John Jordan Wicker Jr. was born on December 31, 1893, the son of a Baptist minister who had preached in Trenton, New Jersey, before relocating to Virginia. As pastor of the Leigh Street Baptist Church in 1916, the elder Wicker publicly supported women’s suffrage and later served as the fifth president of Fork Union Military Academy; his son, John C. Wicker—brother of John J. Wicker Jr.—served as the school’s sixth president. A chapel there is named in honor of the elder Wicker. Wicker Jr. attended Richmond College and was married in October 1915 to Miss Kate Lumpkin Richardson, near Washington, Georgia. In 1914, the elder and younger John J. Wickers participated in a pilgrimage to Palestine, and they were in Rome when war broke out. Junior, who was a lawyer by trade, joined the air corps. In 1918, he and his wife had a child, Katharine W. “Kitty” Wicker, who later married John Long Jr. and died in 2009.
Wicker Jr. served as one of the American Legion‘s founding, or at least early, members. A 1972 article in the Chicago Tribune mentions that his wallet had been recently stolen and with it his “precious card No. 1 in Post No. 1 of the American Legion.” During the 1920s, Wicker served on the Legion’s Executive Committee as its travel director, arranging trips to France for veterans. From 1932 until 1935 and then again in 1945 he served in the Senate of Virginia as a Democrat from Richmond City. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1952 and testified before the United States Senate in 1956 in opposition to civil rights legislation. In 1967 he was serving as chairman of the Virginia World War II Commission and apparently was no fan of the antiwar movement. In a 1972 Washington Post article (by Carl Bernstein, no less) he is described as having “served as counsel and lobbyist for several insurance companies.”
In 1977, Wicker received a distinguished citizen award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. He died in July 1985 at the age of 91. As recently as last year, the Virginia convention of the American Legion awarded the “John J. Wicker roving trophy” to Post No. 24 in Alexandria to honor the highest membership in its category.
So there you have it. If you know more and find any errors here, feel free to chime in. Maybe we’ll get an entry out of this yet.
* Meaning “self-important person,” this word was coined by Claude McKay, the great Harlem Renaissance writer.
IMAGE: The Paris Caucus of the American Legion, in session, March 1919. I think you can juuuust pick out John J. Wicker there in the back (okay, not really; I don’t even know if he was there)