James Percy Priest

Born in Maury County on April 1, 1900, James Percy Priest went to county public schools before attending classes at the teacher’s college in Murfreesboro (now Middle Tennessee State University), George Peabody College for Teachers, and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He then taught school and coached for several years in Maury County before joining the staff of the Nashville Tennessean in 1926.

At the Tennessean, Priest served as news editor, city editor, and ultimately the paper’s managing editor. While writing public-interest articles as the daily’s roving reporter from 1938 to 1940, he became well known among Middle Tennesseans. Affable and easily approached, Priest was familiar with the interests and concerns of area residents. His opportunity to serve them came in 1940, when he was elected to the United States Congress from Tennessee’s Fifth District. He would serve eight terms in the House before his death.

Conscientious and devoted to his work, Priest enjoyed his life in Congress. Besides attending to the needs of his individual constituents, he, like most of his colleagues from Tennessee, generally supported federal aid for farmers, Tennessee Valley Authority appropriations, federal aid for vocational education programs, and federal appropriations for the indigent; he was also instrumental in securing funds for Nashville’s new federal building. As Democratic Whip for a time and later as chairman of the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee, Priest promoted federal public health measures and joined others in securing legislation which provided national distribution of the Salk polio vaccine.

A lifelong member of the National Press Club, Priest was very popular with the news media and well liked and respected by his Congressional colleagues. Considered progressive, even liberal, on spending and civil rights issues, he was not always as one among Southern congressmen. In 1956, for example, Priest refused to join the more than one hundred members of Congress who signed the so-called Southern Manifesto, which denounced the Supreme Court’s Brown desegregation decision and promised to fight racial integration. Later that summer, Priest won nomination for a ninth term but died on October 12, before the general election in the fall. He is buried in Nashville at Woodlawn Memorial Park.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title James Percy Priest
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date June 22, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018