David Adrian (Dave) Cox (1914–1981)
David Adrian Cox was an obscure Poinsett County farmer who, at the age of forty-eight, ran a quixotic campaign in 1962 to unseat Governor Orval E. Faubus, the most powerful Arkansas politician of the twentieth century. Faubus ran for governor nine times, but Cox was the only opponent who claimed that the act that made Faubus internationally famous—sending soldiers to prevent African American children at Little Rock (Pulaski County) from attending school with whites—was immoral. Faubus’s few critics and his thirty-eight other opponents in those races attacked him on other issues altogether, or else objected that by defying court orders to integrate he did not observe law and order. No Arkansas politician of the era except Cox dared publicly support racial integration and equality on moral grounds. Lean, sunburned and sporting a glass eye, facial scars, and other disabilities that were the result of a childhood farm accident, Cox campaigned spasmodically and with no real money or signs of support. He was arrested twice while campaigning and once called a press conference to reveal other minor run-ins with the law. He also told a stunned crowd at the Mount Nebo Chicken Fry, the highlight of the political season in those days, that he hoped to see the day that America elected a Black president.
Dave Cox was born on October 22, 1914, in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, one of three children of William Hugh Cox and Mary Katherine Ford Cox. He married a Memphis, Tennessee, woman, Bettye Jo Lewis, and they had six children. The couple owned and operated farms near Paducah, Kentucky, as well as the Arkansas communities of Carlisle (Lonoke County), Camden (Ouachita County), Conway (Faulkner County), and Weiner (Poinsett County). Cox was farming 850 acres of cotton, rice, and soybeans near Weiner in the summer of 1962 when he decided that he had to run for governor to show his descendants that he did all that he could to counter the disgrace that he thought Faubus had brought upon the state by his actions during the Central High School desegregation crisis of 1957. The Coxes maintained a home in Little Rock as well as in Weiner; his wife lived in Little Rock much of the year so that their children could attend Catholic schools. She was employed by the Diocese of Little Rock.
When Cox filed at the Secretary of State’s Office at Little Rock to run for governor in 1962, he gave no notice and wrote nothing about himself on the candidate form except that he was a farmer and lived at Weiner. There was barely a notice of his filing in the newspapers. A few weeks later, Amis Guthridge, the head of a white-supremacy group, made national headlines by providing free one-way bus tickets for thirty-four Black Arkansans (unemployed adults and twenty children) to take a Trailways bus from Little Rock to Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, the summer home of President John F. Kennedy, who was trying to pass a civil rights act. It was the summer of the Freedom Rides to the segregated South to support voting rights for African Americans, and Guthridge called his stunts “Reverse Freedom Rides.” An Arkansas Gazette reporter was alerted beforehand and arrived at Guthridge’s law office the next morning as Cox roared into the office to condemn the lawyer. “I’m a humanitarian and I wouldn’t give a blind man the wrong directions,” he shouted, and, pointing to Guthridge, he added: “I think he would!” That was Arkansas’s introduction to Dave Cox.
Cox had to work his crops and made few forays around the state to campaign. He spent $7,500 on the race, mainly rental on a tiny office in downtown Little Rock—he could not afford the $1,000 deposit for a telephone—and campaign signs and cards and a loudspeaker on his red Chevrolet Impala. A Gazette reporter spent a day traveling with him in western Arkansas. The reporter left him in a bar at Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and returned to Little Rock, where he learned that Cox had been arrested during the night at Springdale (Washington and Benton counties) and charged with public drunkenness and disturbing the peace after driving around residential neighborhoods talking about Faubus on the loudspeakers. Cox tried to put up his glass eye for bond, but policemen and a trusty finally put up the $16.50, which was forfeited the next day when Cox did not show up for trial. Cox said mountain people were crazy and announced that he would get no higher than Crowley’s Ridge for the rest of the campaign. The next day, he was arrested at Harrisburg (Poinsett County), on Crowley’s Ridge, for brandishing a gun on the street. Cox explained later that he had gone to the bank there to retrieve a pistol he kept in a safety deposit box. He also revealed that he had been fined $100 two years earlier for pointing a gun at a man who had tried to drive off with all his cotton-chopping tools, and that he had been arrested two years before that for drunken driving and carrying a loaded gun, although the charges were later dropped.
Cox supplied the most notable slogans of the campaign’s six candidates. When a recent high school graduate at the Arkansas Press Association convention asked each of the candidates what advice they would give new graduates going out into the world, all the candidates talked about the great universities and great opportunities that were available for youngsters. Cox was the last to speak. He slouched to the microphone and announced, “I’d tell ’em she’s a low-wage state. Git out and git out fast!”
In a wrap-up in the Gazette a week before the election, Cox said he never had any notion that he would get elected, but someone had to atone for the damage that Faubus had done to the state and the nation by trying to block integration. “Everyone down here hollers about foreign aid,” he said, “but it takes billions of dollars a year to offset what he’s done in the eyes of the world. It’s worth $10,000 or whatever I spend to tell my children that I did my best to get him out. But you can’t tell what will happen in Arkansas politics, if you can get your votes counted.”
Cox finished last, with 2,149 votes. Faubus was renominated by a small margin without a runoff—his chief opponent was former governor Sid McMath—and won two more terms as governor.
Cox died on September 9, 1981, in Little Rock. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Little Rock.
For additional information:
“David A. Cox.” Arkansas Gazette, July 22, 1962, p. 10A.
Dumas, Ernest. The Education of Ernie Dumas. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2019.
“Farmer Files for Governor but Shies from Publicity; Faubus Still Mum on Plans.” Arkansas Gazette, April 24, 1962, p. 1A.
“Springdale Springs Cox, He Vows to Woo Only in Flatlands.” Arkansas Gazette, July 21, 1962, p. 1A.
Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated: 11/05/2021