Eurith Dickinson (E. D.) Rivers (1895–1967)
Eurith Dickinson (E. D.) Rivers was an important political figure in the American South. From the 1920s to the 1940s, Dickinson served in the Georgia state government as a Democrat. He was visible in both regional and national politics before and after the Great Depression. Although he became an important figure in Georgia’s political history, Rivers was born in southwestern Arkansas.
E. D. Rivers was born on December 1, 1895, in Center Point (Howard County). His mother, Millie Annie Rivers, was a native of Tennessee. His father, James Matthew Rivers, was originally from Atlanta, Georgia. His parents were both of English descent and had ancestors who were of English nobility.
The family moved to Georgia during Rivers’s early teens. Rivers attended Young Harris College near the Georgia-Tennessee border, receiving a BA in 1914. On June 7, 1914, Rivers married Lucille Lashley. Lashley and Rivers had met at Young Harris, and her father was professor at the college. They would have two children: Eurith Dickinson Jr. and Geraldine. Rivers soon earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from La Salle Extension University.
Rivers was a skilled teacher, orator, attorney, and judge. After teaching in Toombs County, Georgia, he moved to Cairo, Georgia, and practiced law there until 1920. Rivers later served on the board of directors for the Farmer and Merchants bank of Lakeland, Georgia, and as president of the Milltown Air Line Railroad. In addition, Rivers ran the local newspaper the Lanier County News.
Rivers grew politically and socially active while in Lakeland. He was a county attorney and justice of the peace, and he was an active member in a local Baptist church and the Woodmen of the World. Rivers also was a member of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
His connection to the Democratic Party grew when he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1924. Two years later, Rivers won a seat in the Georgia Senate. He focused on rural issues and local business during his time in the Georgia legislature, and he was one of the most notable Georgian politicians who spoke on behalf of rural white Georgians and in favor of the KKK.
Rivers ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1928 and 1930, and then returned to the Georgia House of Representatives and became Speaker of the House, serving from 1933 to 1937. In 1936, Rivers ran for governor a third time and won as an outspoken advocate of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. He also welcomed Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Hiram Wesley Evans, an Alabama native, to his staff. During his two years in the Governor’s Mansion (gubernatorial terms were only two years in Georgia), Rivers introduced New Deal policies across the state. Rivers convinced legislators to accept federal funds for schooling, housing, and the electrification of rural areas. During his governorship, Rivers saw the creation of the Georgia Housing Authority and the State Bureau of Unemployment.
In 1938, rumors swirled that President Roosevelt would endorse Rivers as the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat from Georgia. Rivers would have been an ally to FDR in Washington DC; however, reports of Rivers’s support for the KKK made some of Roosevelt’s advisors leery. Nevertheless, Rivers decided to run for reelection as governor in 1938. After winning a second term, his next two years were defined by charges of corruption and scandal. A number of his appointees were formally charged. When the film Gone with the Wind premiered on December 15, 1939, Rivers declared it a state holiday. After leaving his office in 1940 because of term limits, Rivers tried to win the governorship again in post–World War II Georgia, but he finished third in the Democratic primary.
Although Rivers never won another election, he continued to be a prominent public figure. He owned a radio station in Florida, and he relocated to Miami-Dade County. He died on June 11, 1967, in Atlanta. He and his wife are interred in a mausoleum in Lakeland.
For additional information:
Coleman, Kenneth, ed. A History of Georgia. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1977.
Howell, Clark. History of Georgia, Vol. 4. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1926.
Patton, Randall. “E. D. Rivers.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/e-d-rivers-1895-1967/ (accessed August 30, 2023).
Michael J. Megelsh
Blue Mountain Christian University
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