James Levesque “Bex” Shaver (1902–1985)
J. L. “Bex” Shaver was a major figure in Arkansas politics and government from the 1920s to the 1950s. A Democrat who served in both houses of the Arkansas General Assembly, as well as in the executive branch of state government, he was also one of the state’s leading attorneys.
James Levesque Shaver was born on May 17, 1902, in Vanndale (Cross County) to William Whitfield Shaver and Irene Taylor Morgan Shaver. Family lore has it that he was nicknamed “Bex” by his brother. He grew up in Wynne (Cross County) and graduated from Wynne High School. He then attended Hendrix College and in 1921, at the age of nineteen, was awarded his law degree from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. While he passed the bar exam, it took a special act of the state legislature in 1923 to allow him to be admitted to the bar before he had reached the age of twenty-one.
He married Louise Davis on February 24, 1922. The couple had two children: a son who followed his father into the law and politics, and a daughter.
He won the first of three terms in the state House of Representatives, representing Cross County, in 1924 at the age of twenty-two. He was elected to the state Senate in 1930 and then reelected in 1934. He devoted himself to his law practice for a time, but he soon returned to government service. In November 1940, Governor-elect Homer Adkins named him as his legislative secretary. Governor Adkins also appointed him to serve on the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge Commission, the beginning of an effort that culminated in the 1949 dedication of the structure.
In 1942, Shaver was elected lieutenant governor, a post he held during Adkins’s second term. Shaver suffered a heart attack in 1943 and considered not running for reelection in 1944. His health rebounded, and he was again elected to the state’s number-two spot, while Benjamin Laney succeeded Adkins as governor. Following his second term, he again stepped away from government service and returned to his law practice. His son, James Jr., graduated from the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1951, and Shaver welcomed him as a junior partner in the firm of Shaver and Shaver.
His law practice flourished, and in 1953 he was elected president of the Arkansas Bar Association. In 1950, he was named by Governor Sid McMath to serve on a committee to study the possible reorganization of state government, and in January 1955, as Orval Faubus prepared to assume the governorship, he named Shaver as his legislative secretary. In early 1956, Faubus named Shaver to a five-member committee that was tasked with studying how to maintain segregation in the state’s schools following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The committee drafted anti-integration legislation that Faubus enacted in 1956. The following year, Shaver represented Faubus before Congress, testifying on behalf of Faubus and alongside other southern governors before the House Judiciary Committee, which was considering civil rights legislation.
In 1958, Faubus appointed Shaver to the Arkansas State Sovereignty Commission, a body created in February 1957 in a response to what Faubus and his allies saw as the encroachment of the federal government on the states in the aftermath of the Brown decision. However, the commission met only twice.
In the late 1950s, Shaver turned his attention back to his law practice, as well as his business interests and the local community. In addition to his work with the state bar, Shaver held numerous offices in the Cross County Bar Association and was a member of the American Bar Association. In 1971, the Arkansas Bar Foundation presented him with the Outstanding Lawyer Citizen Award.
Shaver also had farming interests in the county and was at one time president of the Nehi-Royal Crown Bottling Co. of Wynne and the Royal Crown Bottling Co. of Willow Springs, Missouri. He also served as president of the Wynne Lions Club and secretary of Cross County Hospital Board of Trustees. He was a member of the Wynne Rotary Club and the Wynne Chamber of Commerce, as well as an elder and dean in the Wynne Presbyterian Church.
The family home, the Shaver House, at 923 East Hamilton in Wynne, was built by Shaver and his wife in 1924. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the East Hamilton Avenue Historic District on June 8, 2011.
Shaver died on August 1, 1985. He is buried in Cogbill Cemetery in Wynne.
For additional information:
“J. L. ‘Bex’ Shaver.” Arkansas Lawyer, September 1972, p. 194. Online at https://issuu.com/arkansas_bar_association/docs/september-1972 (accessed January 8, 2021).
“James Levesque Shaver.” Cross County, Arkansas, Genealogy and History. http://genealogytrails.com/ark/cross/history1955_pg3.html (accessed January 8, 2021).
William H. Pruden III
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