Kaneaster Hodges Jr. (1938–2022)

Kaneaster Hodges Jr. served as a Democratic interim U.S. senator representing Arkansas from December 10, 1977, to January 3, 1979. He was appointed to the post by Governor David Pryor after the death of the incumbent senator, John L. McClellan. Hodges also served as city attorney and deputy prosecuting attorney of Newport (Jackson County) and held a number of positions in state government.

Kaneaster Hodges Jr. was born to Harryette Hodges and Kaneaster Hodges Sr. in Newport on August 20, 1938; he was one of six children. His father, whose career path Hodges would follow, was a lawyer.

Hodges graduated from Newport High School in 1956 and went on to receive his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University in 1960 and a master’s degree in 1963 in theology from Perkins School of Theology of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where he graduated with honors.

Hodges married Ruth Lindley Williams of Newport on June 26, 1960; they had two children. In 1963, after his graduation and ordination, Hodges and his wife moved to Massachusetts, where he served as minister to two churches (Acushnet Wesley Methodist Church and Long Plain United Methodist Church). While there, he attended Boston University, earning a second master’s degree in pastoral counseling. In 1964, the couple moved to New York City, where Hodges served as a chaplain intern at Rikers Island Correctional Institution.

Later that year, he moved back to Arkansas to study law. In 1967, he received his law degree from the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville (Washington County) and was admitted to the Arkansas bar the same year. He attended law school with Jim Guy Tucker, who would later become governor of Arkansas. Hodges was also editor-in-chief of the university’s Arkansas Law Review. After law school, Hodges opened a law firm and undertook real estate ventures with his brother David but did not entirely give up preaching. He still served as secretary and trustee of the North Arkansas Conference Board of Trustees of the United Methodist Church.

Before his appointment to the Senate, Hodges served as city attorney of Newport and deputy prosecuting attorney for Jackson County from 1967 to 1974, legislative secretary to Governor Pryor in 1975, chairman of the state Natural Heritage Commission from 1974 to 1976, and member of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission from 1976 to 1977. He also held the posts of director of the Arkansas Bar Foundation and trustee of both Arkansas College (now Lyon College) in Batesville (Independence County) and the University of Arkansas (UA).

Hodges worked for McClellan’s campaign for senator against Pryor in 1972. Pryor lost the senatorial election, and Hodges later coordinated Pryor’s gubernatorial race in eastern Arkansas in 1974. After McClellan’s death in 1977, Governor Pryor appointed Hodges to serve the remainder of McClellan’s term in the Senate. Pryor’s choice to appoint Hodges as interim senator was widely endorsed, with support by Senator McClellan’s widow and others. When Hodges’s term was up, Pryor ran again for Senate in 1978 and won. Although he stated that he had no interest in running for senator, Hodges could not run anyway due to an Arkansas law that prohibited officials from running for an elected office to which they had previously been appointed.

As a politician, Hodges described himself as “middle of the road.” He was often vague about his position on issues based on the fact that he was employed to represent the people and that he should act accordingly. He believed that because he was not voted into office but rather appointed, he should refrain from acting according to his personal stances. Hodges kept McClellan’s existing staff and looked to Senator Dale Bumpers for guidance. His approximately thirteen months in the Senate were most noted for his stand for the Panama Canal treaties and his position against tuition tax credits for parents who sent their children to private schools. He was also awarded the Conservationist of the Year Award for his efforts to negotiate a compromise between conservationists and channelization supporters on the proposed channelization of the Cache River.

After his term in the Senate, Hodges returned to his hometown of Newport, where he practiced law. He served on many profit and nonprofit boards—for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, the Arkansas Nature Conservation Foundation, Winrock International, and the Arkansas Justice Foundation, to name a few—and undertook a venture selling and developing acreage in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, as well as other real estate and business ventures. He also owned 3,500 acres of row crop farmland and about 2,000 acres of ranch property. Hodges was a deacon in the United Methodist Church.

Hodges died on March 23, 2022. He is buried in Walnut Grove Cemetery.

For additional information:
Bowden, Bill. “Hodges, a Onetime U.S. Senator, Dies at 83.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 26, 2022, pp. 1A, 4A. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/mar/26/former-us-sen-kaneaster-hodges-jr-of-newport-dies/ (accessed January 30, 2024).

Craig, Robert D. “Kaneaster Hodges, Jr.: The Unexpected United States Senator.” Stream of History 55 (2022): 3–44.

“Ex-Senator Hodges to Receive Conservationist of the Year Award.” Arkansas Gazette, August 8, 1979, p. 10A.

“Former Senator Appointed to UA Board of Trustees.” Arkansas Gazette, March 22, 1980, p.10A.

“Governor Names Hodges to Fill McClellan’s Seat.” Arkansas Gazette, December 11, 1977, pp. 1A, 2A.

“Hodges Heads State Panel on Wilderness.” Arkansas Gazette, August 21, 1973, p. 3A.

“Hodges Sworn in as Senator, Talks with President.” Arkansas Gazette, December 13, 1977, p. 1A, 5A.

“Kaneaster and Lindley Hodges honored through new fellowship award.” JonesboroSun.com. June 17, 2021. https://www.jonesborosun.com/newport/kaneaster-and-lindley-hodges-honored-through-new-fellowship-award/article_d3fdc7d4-024b-5c7b-9afc-957996fb20da.html (accessed January 30, 2024).

“Kaneaster Hodges the Man.” Arkansas Gazette, August 21, 1978, p. 14A.

“Kaneaster Hodges Jr.” Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=H000675 (accessed January 30, 2024).

Obituary of Kaneaster Hodges Jr. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 28, 2022, p. 2K. https://www.arkansasonline.com/obituaries/2022/mar/28/kaneaster-hodges-jr-2022-03-28/ (accessed January 30, 2024).

“Return to Private Life Difficult as Obligations Follow Hodges.” Arkansas Gazette, December 3, 1978, p. 5A.

“Welcoming the New Senator.” Arkansas Gazette, December 14, 1977, p. 24A.

Jaci Manning
Little Rock, Arkansas


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