Alabama Governors

David Bibb Graves

photo of portrait of Ala. Governor David Bibb Graves




David Bibb Graves was born at Hope Hull, Alabama, in April 1873. He was a descendant of William Wyatt Bibb, Alabama's first governor. Graves graduated from the University of Alabama in 1893 with a degree in civil engineering. He studied law at the University of Texas and at Yale University from which he received a Bachelor of Law degree in 1896. Returning to Montgomery, he established a law practice and married his cousin, Dixie Bibb, on October 10, 1900.


Graves served in the Alabama National Guard and was Adjutant General of Alabama under the administration of Governor B. B. Comer (1907-1911). He was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel of the First Alabama Cavalry in 1916 and was active in the recruitment efforts for Mexican border service and the first World War. During World War I, he served in France as a Colonel in the 117th Field Artillery, 31st Division. Graves remained active in the Alabama National Guard and was instrumental in the organization of both the Alabama and national American Legion.


The political career of Bibb graves began in 1898 when he was elected to the state House of Representatives. He was defeated in the 1922 gubernatorial race by William W. Brandon but his second bid was successful and Graves was inaugurated governor on January 17, 1927, serving until January 1931.


Although Graves was Grand Cyclops of the Montgomery chapter of the Ku Klux Klan when he took office, he advocated a progressive program that included increased aid to educational and social services. During his first term as governor, funding for schools increased, the price of textbooks decreased, and several new schools were built. The Highway Department was organized and a $25 million road bond and a two-cent gasoline tax were passed that resulted in more paved and graveled roads. Fifteen toll bridges were constructed. The State Docks were completed and several new boards and commissions were created including the Alabama Industrial Development Board, the Realty Board and the Muscle Shoals Commission. In addition, the Veteran's Bureau was created to assist Alabama's servicemen. The convict lease system was abolished and convicts were used to work on state roads instead of being leased to private businesses.


Following his first administration, Graves returned to his private law practice until he was re-elected in 1934 to his second term in office from January 1935 to January 1939.


Graves' second administration did not produce as much progressive legislation as did his first. Most of the state's accomplishments resulted from cooperation with the federal government's relief projects. The development of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) continued. The prohibition issue was settled in 1937 when the legislature passed a law allowing each county to decide whether it would be wet or dry. Several new public buildings were constructed including the Highway Department Building and the World War memorial Building which houses the Department of Archives and History. Tolls were removed from the bridges that were built during Graves' first administration and several hundred miles of roads were paved. Educational reforms included free textbooks for grades 1-3 and a seven month school term. Freight rate discrimination between southern and eastern freight rates became a major issue. The Rural Electrification Authority, the Board of Adjustment and the Department of Labor were created. The Child Welfare Department was abolished and its functions were transferred to the newly created Department of Public Welfare. The Alabama State Employment Service was established to handle the unemployment situation. It issued unemployment insurance and was a precursor of the social security system.


Nicknamed "The Little Colonel" and "The Builder," Graves' slogan was to "Keep on keeping on." He was preparing to run for an unprecedented third term as governor when he died in Sarasota, Florida, on March 14, 1942.

Owen, Marie Bankhead The Story of Alabama: A History of the State, 1949
Pendleton, Debbie. "New Deal Labor Policy and Alabama Textile Unionism." MA Thesis. Auburn University, 1988.
Stewart, John Craig The Governors of Alabama, 1975