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Carl Elliott Biography

Carl Atwood Elliott was born in Franklin County, Alabama to a rural farming family. Taught to read at a very early age, Elliott had the value of education and public service instilled in him from his earliest days.

After graduating high school during the Great Depression, Elliott left home to attempt to get a college education at the University of Alabama. Arriving on campus with the clothes on his back and a few dollars in his pocket, he worked odd-jobs to pay his way through college in three years and slept in an abandoned building to get by. His odd-jobs included serving as a dining hall steward (serving meals to George Wallace) and as a tutor (tutoring Paul “Bear” Bryant). He even served as President of the Student Government Association. His poor background didn’t hold him back. He obtained his degree in law in 1933.


After service in the U. S. Army in World War II, Elliott returned to his law practice in Jasper, Alabama and to his young wife Jane. His work as a lawyer would allow him to build a regional political base which he would use to run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1948. He won this seat, and served from 1949 until 1964 under President’s Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson.

While in Congress, Elliott consistently introduced legislation supporting scientific research, education, and a better quality of life for all Americans.  Elliott’s Library Service Act of 1956 brought bookmobiles and public libraries to rural America. Elliott and Senator Lister Hill of Alabama introduced the National Defense Education Act in 1958. This act would fund school improvements, and provide funding for over 40 million Americans to go to college. He consistently lobbied for improved transportation, better housing, and better health care for all Americans.

A political moderate, Elliott was an important supporter of President Kennedy in Congress. The President’s actions on civil rights did not win Elliott any favor with his constituents in Alabama. Elliott lost his House seat in 1965 due segregationist political machinations.  Realizing that Alabama was going down a path which would give it a black eye and strangle progress for years, Elliott ran for Governor in 1966 against George and Lurleen Wallace. Elliott campaigned for better schools and health care in Alabama, racial tolerance, and improved economic development.  Being from a poor background and raising a family of 4 children,

Elliot for Governor

Elliott had limited resources to finance a statewide campaign against George Wallace.  Elliott bet his financial security on standing up for what he knew was the right course for Alabama, but was unable to beat Wallace in the election. Alabama was not ready to hear his message.

Elliott would return to Jasper to practice law and compile several books of regional history. People began to understand Elliott’s message and understand that he never caved in to his principles. Elliott was awarded the first “Profile in Courage Award” from the John F. Kennedy Library in 1990. Elliott wrote his well-regarded autobiography, “The Cost of Courage” in 1992, telling the story of his struggles in life, and his political career. After a lengthy illness, Elliott would die in his home in Jasper in 1999. He is buried in Jasper’s Oakwood Cemetery.