Once upon a time, being born Southern meant being anointed—as early as birth, but certainly no later than adolescence—with at least one nickname. Sometimes they stuck, sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes they stuck so well your own cousins wouldn’t know your real name until they got your wedding invitation in the mail.
The story goes that James “Sloppy” Floyd, a state representative born in 1920 in Chattooga County and for whom a state office building downtown is named, was so thin as a young man and his football jersey hung so loosely on his frame that his coach began calling him “Sloppy.” In true Southern fashion, Floyd embraced the nickname and would post it on campaign signs. (It’s even on his tombstone.)
Floyd was first elected to the Georgia state House in 1952, eventually becoming chair of the powerful Appropriations committee. When civil-rights leader Julian Bond was first elected to the state House in 1965—one of 11 black candidates to win House seats after the federal Voting Rights Act forced redistricting—Floyd moved to block Bond from taking office. Bond was part of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which had issued a statement denouncing American involvement in Vietnam. Asked by a reporter to comment on the statement, Bond, who hadn’t taken his oath of office yet, said he supported it.
Floyd, a World War II veteran, was incensed. He argued that Bond’s opposition to the war meant he couldn’t uphold the Constitution, as the oath demands. Prompted by Floyd, the state House voted 184-12 to keep Bond from taking his seat. Bond appealed in federal court, and the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Bond was reelected the next fall; again, the state House refused to swear him in. Until, that is, the Supreme Court ruled in Bond’s favor. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that The First Amendment “requires that legislators be given the widest latitude to express their views on policy.” On the day Bond was finally sworn in, Floyd left the chamber in protest.
Floyd, who died in 1974 at 54, may have been on the wrong side of history, but that didn’t keep lawmakers from naming a state park after him, as well as the building in downtown Atlanta.
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