/SEC’s original office, in downtown Jackson, finally will have a historic marker

SEC’s original office, in downtown Jackson, finally will have a historic marker

*** I was blessed with Gov. William Winter was my lunch companion at The Mayflower, downtown Jackson. We share a passion for Mississippi history and sports, but not necessarily in the same order. As we were finishing our red snapper, I began to pick his elegantly furnished brain. The conversation moved to governors that he most admires over coffee. Gov. Winter quickly made it No. Governor was No. Martin Sennet “Mike,” Conner, governor from 1932-1936, was the first time Winter met him as a nine year-old visitor at the State Capitol. Conner invited Winter to sit at his desk and then said, “It seems like a perfect match.” Winter would again sit at the same desk forty-eight years later.
Winter said Conner was an inspiration to him and he encouraged me to follow his lead in public service. Winter stated that Mike Conner was “in so many ways, one of the greatest governors.” He was a brilliant man but not a natural politician. The passage of a tax on sales saved the state during the Depression. Conner succeeded Theodore G. Bilbo to the governorship and took over a mess. The state’s treasury was empty. The state owed millions of dollars. The state had a record-breaking unemployment rate and its colleges and universities were no longer accredited. All of these problems were solved by Conner’s expiration.
Winter spoke of Conner as “he saved the state.” It was all very interesting and I didn’t know it. I was shocked to learn that Mike Conner was the first Southeastern Conference commissioner.
Winter stated, “He was.” “The Standard Life Building was the first SEC office. Thirteenth floor. I believe …” Understand. I was proud to have a thorough knowledge of the state’s sporting history. That was something I didn’t know. It turned out that very few people knew. When I asked Gov. Winter, who I could speak to about the original SEC office, told me that Jackson attorney Bob Biggs was Conner’s great-grandson and worked right down Capitol Street.
This is how it all began.
Biggs was a great man. He shared many stories about his grandfather with me, including the time Huey P. Lang (then a U.S senator from Louisiana), led the LSU band down Capitol Street just before an LSU/Ole Miss game.
“Long, dressed in a white suit and white shoes, stopped at the mansion and led a huge LSU cheer. He then walked up to the front door and banged his cane on it. My grandfather was aware that he was there, but he refused to answer the door.” _x000D
Biggs also spoke out about the protesters who marched up to the mansion in protest of the new sales tax. Conner held firm despite one protester having a loaded gun taken from him. He won a bitter battle.
Because nobody knew about the original SEC office, I wrote a column. I reached out to officials at State and Ole Miss. They didn’t know. Mike Slive was then the commissioner for the SEC. I called Mike. He didn’t.
Slive, who died in 2006, was keen to find out more about Conner. He seemed happy to discover that Conner was, like him, a lawyer-by-trade. Slive laughed when Conner told him that he still practices law as an SEC commissioner. Slive chuckled when Conner said that Conner still practiced law while he was SEC commissioner. _x000D
Everyone agreed that it was important to remember that the nation’s most successful collegiate athletic conference began with a Jackson office that consisted of two people (Conner and his secretary). Ten years later, it is finally happening. The historic marker will be unveiled at a short ceremony in front the Standard Life Building at 10:30 a.m.
After that, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History will host a panel discussion on SEC history, and especially its beginnings, at noon at the Craig H. Neilsen Auditorium in the Two Mississippi Museums at 222 North Street. The event is free and open to all. It is part of the department’s “History is Lunch” series.
Biggs, the former Mississippi State athletic director Larry Templeton, and John Cohen, the current MSU athletic director will join Sankey. The discussion will be moderated by me. It should be entertaining.