Graham A. Barden rose to power in Congress at a time when Tar Heels chaired several of the most important committees. In his thirteen terms conservative Democrat Barden used his influence to bring military bases to North Carolina while gaining a reputation nationally for his opposition to labor unions. Born in Sampson County and raised in Burgaw, “Hap” Barden attended the University of North Carolina where he played football. He served in the Navy in World War I and taught school in New Bern before setting up a law practice. He served as a county judge before his election to the State House in 1933. In 1934 he was elected to Congress to represent the Third District.
Ways and Means Chairman Robert L. Doughton, a Tar Heel, in 1937 secured for Barden a seat on the Education Committee, which he chaired from 1943-47. Democrats lost the House in 1946 but Barden regained chairmanship of the renamed Education and Labor Committee that he held, 1949-53 and 1955-61. Barden was instrumental in passage of Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act, allowing states to enact right-to-work laws. He took pride in the Barden-LaFollette Act, providing funds for the handicapped, and George-Barden Act, funding vocational education. In 1950 he gained the national spotlight when he was denounced by Cardinal Spellman for sponsoring legislation to aid public schools but denying funds to parochial and private schools. Eleanor Roosevelt came to his defense.
At home Barden is best remembered for his successful efforts to bring Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, and Camp Davis to his district at the outset of WWII and his success in reopening Seymour Johnson AFB in 1952. Croatan National Forest was created during his tenure. Declining health led him to retire in 1961. Adam Clayton Powell was his successor as chair of Education & Labor. Barden is buried in New Bern’s Cedar Grove Cemetery. Campbell University established a professorship in his name in 1968.
Credit: North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program, part of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.