John Jackson Sparkman is one of the important men whose life has left an undeniable and beneficial mark on the history of Alabama. Born on a farm in the Mount Tabor community outside Hartselle, the son of a deputy sheriff, Sparkman attended the University of Alabama, working his way through school shoveling coal.
During World War I, Sparkman served as a member of the Student Army Training Corps. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1921, a law degree in 1923 and a master's in 1924. As a student, he edited the school newspaper, was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and served as president of the student body. He was admitted to the bar in 1925 and began practicing in Huntsville. To bring in additional income, he also began teaching at Huntsville College.
Sparkman transitioned from a successful professional life to a successful life of public service in 1936 when he was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served until being elected to the Senate following the death of Senator John Bankhead in 1946. Sparkman continued to serve in the Senate until 1979.
Known as the father of small-business administration and as a champion to the small farmer, Sparkman played a crucial role in many farm-related programs and service bills, such as the farm-tenant purchase program, rehabilitation loans for small farmers and lower interest rates for farm loans.
In addition, Sparkman played a key role in shaping the role of the Huntsville area in the postwar age of space travel and technological innovation. In the early 1940s while serving on the House Military Affairs Committee, Sparkman helped bring a chemical munitions plant, and a shell loading and manufacturing plant to Huntsville, the Huntsville Arsenal and the Redstone Ordnance Plant, respectively. These plants later joined to become Redstone Arsenal. Near the end of the 1940s, when the future of the arsenal was much less certain, Sparkman—then a senator—convinced the Army to locate its missile and rocket research there, which led to the establishment of the Army Missile Command and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
During his expansive career, Sparkman served as the U.S. representative to the Fifth General Assembly of the United Nations in 1950. He also made a bid for the vice presidency of the United States in 1952 as the running mate of Adlai Stephenson.
Sparkman was an active Methodist, a World War I veteran and an Army Reserve Colonel. He was married to the former Ivo Hall of Albertville. They had one daughter, Julia Ann.
The Army recognized Sparkman’s support throughout his career by naming its new administrative complex the John J. Sparkman Center, which Senator Howell Heflin called a "dynamic and living memorial to a great Alabamian."