Jefferson Franklin Colbert, known as J. Frank Colbert (May 28, 1882 – May 20, 1949), was a Democratic politician and Georgist. He served in the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1920 to 1925 and from 1944 to 1946 as the mayor of the small city of Minden, the seat of government of Webster Parish in northwestern Louisiana.
Colbert was born in Webster Parish to John A. Colbert and his third wife, the former Sarah Eliza Taylor. The senior Colbert was from 1892 to 1896 the Webster Parish clerk of court, an elected position. Colbert attended Louisiana Tech University in Ruston. He was editor of the defunct The Minden Democrat newspaper and another former publication, The Signal-Tribune, forerunner of the current Minden Press-Herald. At the time of his death, he was engaged in the real estate business.
In 1908, Colbert and city council member Connell Fort, subsequently a Minden mayor, co-managed the successful gubernatorial campaign in Webster Parish of Jared Y. Sanders, Sr., of Franklin in St. Mary Parish in south Louisiana. After his election, Sanders named Fort the conservation agent for northwestern Louisiana.
From 1912 to 1920 and 1936 to 1940, Colbert served in the former Ward 4 as a member of the elected Webster Parish Police Jury, the governing body akin to the county commission in other states.
Colbert was elected to the legislature in 1920 and 1924 but resigned during his second term when Governor Henry Fuqua appointed him to the Louisiana Tax Commission, a position that he continued under Governors Oramel H. Simpson and Huey P. Long, Jr. Colbert was also a former chairman of the Minden Democratic Executive Committee, the panel which handled the filings of candidacy. For a time, he was the chief aide to U.S. Representative John N. Sandlin of Minden, who represented Louisiana's 4th congressional district.
In 1940, Colbert, along with freshman state Representative Wellborn Jack of Shreveport, ran
unsuccessfully for the 4th congressional district. He was eliminated from the runoff election, with victory claimed by the three-term incumbent Overton Brooks, also of Shreveport.
Henry George's "Single Tax"
In 1927, Colbert joined the Henry George Utopian movement, which advocated a "single tax" on land, as outlined in George's Progress and Poverty. In 1932, Colbert delivered an address at the Henry George Congress in Memphis, Tennessee.
In the March–April 1930 edition of the Georgist Land and Freedom magazine, Colbert defended the "single tax" in a column:
The usual comment of those in comfortable conditions, when speaking of the less fortunate class, is that if the masses were more industrious, frugal and intelligent, their lot in life would be vastly improved; would in fact, be quite equal to their own; that they are the makers of their own condition.
This attitude on the part of the more fortunate dulls the sense of responsibility they might otherwise feel did they understand better the real cause producing so much of the poverty to be found everywhere. Also, it is flattering to the well-to-do to imagine that, in a country like ours, where all are politically equal and the humblest rise to high places in government and business, that they forged ahead of their fellows by sheer force of merit; for all of which they have only themselves to praise. ...The Single Tax means Justice in action; it means equality and freedom for all, oppression of none. It is so simple, we hesitate to believe it can be so potent. We are baffled by its very simplicity, but shall we turn away from it for that reason? Where shall we look?
In November 1942, Mayor Floyd D. Culbertson, Jr., resigned to enter the United States Army during World War II. The position was filled by a mayor pro tem from the city council, John Calhoun Brown, until the next regular municipal election held on April 11, 1944. Colbert, well-known from his police jury, legislative, and civic leadership, entered the race against James Harvey "J. H." Nelson (1880-1970), the president of the former People's Bank and Trust Company in Minden, who had also been the president of the Minden Chamber of Commerce and the Webster Parish Police Jury from 1920 to 1929. Nelson joined the police jury in 1920, as Colbert stepped down. Colbert won by only 26 votes, 731 votes (50.9 percent) to 705 (49.1 percent).
Colbert did not seek a second two-year term as mayor in 1946. Instead Minden businessman John T. David defeated insurance agent Castle Overstreet "C. O." Holland (1895-1981), a native of Greensburg in St. Helena Parish, one of the Florida Parishes of South Louisiana. who was later the president of People's Bank and Trust Company, in a runoff election, 1,064 votes (55.8 percent) to 844 (44.2 percent).
Death and family
Colbert died of an illness eight days before what would have been his 67th birthday. Both Methodist and Presbyterian ministers officiated at his funeral. Colbert is interred at Minden Cemetery near the graves of two other mayors, his successor, John David, and a predecessor, David William Thomas. Colbert never married. He is buried beside his niece, Nellie Graham Colbert (July 14, 1914 – October 22, 1994), an educator in Baton Rouge who was the 1932 "Miss Minden". She was the daughter of Colbert’s brother, Hilliard Augustus Colbert (August 15, 1875 – January 30, 1944), and Hilliard’s wife, the former Rosa Belle Grigsby (March 27, 1881 – September 12, 1954). As a student at LSU, Nellie Colbert was active in theatre.An infant daughter of Nellie Colbert, Sally Graham Layton, is buried below Colbert’s grave. Colbert’s parents are not listed in the family plot. Another brother, John G. Colbert (1866–1950), and his wife, the former Mary Monzingo (1876–1929), are interred at the Pine Grove United Methodist Church Cemetery north of Minden.