Sylvan N. Friedman (May 19, 1908 – March 18, 1979) was a Louisiana politician, a rare Jewish member of both houses of the Louisiana State Legislature. He served from Natchitoches Parish in the House of Representatives from 1944 to 1952 and then in the State Senate from 1952 until his defeat in 1972.
Early years and background
Friedman was born in Natchez in Natchitoches Parish, not to be confused with the larger and better known Natchez in Mississippi. He was a large landowner, a farmer, and a cattleman, even the president of the Louisiana Cattleman’s Association.
Prior to his legislative service, Friedman was a member of the Natchitoches Parish Police Jury, the equivalent to the county commission in other states, including eight years as the jury president. During his tenure, Natchitoches Parish in 1939 erected its existing courthouse in downtown Natchitoches.
In the state House, Friedman and Numa T. Delouche, a Roman Catholic from Cloutierville, filled the Natchitoches Parish seats vacated in 1944 by John O. Williams and Arthur C. Watson, an attorney and bank director who later was chairman of the Louisiana Democratic State Central Committee. In Friedman’s second House term, which began in 1948, Delouche was replaced by Roy Sanders, the principal of Readhimer High School in the Chestnut community north of Black Lake and a leader in the push for adult education in the legislature. When Friedman won election to the Senate, the Friedman and Sanders House seats were taken by two other Democrats, Curtis Boozman and Monnie T. Cheves, a member of the Northwestern State University faculty.
As a senator, Friedman served with four governors: Robert F. Kennon, Earl Kemp Long, Jimmie Davis, and John J. McKeithen. During his lengthy career, he was a member of the legislative budget committee. He also served on committees on higher education, finance, and judiciary. Friedman unseated the 28-year-old one-term state Senator Lloyd F. Wheat of Coushatta in Red River Parish in the Democratic primary. At various times, in addition to Natchitoches Parish, he represented Red River, Winn, Grant, and a portion of Rapides parishes.
In 1963, then freshman State Representative Paul L. Foshee did not seek reelection but instead unsuccessfully challenged Friedman for the Senate seat. In his last term from 1968 to 1972, Friedman and Cecil R. Blair, an Alexandria businessman, represented a since disbanded two-member multi-parish district, which included Grant Parish. Friedman served a term as Senate President Pro Tempore, in which capacity he was the acting governor if the chief executive and the lieutenant governor were both simultaneously out of state. The position made him third in succession to the governorship.
A personal friend of Earl Long, Friedman frequently dined with the governor, eating cornbread, greens, sweet potatoes, and drinking buttermilk in the old Governor's Mansion in Baton Rouge. During Long's tenure, Friedman had a room reserved at the mansion and was a late night "political talking companion."
Friedman lost his bid for a sixth term in the 1971-1972 election cycle, having been eliminated as the third-place candidate in the primary. Former Representative Paul Foshee then defeated state Senator Willard L. Rambo of Georgetown in the runoff election. Thereafter, Foshee prevailed against Bob Reese, a weak Republican opponent in the general election held on February 1, 1972. In 1975, Foshee was unseated by Donald G. Kelly, a Natchitoches attorney and horse breeder, who held the seat until 1996.
Friedman was a member of the Southern Regional Education Board. He was a former "Man of the Year" of the Natchitoches Parish Chamber of Commerce. In 1988, Northwestern State University renamed its student center in Friedman’s honor. As a senator, Friedman had been instrumental in obtaining the student center, as well as Prather Coliseum and several residential halls and classroom buildings.
Death and legacy
Friedman died at the age of seventy. He was part of a small but influential Jewish community in Natchitoches Parish, one of whose members, the Kaffies, founded the oldest still standing hardware store in Louisiana. A long-time member of Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim in nearby Alexandria, Louisiana, he is interred next to his wife, Elizabeth H. Friedman (October 12, 1912 – July 3, 1969), at the Jewish Cemetery in Natchitoches. There is an accompanying marker identified as "Infant" Friedman, November 7, 1945. The couple had a surviving son, Sam Friedman, a businessman and attorney who in 2009 reopened the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans. Friedman had a namesake nephew, Sylvan I. Friedman, of New Orleans, son of Friedman's brother, Harry Friedman, Sr.
Leon Friedman, a native of Natchez, Louisiana, and probably the uncle of Sylvan Friedman, served in the Louisiana House from Natchitoches Parish from 1932 to 1940.
Sylvan Friedman was not the first or second Jewish legislator from Natchitoches Parish. Much earlier, Leopold Caspari, who in 1884 pushed successfully for the creation of Northwestern State University, also served in both houses of the legislature, nonconsecutively between 1884 and 1914. Prior to Friedman's death, Arnold Jack Rosenthal, a Jewish lawyer and businessman in Alexandria, with maternal roots in Natchitoches, served as his city's last finance and utilities commissioner.
In 2006, Friedman was posthumously inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield. As was customary for the organization, cartoonist Pap Dean, since deceased, prepared a caricature of the late Natchitoches lawmaker.