John M. Slack Jr.

Charleston Gazette
March 19, 1980

Slack roots deep in Kanawha politics, early state history

By John G. Morgan

Rep. John M. Slack Jr. was a member of an old-line family that had a strong influence on Kanawha County government and early state history.

His great-grandfather, John Slack, was the first sheriff of Kanawha County in the new state of West Virginia, beginning in 1863.

The congressman's father, John "Mick" Slack, was elected sheriff of the county in 1936. Reportedly, he ruled with an iron hand and was a high sheriff in the old tradition. Earlier, he served as county clerk.

Also on the family tree is a man named John Young, identified as a great-great-grandfather who, according to legend, served as a scout with Daniel Boone and killed the last Indian in Kanawha County.

Greenbury Slack, brother of the first sheriff, served in the first Wheeling convention in 1861, leading to formation of the state. He later served in the first state Constitutional Convention and was a state senator from 1863 to 1868.

The first John Slack known in this area came to Kanawha County from Pennsylvania about 1800. He was the father of the first sheriff, the convention delegate and another son named Hedgeman.

The congressman, born in Charleston March 18, 1915, was graduated from Charleston High School, and he attended Virginia Military Institute. He was a combat training instructor during World War II.

Slack won every political race that he entered. He was elected county commissioner in 1946, assessor in 1952 and to 11 consecutive terms as a congressman, beginning in 1958.

As county commissioner, he was instrumental in the construction of Kanawha Airport, dedicated Nov. 3, 1947. He also had a part in plans leading to opening of an 825-acre woodland as a usable Coonskin Park in June 1950.

He participated in establishment of the Slum Clearance Redevelopment Authority in 1951 and in the acquisition of voting machines for the county in 1952.

As assessor, he was active in efforts to bring about reappraisal of property in the county and supported a statewide reappraisal act passed by the Legislature in 1958.

Slack started his business career without financial advantage. He began by borrowing money from a bank for which he later served as director. He was a building contractor, a partner in two highway paving firms and at one time was co-owner of Tyler Mountain Bus Line.

His business career overlapped his early years in Congress. However, on Dec. 27, 1969, he announced that he had divested himself of all holdings and resigned from all business positions. He stated specifically that he had resigned from the board of directors for Kanawha Banking & Trust Co. and the West Virginia Acceptance Corp.

A relative said he felt Slack's main sources of pride as a congressman were his service on the House Appropriations Committee and his direct service to the people. Slack was quoted:

"When you are in Congress, the people look to you. The first thing you have got to do is help the people."

Slack had a reputation for promptly answering mail from constituents and for helping them when he could. But he was also described as a straight shooter who would tell persons when he couldn't help them.

One source said Slack's finest hour may have been when he refused to join the hue and cry demanding the ousting of President Nixon during the months before Nixon's resignation in August 1974.

"John was very adamant about it. He felt that a congressman should not be vocal. He felt that some day the House might sit as a grand jury in judgment of Nixon and therefore a congressman should not make a public statement on that issue."

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