Alton A. Lennon (1906 – 1986)

Written By Shane Williams

Alton Asa Lennon was born in Wilmington on August 17, 1906, to Rosser Lennon and Minnie Lennon. Lennon attended New Hanover High School and was president of his high school class and student body. He attended Wake Forest College in 1925 with a pre-law focus. During college, Lennon was captain of the freshman football team and president of the freshman class. Lennon received his LL.B. degree in 1929 and started a law firm in Wilmington.

In 1934, Lennon entered politics and ran for the office of judge of the New Hanover County Recorder’s Court. He was victorious in the election and was reelected for another term in 1938. He served as judge from 1934 to 1942 and later from 1947 t0 1951, in the North Carolina Senate. On July 10, 1953, Lennon was appointed by N.C. Governor William B. Umstead to take the void United States Senate seat of Willis Smith who had died. Lennon served from July 15, 1953 to November 28, 1954. Despite efforts to continue, Lennon lost the senate primary of 1954 to Kerr Scott.

Long before becoming a U.S. senator, Lennon had aspirations to run for Congress. He ran in 1956 and faced little opposition. (He received 12,754 of 15,661 votes in the Seventh District.) As a representative, Lennon supported the Vietnam War and pushed for attacking North Vietnamese ports and the Justice Department’s prosecution of Stokely Carmichael, who vehemently opposed the draft. While serving in Congress, Lennon joined the Armed Services Committee and the Merchant Marines and Fisheries Committee. Lennon advocated the protection of North Carolina’s coastal resources and money for rebuilding ports. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives until 1973.

Lennon did not seek reelection in 1972 and returned to Wilmington to practice law. Despite being a Democrat, Lennon helped with Republican Senator Jesse A. Helm’s re-election campaign in 1978.

Lennon died on December 28, 1986 at Cape Fear Memorial Hospital.