William Brockman Bankhead was born on the Bankhead plantation in Moscow, Lamar County, Alabama on April 12, 1874. He was the son of John Hollis Bankhead, Jr., a prominent politician, and the uncle of Walter Will Bankhead. His brother, John Hollis Bankhead, II, was a U.S. senator from Alabama from 1930-1946. He had two daughters: Evelyn Eugenia, and famed actress Tallulah Bankhead.
Bankhead attended the University of Alabama, where he was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and played on the university’s first football team, organized in 1892. He graduated from Alabama in 1893, and from Georgetown University Law School at Washington, D.C. in 1895. He was admitted to the bar that same year and began practicing law in Huntsville. After a sojourn in New York City when his parents talked him out of becoming an actor, he entered public life.
He served as a member of the State House of Representatives in 1900-1901, and was a city attorney in Huntsville from 1898-1902. In 1905 he moved to Jasper, Alabama and continued his law practice. He was elected to U.S. Congress in 1916, and served until his death.
In 1933 he became chairman of the House Rules Committee. In 1934 he was elected House Majority Leader, then Speaker of the House in 1936. In 1940 he was chosen to make the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention because he gave strong support to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and was regarded as a New Dealer. That same year Bankhead became ill while he was in Baltimore to address a party rally and died at Bethesda Naval Hospital on September 15th. He is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Jasper. 78