An American Story - the Battle of Athens 1946

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An American Story - the Battle of Athens 1946

Post by Linda »

Very good video. An American Story - the Battle of Athens 1946 Tennessee. go see the full article on Wikipedia, part is pasted below.

"...The Battle of Athens (sometimes called the McMinn County War) was a rebellion led by citizens in Athens and Etowah, Tennessee, United States, against the local government in August 1946. The citizens, including some World War II veterans, accused the local officials of predatory policing, police brutality, political corruption, and voter intimidation.

1 Background
2 Initial confrontations
2.1 Water Works polling place
2.2 Response
2.3 Twelfth Precinct Polling Place
2.4 Polls closing
3 Battle
3.1 End of the battle and vote counting
4 Nearby conflicts
5 Aftermath
6 Legacy
7 References
8 External links


In 1936, the E. H. Crump political machine based in Memphis, which controlled much of Tennessee, extended to McMinn County with the introduction of Paul Cantrell as the Democratic candidate for sheriff.[1] Cantrell, who came from a family of money and influence in nearby Etowah, tied his campaign closely to the popularity of the Roosevelt administration and rode FDR's coattails to victory over his Republican opponent in what came to be known as "vote grab of 1936" which delivered McMinn County to Tennessee's Crump Machine.[1] Paul Cantrell was elected sheriff in the 1936, 1938, and 1940 elections, and was elected to the state senate in 1942 and 1944, while his former deputy, Pat Mansfield, a transplanted Georgian, was elected sheriff.[1] A state law enacted in 1941 reduced local political opposition to Crump's officials by reducing the number of voting precincts from 23 to 12 and reducing the number of justices of the peace from fourteen to seven (including four "Cantrell men").[2] The sheriff and his deputies were paid under a fee system whereby they received money for every person they booked, incarcerated, and released; the more arrests, the more money they made.[2] Because of this fee system, there was extensive "fee grabbing" from tourists and travelers.[3] Buses passing through the county were often pulled over and the passengers were randomly ticketed for drunkenness, regardless of their intoxication or lack thereof.[2] Between 1936 and 1946, these fees amounted to almost $300,000.[3]

Citizens of McMinn County had long been concerned about political corruption and possible election fraud though some of the complaints, especially at first, may have been partisan carping.[2][4][non-primary source needed] The U.S. Department of Justice had investigated allegations of electoral fraud in 1940, 1942, and 1944, but had not taken action.[2] Voter fraud and vote control perpetuated McMinn County's political problems.[need quotation to verify] Manipulation of the poll tax and vote counting were the primary methods, but it was common for dead voters' votes to appear in McMinn County elections.[3] The political problems were further entrenched by economic corruption of political figures enabled by the gambling and bootlegging they permitted. Most of McMinn County's young men were fighting in World War II, allowing appointment of some ex-convicts as deputies.[3] These deputies furthered the political machine's goals and exerted control over the citizens of the county.[3] While the machine controlled the law enforcement, its control also extended to the newspapers and schools. When asked if the local newspaper, the Daily Post-Athenian, supported the GIs, veteran Bill White, replied: "No, they didn't help us none." White elaborated: "Mansfield had complete control of everything, schools and everything else. You couldn't even get hired as a schoolteacher without their okay, or any other job."[5]

During the war, two service men on leave were shot and killed by Cantrell supporters.[3] The servicemen of McMinn County heard of what was going on and were anxious to get home and do something about it. According to a contemporaneous article by Theodore H. White in Harper's Magazine, one veteran, Ralph Duggan, who had served in the Pacific in the Navy and became a leading lawyer in the postwar period, "thought a lot more about McMinn County than he did about the Japs. If democracy was good enough to put on the Germans and the Japs, it was good enough for McMinn County, too!"[3] The scene was ripe for a confrontation when McMinn County's GIs were demobilized. When they arrived home the deputies targeted the returning GIs, one reported: "A lot of boys getting discharged [were] getting the mustering out pay. Well, deputies running around four or five at a time grapping [sic] up every GI they could find and trying to get that money off of them, they were fee grabbers, they wasn't on a salary back then."[6][non-primary source needed]

In the August 1946 election, Paul Cantrell ran again for sheriff, while Pat Mansfield ran for the State Senate seat. Stephen Byrum, a local history author, speculates that the reason for this switch was an attempt to spread the graft among themselves.[3] Bill White, meanwhile, claims the reason for the swap was because they thought Cantrell stood a better chance running against the GIs.[7][non-primary source needed] The GIs were motivated more by hostility towards Sheriff Mansfield and his deputies rather than against Cantrell whose period as sheriff had been relatively benign.[8][non-primary source needed]

McMinn County had around 3,000 returning military veterans, constituting almost 10 percent of the county population. Some of the returning veterans resolved to challenge Cantrell's political control by fielding their own nonpartisan candidates and working for a fraud-free election. A meeting was called in May; veteran ID was required for admission. A non-partisan slate of candidates was selected.[9]

Veteran Bill White described the veterans' motivation:

There were several beer joints and honky-tonks around Athens; we were pretty wild; we started having trouble with the law enforcement at that time because they started making a habit of picking up GIs and fining them heavily for most anything—they were kind of making a racket out of it. After long hard years of service—most of us were hard-core veterans of World War II—we were used to drinking our liquor and our beer without being molested. When these things happened, the GIs got madder—the more GIs they arrested, the more they beat up, the madder we got ....[2] ..."

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