Jasper Post office dedicated 50 years ago this week

Posted 4/6/18

Last week's column gave an overview of what was happening around the nation in early April 1968 — the untimely death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis and the violence that broke out around …

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Jasper Post office dedicated 50 years ago this week

Posted

Last week's column gave an overview of what was happening around the nation in early April 1968 — the untimely death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis and the violence that broke out around the nation in response to his assassination. 

Closer to home, the talk of the town was Jasper's new post office. 

According to an article in the April 3, 1968, Daily Mountain Eagle, the facility had been built under the Post Office Department's lease construction program. 

(The department was replaced by the U.S. Postal Service in 1971 under President Richard Nixon's administration.)

Postmaster Bill Cunningham noted that Jasper was selected for a new postal facility because mail business was booming.

In the past 10 years, mail revenue in the area had increased from $140,000 to $264,000, the Eagle reported. During the same time period, the local postal service had added 21 employees (for a total of 52), six vehicles (for a total of seven) and three postal routes (for a total of eight).  

The city's old post office was in the process of being converted into Jasper City Hall.

A dedication ceremony for the new post office was held on April 7, 1968, which was a Sunday afternoon. 

U.S. Rep. Tom Bevill, who was in the first of 15 terms he would eventually serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, was the guest of honor, along with Percy Coleman, regional director of the U.S. Post Office, and Albert Shaw, who had recently retired as Carbon Hill's postmaster after 31 years of service.

Shaw, who had taken over the post after his father's sudden death in 1936, was known around the state as "The Village Postmaster," the title of a popular column he wrote for a state postmasters magazine.

Bevill presented a flag to Cunningham that had flown over the U.S. Capitol. At the end of the ceremony, it was raised to full height and then lowered to half staff in memory of King.

With cities around the nation still in turmoil, Bevill denounced lawlessness in his remarks and called for "the law to be enforced without regard to race, creed or color."

Jasper had experienced violence in its streets in the weeks before King's assassination.

On March 11, the Eagle reported that several cars had been damaged by bricks and rocks in the Coke Oven community. 

Local residents said the incident, which lasted for three hours, had started when several white youth had broken out a windshield.

During a meeting with city leaders the following week, 10 African-American leaders expressed displeasure that only a few police officers had responded to the scene and called for equal protection. The group, which the Eagle reported was led by Harold Underwood, also demanded that the city hire black police officers and firemen.

The Eagle reported on April 3 (the day before King's assassination) that Mayor Herman Maddox had been granted new emergency powers to help him quell mob action or civil disorders.

The ordinance gave Maddox the authority to impose a curfew, close businesses and streets and mobilize law enforcement to help keep the peace.

Fifty years later, tensions between African-Americans and the law enforcement community continue to be a timely topic. 

The postal service has also been in the news this week, thanks to President Donald Trump's tweets about Amazon.

And Walker County Commission members and others in the community continue to ask themselves the question posed by Eagle Publisher Aaron Parsons in an editorial on April 1, 1968 — "Why do people litter their towns and cities and countryside?"

Parsons went on to say, "This distasteful condition persists despite the concerted campaigns of civic organizations, governmental agencies and many individual citizen groups."

If Mr. Parsons could have seen into the future, he would be disheartened indeed.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.