March 1934: Controversy arises over gubernatorial candidate denied meeting space

Posted 3/8/19

The upcoming wrestling debut/retirement match of publisher James Phillips must have been on my mind as I was flipping through the volume of 1934 newspapers this week.I stopped on a headline in the …

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March 1934: Controversy arises over gubernatorial candidate denied meeting space

Posted

The upcoming wrestling debut/retirement match of publisher James Phillips must have been on my mind as I was flipping through the volume of 1934 newspapers this week.

I stopped on a headline in the March 7 issue about professional wrestling returning to Jasper. Chris Jordan, identified as a well-known promoter and former world's middleweight champion, had reportedly finished construction on a new arena at the square. 

The first bout was scheduled for that night, March 7, at 8:15 p.m. The wrestlers coming to town were Dynamite Joe Dillman of Indianapolis, Buck Reeder of Oklahoma City, Speedy Lawrence of Toronto, Ontario, and Freddie Lassiter of Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

In other news, miners across the county were striking.

The strike began on March 4 following a meeting in Dora attended by representatives of 47 local labor unions from Walker, Jefferson, Shelby, Bibb, Marion, St. Clair, Tuscaloosa, Fayette and Blount counties.

After a five-hour conference, there was a unanimous vote to "suspend work until mine operators agree to meet with local, district and national union agents to effect collective bargaining," according to Hugh Cunningham, president of the Dora local. The strike ended a week later with an agreement between miners and operators, and approximately 11,000 miners went back to work.

The juiciest bit of coverage I found concerned a gubernatorial candidate who had to find another venue for his campaign speech after he arrived in Jasper and discovered a farmers meeting going on in the room he had been promised.

The Mountain Eagle reported that there were conflicting statements about why Judge Leon McCord had been kicked out of the large courtroom at the courthouse and "it would take a Philadelphia lawyer to untangle the mess."

The incident was unfortunate because the city "has always been uniformly fair heretofore to speakers in reference to the use of the courthouse," according to the Eagle.

McCord's speech was moved to the Colonial Theatre, where he addressed a large crowd and insinuated that the mistake had not been a harmless one.

"It's another one of the tricks that the old-time politicians attempt to play. They do not want the people to have the truth. They thought they could keep me from delivering my message to the voters of Walker County," he said.

McCord received a telegram from a coal miner in the middle of his speech that assured him the slight would earn him 500 votes. "The people of this county resent the lack of fair play to you," the miner wrote.

In May, McCord would finish a distant third in the Democratic primary to Frank Dixon and eventual winner Bibb Graves.

So why was McCord snubbed? "Here are, in substance, what some of the principal characters in the affair say about it...let the public be the judge," the Eagle editors wrote.

According to Sheriff A.N. Barrentine, assistant county agent F.H. Orr Jr. had come to him two weeks before and had received permission to hold a county-wide farmers meeting in the courtroom on Saturday, Feb. 24 at 10 a.m. 

McCord supporters made the same request later, and Barrentine left the decision to Orr. The sheriff was surprised when Orr did not yield.

Kelley Herring, president of the Walker County Farm Bureau, knew that Orr was making a mistake. "Orr doesn't know politics," he said. "I told him that nothing would suit the McCord supporters better than to be denied the use of the courthouse."

McCord's county campaign manager, Bryce Campbell, said he was going to change the speech from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m, but Barrentine assured him that he had the keys to the courthouse and McCord could have the room "if the building was still standing."

McCord's publicity manager, H.P. Gibson, was making arrangements to have the speech moved to Cordova until Campbell told him that the sheriff was taking care of everything. Advertisements of the speech listed the 10 a.m. time.

However, Orr said Jasper Mayor Burton (no first name given) told him in a phone conversation on Tuesday that the meeting had been moved to 2 p.m.

"Mr. Orr said he would have been fired from Washington if he had adjourned for a political meeting. He said he was being cussed by both McCord supporters and Graves supporters, but by Graves supporters most," the Eagle reported. 

The latter believed that Orr helped McCord by refusing him the courtroom, and I do wonder how much coverage McCord would have been given otherwise. The Eagle ran two articles on his visit, and both were dedicated almost exclusively to the controversy. 

The article on the speech itself said McCord "reviewed his record in behalf of labor" and "reviewed his platform and told some of the things he would do as governor."

The Eagle left what those things entailed up to the imagination of its readers in 1934.     

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