The stories of Tallulah Bankhead’s antics abound all over the world, but not more prevalent than here in Jasper, where she lived with her father, William B. Bankhead, and her grandparents, John Hollis Bankhead and Tallulah Brockman Bankhead (her namesake) on Eighth Avenue. As the years roll by, those stories become grander with creatively-added details that, if repeated enough, to some become the truth. Those stories of sex, alcohol and drugs bring into question her character. While certainly Tallulah had her shortcomings, as we all do, those antics, faults, shortcomings — whatever you choose to call them — were a part of Tallulah, not the whole person. Many times, her character is assassinated because of those antics, and that’s when we, as a community, easily lose track of her true contribution to Jasper and the world.
What many people don’t know about Tallulah was her unyielding fight for freedom and equality for all people ... the very essence of what America is and always shall be. During the 1948 Democratic Convention that nominated President Harry S. Truman (who first became president upon the death of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945) to run against Republican nominee Thomas E. Dewey, the president insisted on a civil rights platform which caused a division in the Democratic Party. This division known as the Dixiecrats, led by then South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond, was a group of Southern segregationists, with whom Tallulah had only one thing in common…being Southern. You see, while Tallulah loved people, all people, she had no patience for elitism, sexism, and certainly not racism.
It was then that Tallulah took an even more active role in the election of President Truman to his first full term, to fight not only the Jim Crow Dixiecrats, but also the Republicans. As you know from history, Truman went on to win the presidency, and he and First Lady Bess, remained close personal friends to Tallulah throughout their lives. You can hear Tallulah on You Tube reading “What is America.” Because you see, as she dramatically reads “What is America,” one can easily see in the spirit of the words “What is Jasper” and “What is Walker County,” because we really are the same thing. In this 3-minute recording, one thing stands out to me and I hope stands out to you as she so eloquently delivers: "America is an idea that people can live in without having their wits scared out of them, without a gag in their mouth, or a strait jacket on their spirits…”
So you see, Talluah’s image is a perfect fit for not only our community, but also for this half-marathon and 5K. She’s a competitor, a fighter, a believer, an idealist, a winner ... the traits you need to be an athlete and complete any race set before you. It’s also the traits we need to move this community, city, and county beyond the perceptions that others, and, yes, ourselves, have placed upon us.
So please, join us in welcoming our more than 300 runners to downtown Jasper to run through our beautiful community. Go to www.tallulahhalf.com to register or to see the route that may go by your house or business so you can cheer on the runners from your yards, sidewalks, driveways or from the staging area at the courthouse square in downtsown Jasper. Show these visitors exactly what Tallulah is about; we are a community of idealists, fighters, cheerleaders, and, yes, we are winners.
The Tallulah Half-Marathon, 5K, 1 Mile Fun Run, and Kid’s Marathon is Jasper Main Street’s signature event and fundraiser. The profits are used for revitalization projects and reinvested into downtown Jasper, which makes all of a winner.
And who can’t win if Tallulah is on your side?
Mike Putman is executive director of Jasper Main Street. He may be reached at email@example.com.