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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Files link governor to lynchings in '40s

Seems to be a trend lately to investigate old crimes. Unlike yesterday where I reported a story as a civil rights era crime, this came just a decade before the civil rights movement began in earnest. This crime was about how in the state of Georgia politics played a role in a lynching.

And that first sentence to this post, please don't be offended. I'm not knocking it at all because even after all these year the couples who were lynched deserve justice. This should give you one indication as to why things like this happened in those days...
Newly released files from the lynching of two black couples more than 60 years ago contain a disturbing revelation: The FBI investigated suspicions that a three-term governor of Georgia sanctioned the murders to sway rural white voters in a tough election campaign.

The 3,725 pages obtained under the Freedom of Information Act do not make conclusions about the still-unsolved killings at Moore's Ford Bridge in 1946. But they raise the possibility that Eugene Talmadge's politics may have been a factor when a white mob dragged the couples from a car, tied them to a tree and opened fire.

''I'm not surprised . . . historians over the years have concluded the violently racist tone of his 1946 campaign may have been indirectly responsible for the violence that came at Moore's Ford,'' said Robert Pratt, a University of Georgia history professor who has studied the case. ''It's fair to say he's one of the most virulently racist governors the state has ever had.''
Talmadge, who died just months after his 1946 election to a fourth term, dominated Georgia politics in the 1930s and 1940s with a mix of racism and pocketbook populism.

He came under FBI scrutiny because of a visit he made to the north Georgia town of Monroe two days before the Democratic gubernatorial primary and a day after a racial incident there, a fight in which a black sharecropper stabbed and wounded a white farmer. The sharecropper was one of the four who would be lynched.

In a report sent to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, the agent in charge of the investigation said Talmadge met with George Hester, the brother of the stabbed farmer. Citing an unconfirmed witness statement, the agent said Talmadge offered immunity to anyone ''taking care of negro.''

While the agent dismissed the notion of Talmadge's involvement as ''unbelievable,'' he said it merited investigation.

Other memos raised suspicions that state employees could even have been active participants in the lynching.

FBI agents took note of the political stakes. Talmadge faced a tough challenge in the Democratic primary -- then tantamount to the general election -- and Walton County was up for grabs.

Talmadge won the county by about 200 votes, with overwhelming support from the area where the Hester family lived.

In the FBI memo to Hoover, the agent cited the opinion of Monroe's assistant police chief, Ed Williamson, who had spotted Talmadge meeting in front of the Walton County Courthouse with the brother of the stabbed farmer.

''The opinion on Mr. Williamson's part was that this conversation between Talmadge and Hester probably resulted in the Blasingame District going very definitely in the Talmadge column,'' read the memo.

Votes from small rural counties played a crucial role in Georgia's elections then because primaries were decided by a ''county unit system,'' similar to the Electoral College. Talmadge's challenger, James V. Carmichael, received the most popular votes but lost the election.
As I made the block quote I left out how the grandson of the accused lyncher defended his grandfather, not believing that he was involved. Or at least saying that he doesn't think his grandfather was involved saying that he'd feel sorry for those who do.

So as it was stated in the article it was politics. Politics was a driving force in the days of the civil rights movement with such people as George Wallace in Alabama. If the trend said to fight the civil rights movement then a lot of politicians around the South did exactly that. Even allowed for the brutal methods of releasing dogs on marchers and allowing the police to beat the marchers.

Of course I should note that politics wasn't always a motivation. Perhaps I should find other cases where this is true.

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