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The Guns of Athens

US History
US History
September 4, 2019
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Edward Hull "Boss" Crump was an American politician from Memphis, Tennessee. As a politician in first half of the 1900's, he enjoyed a large amount of success, being in control of what is now called a "political machine." (Remember William "Boss" Tweed, from Gangs of New York? Same situation, different state.) You see. E.H. Crump engaged in a vast array of distasteful tactics, including voter intimidation, voter suppression, bribery, police brutality, and predatory/profit policing. In truth, he "appointed" all mayors elected in Memphis from 1915 to 1954. This is the story about the people of the small town of Athens, and how they resisted the E.H. Crump political machine using the Guns of Athens.In August of 1936, the E.H. Crump political machine introduced a man named Paul Cantrell as the candidate for Sheriff. His campaign was ran on ties to Franklin D. Roosevelt, attempting to use the popularity of the President. E.H. Crump would be elected Sheriff in 1936, 1938, and 1940, though in 1942 and 1944 he would serve in the state Senate, with his deputy serving as Sheriff during that time. His deputies were paid for each person booked, incarcerated, and then released from jail. As you can tell, this obviously encouraged unlawful arrests and the violation of citizens' rights. Between 1936 and 1946, these deputies would be paid to the tune of $300,000 for their "work."The U.S. DOJ would investigate the Crump machine on allegations of voting fraud and misconduct in 1940, 1942, and 1944 - however, they never took action against Edward Crump, or his for-profit deputies. Manipulating the poll tax, miscounting votes, and even votes cast by deceased citizens was a common occurrence during elections in which Crump's people were involved. During World War Two, two American servicemen home on leave were shot and killed by Cantrell's deputies, angering many of Athens' warfighters who were still overseas. With around 3,000 combat veterans in McMinn County, they made up around 10% of the population. Upon their return from the war, they instituted their own slate of non-partisan candidates, with the goal of holding a fraud-free election.These World War Two veterans put together what they called the "Fighting Bunch", to keep voters from being harassed and assaulted when they went to the polls. This group was mainly made up of frontline combat troops who, as Bill White put it, "weren't afraid to bust a cap in someone." The first casualty of the Battle of Athens was an elderly African American farmer, Tom Gillespie, who arrived at the Water Works Polling Station and was turned away. After the GI escort and Tom had objected, a deputy named C.M. Wise punched Gillespie with a pair of brass knuckles before shooting him in the back.At the closing of the polls, Cantrell's thugs gathered up the ballot boxes and took them to the local jail to count the votes in secret. Well aware that the election was going to be stolen yet again, the GI's made their way to the town armory, where they collected an assortment of Thompson submachine guns, M1 Garand rifles, and dynamite. Estimates range from several hundred to as many as 2,000 veterans laid siege to the jail, eventually blowing a large hole in the outer wall of the jail and forcing the surrender of Cantrell's deputies. Afterwards, the votes were counted fairly. The votes certified the election of 5 GI-League candidates to the city government, though this government would eventually collapse. The Non-Partisan GI Political League replied to letters written by their fellow veterans across the United States with advice that shooting it out with local authorities may not be the most desirable solution to political problems.

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