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The Secrets of the Hopewell Box

Stolen Elections, Southern Politics, and a City's Coming of Age

James D. Squires

Publication Year: 2013

"Squires' . . . grandfather was a sheriff's deputy who carried a gun and a clenched fist, a man whose talk with cronies was full of references to 'sonofabitching judges' and 'goddamn niggers.' He was also, Squires relates, one of the muscle men behind a vicious cabal of power brokers headed by one Boss Crump. . . . That machine involved, for a time, much of Nashville's leading citizenry. It engineered elections, stole votes, organized lynch mobs, ran an illegal gambling empire, and in the 1950s, when it appeared that the traditional Democratic Party was going soft on civil rights, brokered the advent of Republicanism in one corner of the South."
--Kirkus Reviews

"His richly-textured narrative charts the Nashville machine's rupture with the state's top political boss, Edward Crump of Memphis, and traces the sweeping reforms that shattered rural white control of the state legislature. Squires dramatically reenacts the downfall of Nashville lawyer Tommy Osborne, convicted of jury tampering in 1964 after defending Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. He follows Nashville's transformation into a crucible of the civil rights movement in this stirring chronicle of the South's coming-of-age."
--Publishers Weekly

Back in print (the book was originally published by Random House in 1996) and available for the first time in electronic form.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

Part One: The Powder Puff Boys

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pp. 2-9

From my point of view, eye-level with the pistols on their belts, my granddaddy Dave and his friends were big and dangerous men. I learned to tell one from another by the guns they carried. Blue-steel automatics and nickel-plated revolvers, some stuck handle-up in belt holsters and others...

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pp. 9-16

The car was like the man at the wheel—shiny and fast. It was part of the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s prewar fleet of black-andcream Fords, a 1942 that had been stored unused for two years. By the time it was finally rolled out of mothballs and assigned to Patrolman Dave White, the new tires that had come with it had...

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The Robinsons

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pp. 17-27

Old Hickory was an outgrowth of the first big war. It had risen like magic in sixty-seven days on the bluffs inside a horseshoe loop of the Cumberland River around a powder plant built by the government. One day there was nothing, and a few months later there was a barracks town with its own theme song, “The DuPont...

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An Undertaking

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pp. 27-36

Unlike Ovie White, Boss Robinson didn’t give his children any choices. On the eve of the Great Depression, he decided that Garner ought to become an undertaker. As usual Boss was just trying to put some underemployed Robinsons to more profitable use. He had no idea he was founding a political dynasty....

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Part Two: Politics

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pp. 37-43

I have no earlier recollections than my great-grandfather Will White raising his walking cane and pointing it like a rifle at a neighbor trudging down the railroad tracks by our house in Old Hickory. “There goes old man Thomas,” said Pa Will to me, sitting on his knee. “He’s a goddamn...

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Boss Crump's Gestapo

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pp. 43-50

The inside of “Crump’s gestapo”—the newspapers’ name for the state highway patrol—was lined with whiskey and women, both long family traditions for Dave.
Back during Prohibition, Dave could take a pretty girl for a ride in the country, shoot a few quail, and bring back a load of whiskey...

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The Public Square

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pp. 51-59

The Nashville public square was laid out on a high bluff overlooking the Cumberland. It was there in its center, in the year after Garner Robinson won his first election, that the politicians, using money from FDR’s Public Works Administration, built themselves a new Neoclassical courthouse that looked like a big, fancy shoebox....

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The Hopewell Box

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pp. 59-69

On the morning of November 12, the Tennessean’s political writer, an eagle-eyed, bald-headed man named Joe Hatcher, whose words carried the weight of the publisher’s opinion, issued a front-page warning to the citizens of Davidson County....

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Mink Slide

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pp. 69-82

That Dave White and his buddy J. J. Jackson ended up doing the killing was not surprising, considering their temperament. In view of their political clout, this turned out to be fortunate for the gestapo. Jackson was the state highway patrol’s rising star, a political protégé of a judge Boss Crump had recently gotten appointed to the ...

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Part Three: The Colemere Club

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pp. 83-89

The only way to see out was to sit on the edge of the front seat with my chin resting on the dashboard. From there, I could tell the neighborhood was different from Old Hickory, where we lived. The houses were brick, not shingle and clapboard, and they were bigger, sitting back off the...

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Advancing the Art

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pp. 89-103

Shortly after buying the Tennessean in 1937, Silliman Evans was invited by James G. Stahlman, who had succeeded his grandfather as publisher of the Banner, to attend the Sulphur Dell Club, a monthly dinner meeting of the town’s movers and shakers named after the old minor-league ball park....

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Jake and Sillyman

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pp. 104-114

One piece of Elkin Garfinkle’s advice that Jake persistently ignored was that he try to make peace with Silliman Evans and his Tennessean. Jake knew that doing so would entail trying to charm the old publisher, which he figured was useless....

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Part Four: Booze and Bones

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pp. 115-120

The enduring nature of race as a cutting issue in American life was lost on me until the civil rights movement of the sixties, after I had become a man. But the politics of whiskey and gambling were ingrained in me as a small boy watching my granddaddy smashing roulette tables...

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Stickmen and High Rollers

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pp. 121-136

Tennessean publisher Silliman Evans was anything but a selfrighteous moralist concerned about corruption of his community by unscrupulous underworld gamblers. When he bought the newspaper, it was housed in the old Southern Turf building on Fourth Avenue, previously the city’s most famous downtown...

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The Gorgeous Little Stooge

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pp. 136-144

Failure to elect Oscar Capps in the spring primary of 1952 meant machine control of the sheriff’s office would end with the August general election, in which the nominees for local office were running unopposed or faced only token Republican opposition. But Garner would remain sheriff until the August vote, which...

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Part Five: Exile

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pp. 145-148

The ups and downs of Sheriff Garner’s political fortunes made bumps in all our lives. When Garner had to give up being sheriff in the early fifties, my granddaddy Dave once more gave up being a cop. Now instead of spending weekends with him on patrol, I spent them working as an ...

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Cootchie the Constable and Congress

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pp. 148-152

Mayor West was reelected in 1955 running against a political machine that once again the Tennessean had only wished out of existence. When reporter John Seigenthaler wrote of opposition to West by the Sheridan-Robinson-Garfinkle crowd, Silliman Evans stormed out of his office brandishing a clipping of one...

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Thugs and Jackasses

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pp. 153-158

Like all fallen governments, the Old Hickory political cabal saw exile as only the planning stage of its return to power. At fifty, Jake Sheridan had attained what he wanted from public service— financial independence. Now he had more interest in fishing bait and racehorses than politics. But Garner was as interested as ever ...

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Part Six: Resurrection

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pp. 159-167

They went directly to the lunch counter, filled all the stools, and picked up menus. Nobody was at work in the drugstore but me, old Doc Bell the pharmacist, and the counter waitress, a bosomy Irish matron with red hair piled high on her head. She looked at them like they’d crawled...

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Lessons from the Womb

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pp. 167-172

Nashville was the perfect place for Martin Luther King to begin the civil rights movement because it was a pushover.
On its surface the city was tough and mean spirited enough to put up convincing resistance. Nashville whites could sneer, spit, and shout vulgar racial slurs with the best of American bigots. And they...

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The Unholy Trinity

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pp. 173-182

In the early sixties Tennessee’s legislature was a marble monument to the status quo. For thirty years it had been run by the Great Triumvirate—a trio of elderly lawmakers from the rural rimland of Middle Tennessee who believed in one simple credo: collect the taxes where the money is—in the cities—and spend it where it is...

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Old Dog -- New Sandbox

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pp. 182-189

The campaign for public approval of the new Metropolitan government charter for Nashville in the spring of 1962 had all the decorum of an alley brawl, and the issue of race shadowed it like an albatross.
With the Kennedys in Washington and a voting-rights revolution of some kind a certainty, the racial and political implications of a...

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A Little Evil

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pp. 189-197

Nashville’s famed Hermitage congressional district seat had been filled by the likes of Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston. So it was no wonder that both the city and state were embarrassed in 1939 when the incumbent representative Joe Byrns called the visiting King George VI and Queen Elizabeth “a couple of flat tires.” The next...

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Part Seven: Camelot

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pp. 198-205

The Webster’s New World Dictionary I bought while a part-time, nineteen-year-old college freshman in 1962 defined “Camelot” as “any time or place idealized as having excitement, purpose and a high level of culture . . . as in the town of Arthurian legend where the...

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A Jockey for Gallahadion

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pp. 205-210

If there was anyone in Nashville who looked like he belonged in Camelot, it was attorney Tommy Osborn. He was a tall, grandlooking man with sandy hair, an easy, affable manner, a quick smile, and kind, laughing eyes. On Osborn, horn-rimmed glasses looked debonair, the way a mustache did on Clark Gable. He could...

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An Enemy Within

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pp. 210-236

If Tommy Osborn really wanted to ride a long shot like Gallahadion, he picked the right horse in James R. Hoffa.
The New Frontier was clearly not big enough for the arrogant, abrasive boss of the nation’s Teamsters union, the man who had campaigned personally against John Kennedy and publicly...

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Part Eight: Heroes and Villains

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pp. 237-241

For a reporter still too young in 1962 to vote or buy beer legally, the easiest way to tell the heroes from the villains was to see how they were regarded by the exciting newspaper that paid my salary....

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Lessons on Making Sergeant

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pp. 241-252

The new mayor of the fledgling consolidated government of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County, Beverly Briley, was a tough, determined little man with a short temper and a long memory for political debts good and bad....

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The Destruction of Chicken Man

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pp. 252-261

“A big vote is necessary today to smash the old Robinson machine, drive its influence out of the courthouse and put important public offices in the hands of competent public spirited men,” declared the Tennessean....

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The Last Hurrah

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pp. 261-264

Garner ran for public office one last time in 1975, the year Dave retired from the police department. The campaign gave them both something to do besides hanging around the funeral home. Garner was sixty-nine and Dave seventy-one. Together with Dick Jones, who was seventy-three and had been part of Garner’s shadow as...

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Part Nine: The Final Returns

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pp. 265-274

When my brothers and I pulled up in his driveway that day in the summer of 1980, old Dave was sitting in a yard chair in a short-sleeved sport shirt talking to an empty dog kennel....

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Rewards of a Long Shot

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pp. 275-280

From his prison cell in Alabama Tommy Osborn finally witnessed the legislative independence made possible by his triumphant Baker v. Carr lawsuit. By the time he went on trial for jury tampering in the spring of 1963, thirty-six of the fifty states were involved in reapportionment lawsuits. By the end of that year the number had...

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Burying the Machine -- For Real

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pp. 281-284

Tommy Osborn, the youngest of the Old Hickory crowd, was the first to go. His funeral was a huge gathering of lawyers lamenting injustice and a wasted life.
Skinny Neiderhauser Robinson died in 1977, after forty-seven years as Garner’s wife, much of it plagued by alcoholism. Her...

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pp. 284-296

The Robinson family political legacy did not fall to the expected heir, Garner’s son, Gale, who ran often but finally gave up after losing his bid to become Nashville’s mayor in 1987. It fell instead to Gale’s sister Muriel, twelve years younger, a domestic relations court judge and now one of Nashville’s most popular politicians....

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pp. 297-298

My mother Billye, Dave White’s only child, died of cancer in March of 1995. She got a predictably nice, below-cost funeral from Phillips-Robinson, including a grand wake that could have passed for a Democratic party precinct meeting. The attending crowd reflected the modest sum of her life’s accomplishments, mainly the...


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p. 299-299


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p. 300-300


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pp. 301-309

About the Author

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p. 310-310

E-ISBN-13: 9780826519252
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826519245
Print-ISBN-10: 0826519245

Page Count: 326
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Nashville (Tenn.) -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
  • Political corruption -- Tennessee -- Nashville -- History -- 20th century.
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