6. Senator J. Thomas Heflin and the Expulsion Movement of 1929
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6 Senator J. Thomas Heflin and the Expulsion Movement of 1929 The fall of the Redeemers from power in Ala­ bama after the turn of the century was more a voluntary than a forced abdication. Ever pragmatic in their approach to politics, the majority of the Redeemer elite took the lesson of the Populist period to heart. Without the black vote, they could not maintain themselves in power. But as long as blacks remained legal voters , there was always the danger that a dissident white group might capture the blacks’ confidence, and with these allies go on to effect a complete revolution in state government. Clearly, the way to prevent such an eventuality was to admit to some degree of power the excluded white groups from whose ranks dissident movements had time and again arisen,while concurrently eliminating blacks from politics. Of course, such a program meant a considerable diminution of power for the Redeemers, but “half a loaf is better than none.”The result was the Constitution of 1901. The Redeemers contented themselves with disproportionate power in the malapportioned legislature, while largely—through the institution of the direct Democratic primary—abandoning executive offices to the formerly excluded white groups. Blacks were removed as a possible bone of contention between the two segments of the white electorate by their effective disfranchisement. By the time of the Henderson administration (1915–19), it was clear that the Redeemer ploy had been successful. The north Ala­ bama hill counties and the Wiregrass counties in the southeast, the homes of the majority of the dissident whites, had accepted the degree of power that the Constitutional Convention had granted them and had made no further attempts to dislodge the Redeemers from their remaining strongholds.Redeemers continued to control Black Belt county governments (see map 6.1). The Black Belt bloc was unrivaled within the legislature for its coherence, consistency, and continuity. But very few of the ideological heirs of the old Redeemer elite would ever again achieve statewide eminence.1 By the end of the 1920s, the number of important officials who might fairly be called descendants of the old ruling group was small indeed. Henry De Lamar Clayton II, after a distinguished career in Congress cul- 6.1. Ala­ bama’s Black Belt Senator J. Thomas Heflin and the Expulsion Movement of 1929 / 125 minating in the passage of the Clayton Antitrust Act, was now one of Ala­ bama’s federal district judges. Chief Justice John C. Anderson of Demopolis led a state Supreme Court made up largely of north Alabamians. William A. Gunter Jr., mayor of Montgomery, controlled with genial paternalism Ala­ bama’s most famous city machine, and his influence spread far beyond his city’s boundaries. Edmund W. Pettus II of Selma, grandson of Ala­ bama’s longtime US senator and son of a former Speaker of the Ala­ bama House and president of the Ala­ bama Senate, served as chairman of the state Democratic Executive Committee. These men and others like them had just lived through a decade that had left them apprehensive for their positions—and with good reason. The 1920s were hard times in Ala­ bama. Like their forebears of the 1890s, north Alabamians and residents of the Wiregrass were growing restless under a Redeemer-­ engineered order.Although they might control the governorship , they seldom saw the legislature pass any laws regarded by the Black Belt as radical. If North Alabamians and their allies in the southeast were ever aroused and organized, there was danger that they might force the adoption of a program that would be anathema to the remnants of the Redeemers. The levees of power, however, had been carefully and lovingly constructed at the turn of the century. Only by breaking clear of, or taking over entirely, the Democratic Party and striking out as a self-­ consciously revolutionary force could the white small farmers and millworkers of north Ala­ bama and the Wiregrass hope to disturb the po­ liti­ cal status quo. The descendants of the Redeemers, aware of this fact, sought constantly to emphasize the necessity for white racial solidarity and party unity. It was particularly important to prevent the Republican Party from becoming a socially acceptable alternative to Democracy. But any organization that tended to give structure and purpose to north Ala­ bama and Wiregrass frustrations was characterized by the Redeemers as dangerous. At the dawn of the 1920s,the Republicans were still regarded as too radi­ cal to appeal to any but...


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Subject Headings

  • Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877).
  • Civil rights -- United States -- History.
  • Southern States -- History -- 1865-1951.
  • Southern States -- History -- 1951-.
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