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Knoxville’s Red Summer of 1919

Posted by | August 28, 2015

It wasn’t the only American city simmering with race riots in that ‘Red Summer’ of 1919. But Knoxville, TN up till that time had always prided itself as a model southern city when it came to race relations.

That civic image changed dramatically starting on August 30, when an intruder shot and killed Mrs. Bertie Lindsey, a 27 year old white woman, in her Knoxville home. Her 21 year old cousin, Ora Smyth, lay motionless in her bed. After the intruder grabbed a purse and ran away, Smyth fled next door to the house of a city policeman.

Maurice Mays' wrecked jail cell at the Knox County Jail after the ransacking.

Maurice Mays\’ wrecked jail cell at the Knox County Jail after the ransacking.

Minutes later, several policeman rushed to the scene of the crime, where thirty or forty people had already congregated. One of the patrolmen, Andy White, immediately thought of Maurice Mays. More than once others heard White castigate Mays for interacting with white women.

Mays was a well-known figure in local politicking circles. He was a mulatto who liked to try his hand at being deputy sheriff from time to time. Some knew him as an exceptional braggart.

Often at the center of controversy, the striking, eloquent, and married 31 year old Mays attracted numerous women, both black and white. He owned a café and dance hall in Knoxville’s red light district frequented by both races. Mays, the illegitimate son of the Democratic white mayor John E. McMillan and his mulatto maid Ella Walker, delivered the black vote to McMillan. McMillan had become mayor in 1915 and faced re-election soon. In fact, Mays handed out blank poll tax receipts for McMillan on August 29.

White and two other policemen were ordered to arrest Mays. They arrived at his house at 3:30 a.m. on August 30, discovered him sleeping, and searched the premises for evidence. In his dresser they found a revolver, which the three lawmen claimed had recently been discharged. Both Mays’ foster father and the black driver of the patrol wagon denied this claim, however.

Moreover, although muddy tracks led away from the crime scene, Mays’ clothes, shoes, and carpet were clean and dry. Nevertheless, White arrested Mays and took him to the crime scene for Ora Smyth to identify, which she promptly did after barely glancing at him.

By 8:00 a.m the following morning a sizeable mob had assembled around the Knox County jailhouse. Sheriff W. T. Cate sent Mays, in shackles, to the county jail. In the early afternoon, the Knoxville Sentinel circulated lurid front page articles describing the crime and arrest. Authorities decided Mays would be safer elsewhere, and this time removed him, dressed as a woman to conceal his identity, to Chattanooga.

By 6:00 p.m. about 500 people had surrounded the Knox County jail, demanding Mays. They stormed it just before sundown, throwing rocks and shooting their way in. During the ensuing melee, no black prisoners were disturbed, but 16 white inmates, including convicted murderers, were freed, the liquor storage room was pillaged, and the jail demolished.

Unsatisfied and boozy, the mob staggered over to Vine and Central, the hub of the black part of town, where it was rumored that armed blacks were gathering. On their way, the whites broke into several businesses, mainly to grab up firearms. Many of the prison guards joined the frenzy. Guardsmen of the Tennessee Fourth Infantry were sent to the scene, but shooting nonetheless broke out, with soldiers and white rioters firing into occupied buildings. The buildings fired back.

When the dust settled the following day, 36 whites were arrested, but no convictions were ever recorded. Some whites later boasted of “mowing niggers down like grass,” and stories continue to be told of bodies dumped into the Tennessee River. Even respected African American educator and leader Charles Cansler later admitted that there were many deaths “on both sides.” The Chicago Defender reported that perhaps over 1,500 blacks fled the city until additional guardsmen eventually restored a semblance of order.

What precipitated all this? Knoxville at the time seemed to residents to be an unlikely candidate for racial violence. Many Knoxville blacks exercised their right to vote, held public office, sat on juries, and served on the police force.

The Knoxville College, one of the first black schools established after the Civil War, the East Tennessee News, the area’s biggest black newspaper, and a local chapter of the NAACP all pointed to the growing role of African Americans in the community.

At the same time, rural whites who had migrated from the mountain hinterlands had had a hard time adjusting to the city’s regimented way of life. In industries such as the Knoxville Iron Company and the Southern Railway, they had been forced into proximity with blacks, whom they already loathed. Residential segregation, an accepted feature of American urban life, had been breaking down under the pressure of black population growth.

The early years of the 20th century had been anxious economic times for Knoxville. Many commercial and industrial firms, such as the Knoxville Woolen Mills, had been forced to close because of competition with manufacturers elsewhere in the country, or because of poor management. The closings, and the fact that the city’s working age population had grown faster than the number of jobs, had caused a great deal of anxiety, frustration and anger. The stage was set, awaiting only a trigger occurrence to give vent to these built up resentments.

Mays returned to Knoxville under tight security on September 25, and his trial began a few days later. The all-white jury found him guilty after only 18 minutes of deliberation. Two weeks later, the judge imposed the death penalty. However, the sentence was overturned on appeal because of a judicial error. In a second trial, Mays received the same sentence.

On March 15, 1922, as he continued to proclaim his innocence, Maurice Mays died in the electric chair.


Knoxville, Tennessee: a Mountain City in the New South, by William Bruce Wheeler, Michael J. McDonald
Encyclopedia of American Race Riots, by Walter C. Rucker, James N. Upton


On the hottest day you can imagine

Posted by | August 27, 2015

The first time I ever visited Georgia was in Habersham County. Uncle John and Aunt Irene had a ridge farm in the Georgia mountains. You may never have seen a ridge farm or if you did you may not have realized how they farm the ridges. You can’t use a tractor. It would roll over on you the first time you tried to turn a row. Folks use mules for the ploughing, planting, weeding and harvesting.

Not my Uncle John, he was a gentleman farmer. He raised razorback hogs, a mountain species of the wild piney wood rooters. The mountain variety have long back legs and long ear lobes with holes in the bottom of the ear lobes. The first time I saw one I thought they wore ear bobs in their ear holes. They are ugly. Their heads look like their necks had barfed. One fell into the pond up in front of the farm house. They had that 550-pound hog out of the water in about five minutes. Aunt Irene told me they had to scum ugly off that pond for a year.

My Uncle John raised that species of mountain, razorback hogs, because of the long back legs. The hogs could root right up the side of a ridge turn around, tuck them long back legs into their ear holes and slide right back down the root path. Then they would turn right around and root their way back up the ridge.

When it was time to plant, Uncle John tied little disks on the hogs’ tails. Disks look like Frisbees and they break up clods of fresh turned dirt. Uncle John would throw table scraps out over the ridge and at dusk turn the hogs loose. By morning the hogs would have rooted and disked the whole side of the ridge. Uncle John would sit on his rocking chair on his back porch with a bag of seed grain and his sling shot and plant the side of the ridge.

When the harvest was ready all he had to do was hit the side of the ridge with a two-by-four piece of wood, wham bam! All the vegetables would roll down off the ridge to the catch fence. I mean that does make farming a whole lot easier.

Uncle John never had to worry about drought and lack of rain like other farmers did. Across the top of the ridge he would always plant three rows of onions and potatoes mixed together. He surely was a smart farmer to have worked this out. You see if you mix the onions and potatoes together at the top of the ridge the onions would make the tater eyes weep and keep the whole side of the ridge irrigated.

The only mistake Uncle John ever made was the summer he planted some of those hot, hot, hot Mexican jalapeno peppers along the catch fence. When those fiery, hot peppers got ripe, they put off an incredible amount of seething heat that just rolled up the side of the ridge. Well that summer, so happened to be a summer so hot that I’ve watched stumps in the pasture tear themselves out of the ground and on their roots crawl underneath the trees to cool off. I have even seen the shade in the middle of the day creep under the trees to cool off. Hot and Dry!

We had the Health Department out to spray the fish in the cat fish pond for ticks. The fish would come out of the pond around noon each day and swim around in the dust to keep away from the boiling water.

Well to make a long story short let me tell you what happened. I know you may not believe this but I do not have any reason to lie to you. Oh I might tell you something seven or eight different ways but I wouldn’t lie. On the hottest day you could imagine coupled with the scorching heat waves coming off those Jalapeno peppers and rolling up the ridge a 465 pound hog got into the middle of the ridge field and flat out melted! That’s a fact. Though I admit some might tend to argue but I was there and I seen it for myself.

Chuck Larkin (1931-2003), self-proclaimed bluegrass storyteller, folk singer, humorist and speaker, was a featured teller at The National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN and was a charter member of the Southern Order of Storytellers.



Gloria Swanson on location in WV

Posted by | August 26, 2015

On August 17, 1925, screen actress Gloria Swanson, her husband and her staff arrived on a special train from New York.

They were in New Martinsville, WV to film “Stage Struck,” a movie about a restaurant waitress who dreamed of a stage career and started on a showboat. The idea has been done a hundred times in films and was nothing new even in 1925. The famous Players-Lasky Co. was the producing company.

In the company of Miss Swanson were her husband, Marquis de la Falaise; Allen Dwan, director; Lawrence Astor and Ford Sterling, principals; William Palmer, engineer and a crew of 40. There were 65 bit players.

A large crowd greeted the company on its arrival at the Baltimore and Ohio station. The New Martinsville Band played and Miss Mildred McCaskey, representing the Woman’s Club, presented the star with a basket of cut flowers. Dr. W. C. Adams of the Kiwanis Club was in charge of the reception.

Gloria Swanson and the Filming of Stage StruckAt that time Capt. J. Orville Noll, steamboat operator, lived in a large house at the foot of Washington St., which was to be the home of the company while here.

Capt. Noll had also leased the Water Queen Showboat on which some of the picture was to be filmed. It was moored near the wharf.

The Noll home could not accommodate all of the personnel so many stayed at the Riverview Hotel and others stayed in private homes.

A small gas-driven launch called the “Tom” was also chartered and placed near the wharf for the use of the movie company.

Things were humming down in Brooklyn as the Phillips Lumber Co. transformed the old Clark estate, of Emich’s Park, into a picnic ground where some movie shots were to be made. Workmen hauled lumber and built a huge dance pavilion.

It was a big week in New Martinsville. Filming began on August 18 and Gov. Howard Mason Gore visited the city on August 20. A special show at the Lincoln Theatre showing Gloria in “Manhandled” attracted a capacity crowd and Gloria made a brief speech. Visitors flocked to the city from Parkersburg, Wheeling and throughout the area.

Miss Swanson was showered with gifts ranging from a huge angel food cake given her by Rev. J. G. Baugh to dozens of flower bouquets given by various organizations.

Noll, in addition to renting the movie company his palatial home, and chartering the showboat and gas launch, also owned the excursion steamer Verne Swain and it was engaged in bringing tourists to the city from Wheeling.

On Sunday, August 23, the city was packed with people who had come from throughout the Ohio-West Virginia area.

Mrs. C I Longwell gave birth to a baby daughter which was promptly named Helen Gloria, for Miss Swanson. The Magnolia Serenaders played on the lawn of the Noll home. Chief of Police John Arnette and his patrolmen S. G. Combs, A. E. Coffield, N. S. Postlethwaite and Frank Leap breathed a sigh of relief as Gloria and her company concluded production and left for New York August 26 in a special train car.

There was but one mishap during the big event. Assistant Postmaster T. G. Allen, fell into the river from the wharfboat as he tried to get a glimpse of Gloria. He was rescued by the crew of the packer Helen E., which was tied up at the local landing.

The picture was not a success and led an executive of the Famous Players Co. to remark in later years:

“About the only people who made any money out of “Stage Struck” was that guy in New Martinsville who owned the hotel and showboat.”

There have been two revivals of the picture made in talking film. Miss Swanson played in the silent version but did not play in either of the talking versions.

Source: New Martinsville Welcomed Swanson in 1925, News-Register, by Ralph Conley, Aug 17, 1966


The origin of the phrase Duke’s Mixture

Posted by | August 25, 2015

Ever heard or used the expression duke’s mixture? It has nothing to do with royalty, unless you consider the tobacco titans of the nineteenth century to be such.

Washington Duke of North Carolina was a serious and thrifty man. By the start of the Civil War he’d attained a 300-acre farm four miles north of Durham, NC, and four children: Brodie by his first wife; Benjamin, Mary and James by a second.

A widower, Duke did not enter the Confederate army until 1863; he was captured in the retreat from Richmond before Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House. In 1865 the forty-five-year-old veteran was released from Libby Prison and sent to New Bern, North Carolina, 137 miles from home.

He walked the 137 miles, having only 50 cents in hard cash, obtained from a Federal soldier in exchange for a five-dollar Confederate bill. The farm had been ransacked by Federal troops, except for a little Bright tobacco leaf and some flour. To raise working capital Duke sold his land and rented back a few acres of it. After sending for his children, whom their grandparents had kept, he pulverized and cleaned the tobacco in a small log barn. Packed in muslin bags labeled Pro Bono Publico, it was loaded onto a wagon drawn by two blind mules.

duke's mixture tobaccoReins in hand, Duke rattled east toward Raleigh, sleeping by the roadside at night and cooking his own food in a frying pan-bacon, corn meal, sweet potatoes. The expedition was a success. Duke exchanged his flour for cotton, which he sold in Raleigh; part of the proceeds went into a present for his children—a bag of brown sugar. (Buck, the youngest, ate so much of it that he lost his “sweet tooth” for the rest of his life.) More important, the tobacco found a ready cash market, and yielded enough money to buy a supply of bacon.

By 1889 the loose, or ‘granulated’ roll-your-own tobacco, Pro Bono Publico, now renamed Duke’s Mixture as a challenge to Blackwell’s Bull Durham, had become the Duke Tobacco Company’s top brand. Production jumped from 3,600,000 to 5,500,000 pounds between 1896 and 1897, and even after ‘the Bull’ was brought into American’s brand stable, Duke’s Mixture continued to grow, topping the 11,000,000 pound mark by 1900.

‘The granulated business of the American Tobacco Co. between 1896-1910 was almost entirely made up of medium and low price brands, of which Duke’s Mixture was by far the most important,” states the Report of the Commissioner of Corporations on the Tobacco Industry, published in 1915 by the Department of Commerce. “The granulated business of Blackwell’s Durham Tobacco Co, a subsidiary of the American, averaged much higher in price than that of the granulated business of the American Tobacco Co proper and was also made up very largely of a single brand, namely, Bull Durham.”

The public snickered that Duke’s Mixture brand, because it was low end, was a thrown together stew of tobacco odds and ends, and this led early on to the phrase duke’s mixture we sometimes still hear used today, to mean a hodge-podge of something. Here’s a September 5, 1917 diary entry from North Carolina doughboy William Bradley Umstead:

“Sept. 5, 1917.

Came out to camp to stay on Monday Sept 3.

First drafted men came in today. Regular Duke’s mixture as I expected. Men from all social castes, professions, and walks of life, brought together for a common purpose which many of them do not understand.”


Sources: Report of the Commissioner of Corporations on the Tobacco Industry, 1915, Department of Commerce
Diary of William Bradley Umstead, 1895-1954, Academic Affairs Library, Call number SHC #4529, Manuscripts Dept., Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Cigarette Pack Art, Dr. Chris Mullen, 1979, Galley Press


Sad Sam, the cemetery man

Posted by | August 24, 2015

Samuel ‘Sad Sam’ Pond Jones (1892-1966) reached the pinnacle of his major league pitching career on September 4, 1923 when he threw a no-hit, no-run game against the Philadelphia Athletics to lead the New York Yankees to their first World Series title.

“That slow ball of his simply floats up there and you swing your head off,” said Hall of Famer Tris Speaker. Jones was sent from Cleveland to the Red Sox in a 1916 trade for Speaker. “Then he’s got a fast one that’s on top of you before you realize it. Plus, he’s got as good a curve-ball as anyone in the league.”

The Woodsfield, OH ballplayer was one of professional baseball’s top pitchers in the early 1900s. Jones had a lifetime record of 229 victories (including 36 shutouts and one no-hitter) and 216 defeats.

pitcher Sad Sam JonesHe started his 22 year career with the Cleveland Indians in 1914; only he and Cy Young pitched that many years consecutively in the majors. “You know, I think one reason I pitched so long is that I never wasted my arm trying to throw to first to keep runners close to the base,” Jones told baseball biographer Lawrence Ritter in 1966. “There was a time there, for five years, I never once threw to first base to chase a runner back. Not once in five years. Ripley put that in ‘Believe it or Not.'”

Later Jones played for the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, St Louis Browns, Washington Senators, and Chicago White Sox (there were only two American League teams he didn’t play for). He posted a career high 23 victories for Boston in 1921 and won 21 for New York in 1923.

His best seasons were with the Red Sox, in 1918, when he led the league with a 16-5 record, and in 1921, when he won 23 and lost 16. He appeared in four World Series.

Sad Sam, the Cemetery Man was actually a whimsical man full of backwoods humor. Rookie sportswriter Bill McGeehan of the New York Herald-Tribune dubbed him that because, to him, Jones looked downcast on the field. “I would always wear my cap down real low over my eyes,” Jones explained to author Ritter. “And the sportswriters were more used to fellows like Waite Hoyt, who’d always wear their caps way up so they wouldn’t miss any pretty girls.”

Jones was also called Horsewhips, because of the crack of his sharp breaking ball. Jones was born in Woodsfield, OH, which further earned him the moniker “The Squire of Woodsfield.”

“Great eye,” he once said of Babe Ruth. “He don’t hit bad balls because he makes good ones out of everything you throw him—four inches outside the plate or in the dirt.”

Jones retired in 1935 as the oldest player in that season (42). His 22 consecutive seasons pitching in one league is a major league record shared with Herb Pennock, Early Wynn, Red Ruffing and Steve Carlton.


1918: Babe Ruth and the World Champion Boston Red Sox, by Allan Wood, iUniverse, 2000
The Glory of Their Times: The Story of Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men who Played it, by Lawrence S. Ritter, Macmillan Co, 1966

appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history Monroe+County+OH Samuel+Pond+Jones Woodfield+OH sports+in+appalachia

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