The Voters Speak
Elections come and go. Some things never change. But, every once in awhile, things do change. Special elections are generally held to fill a vacant seat or to decide an urgent issue. Over the years, some elections were truly special. They are the ones that change the way we live.
The presidential election of 1884 changed things in Washington. Not since 1856 had the nation elected a democratic president. The South, still reeling from the effects of Reconstruction, became more solid and with the unlikely support of states like New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, helped to elect New York governor, Grover Cleveland, during a Republican stronghold on the presidency which lasted for fifty-two years.
Cleveland's election led some to fear that blacks in the South would become so enraged over the loss of gains they had made after the Civil War that they would take to the streets and riot. Such was the case on November 16, just 12 days after the election. Somehow reports of a riot in Dublin spread like flames across a dry Kansas wheatfield in headlines of newspapers across the country. Stories of a race war with several persons being killed came out of Atlanta. With Dublin being some forty miles from the nearest telegraphic station, urgent inquiries were made into the extent of the turmoil. At the same time, reports of an incendiary riot in Brunswick were published.
One curious Cochranite rode over to investigate and found "that matters in are entirely peaceful in Dublin." The railroad agent in Toomsboro reported that he had heard nothing of the revolt. Meanwhile in Dublin, the center of the alleged insurrection, the editor of the Dublin Post wrote, "If there has been a riot in our town, our citizens are ignorant of it. Our officers have but little trouble in arresting criminals. We guess the report grew out of the fact that three Negroes gave bond and were released from jail one day last week." In Brunswick, the reports of a devastating conflagration were true. The source of the devastating fire was not the refusal of black citizens and fireman to work to suppress the fire as was reported. In fact, the "colored firemen" were hailed for doing their usual good work.
Women were allowed to vote across the nation with the adoption of the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920. Within a month, Maggie New, a Dublin city hall employee, was the first to subscribe her name on the register of voters. Tax Collector M.C. Dominey arranged to have registration books for women at a popular drug store for ten straight days. It would be another half century or so before a woman, Lena Opie, was elected to a city office.
The women of Brewton, Georgia didn't take quite that long. Mrs. H.H. Beall was elected in November 1921. The first female mayor of a Laurens County town promised to work with the council to clean up the town. Mrs. Beall, who succeeded her husband, said, "There a few things that need attention here, and we are going to see that they get it."
Mayor Beall had a lot of support in her crusade to clean up the railroad town. Seven men and five women entered the race for the five seats on the town council. Reportedly only nine votes out of the 250-resident town and all the voters were male. With only nine voters and nine male candidates in the race for mayor and council, only the candidates themselves voted. Mrs. Beall received a majority of the votes in her race while the slate of women candidates received five votes each. Mrs. M.E. Beall even defeated her husband, who only garnered one vote, presumably, but not necessarily, his own. Elected to the council were Mrs. M.E. Brantley, Mrs. F.A. Brantley, Mrs. H.B. Sutton, Mrs. M.F. Beall, and Mrs. C.G. Moye, whose husband was defeated in his bid for mayor. The all female mayor and council proceeded to make plans to hire a female police chief and town clerk.
The 1936 Laurens County election did little to change the way we live, but it did provide some curious and somewhat surprising comments from the unopposed candidate for county surveyor. J. Lester Jackson pledged, "I will do just a little work as I can." Jackson revealed in deciding to run for the office, that he was "persuaded by myself and none one else."
The general election in 1964 had a proposed constitutional amendment which provided for the merger of the Dublin and Laurens County school systems, beginning in the 1965-1966 school year. Voters ratified the local law. But, when the newly created Dublin-Laurens Board of Education failed in the minds of many county residents to rightly show respect to the former Laurens County Superintendent, lawyers found a loophole in the law and succeeded in revoking the merger after one year and keeping the two systems separate, as they remain today.
In an effort to help our community grow and prevent apathy among even the most progressive minded voters, members of the Dublin Civitan Club offered prizes ranging from a piano to a camera to encourage more than a fifty percent turnout in a special election to construct an additional gas line to supply the new industries being established in Dublin in 1966.
The Rev. Bridges Edwards, Sr. was a well beloved former pastor of Washington Street Presbyterian Church in Dublin. His son, Bridges Edwards, Jr., was the first African-American student to attend Dublin Junior High when the school board allowed each student the choice of their own school.
Rev. Edwards, known as a builder of bridges between the races, stated, "Dublin has come a long way in the relationships between the races in the last year," after winning a seat on the Dublin City Council in December 1966. Rev. Bridges garnered some support from the white community, while the black population was close to thirty percent. Lonnie Fuller, a losing candidate, filed a challenge to the election on the grounds that his name was left off the ballot. Despite the fact that Fuller's name was hand written on every ballot, Superior Court Judge Harold E. Ward voided the results and ordered a new election, in which Rev. Edwards was defeated. Several years later, Emory Thomas would become the first African-American council member to sit on the Dublin City Council.
Today, like every other election day, is a critical day in the history and the future of our community. Go out and vote for the candidate of your choice. Whatever you do, vote. When you vote, think of the person whose only agenda is not his own, but one for the greater good of all of the people all of the time.