Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Friday, July 15, 2016

LAW AND ORDER IN 1916



As time goes by, governments enact ordinances and laws to govern the behavior of their citizens to meet the ever changing mores of the population.   A century ago, the laws of Dublin and the State of Georgia were obviously different than they are today.  Let’s take a trip back in time to a century ago and see what laws were among the most important to the people of Dublin and Laurens County.

In the spring of 1916, the Dublin City Council stopped enforcing a noise ordinance.  The mandatory use of mufflers on motor vehicles, especially larger trucks, was repealed.  The council determined that commercial trucks would not function well with mufflers.  When it was determined that the city’s large fire truck would not be effective with a muffler, the council immediately repealed the ordinance.   After 2 months of booming and bamming vehicles bandying about the town, a massive crowd of aggravated citizens petitioned the city to require vehicle owners to fix their mufflers and bring back the peace and quiet they had once enjoyed.

There was one ordinance that the City of Dublin and Laurens County was not going ignore.  Although the practice is common place and less objectionable today, the opening of any business on a Sunday was strictly forbidden.  Violators could be fined or put out of business. Nothing could be sold on Sunday. No matter how necessary it may have been. No matter how thirsty one was, no matter how one may have needed a smoke, no matter how empty your gas tank was, commerce on Sunday was banned.  Even swimming on Sundays was considered sinful.

One Grand Jury after another made it clear that violators would be prosecuted. Sheriff Watson made weekly Saturday visits to merchants as a friendly reminder to keep the Sabbath holy.  Few merchants voiced objections, for they too, felt the need for a day of rest.

There were times the church folk were incensed due to the lack of enforcement of laws banning immoral activities.  A week before Christmas of 1916, they grew tired of the proliferation of reprehensible resorts of iniquity across the river in East Dublin.  The shooting and beating of Odus Beacham in a “questionable house”  a few days before prompted a legion of Christian soldiers to muster for battle.

After a Sunday morning rally, a posse of prominent laymen, upright church stewards and faithful ministers,  led by First Baptist Church’s Rev. T.W. Callaway, rendezvoused at the courthouse, where they were deputized.  The posse moved out over the bridge setting their sights on the location of an oyster supper and dance.  Only a relatively rare December thunderstorm prevented the wrath of God’s vengeance upon the sinners in what was deemed “the most sensational invasion of a red light district ever held in Georgia.”  On the following Sunday, the Brotherhood of Christian Men regrouped in a mass meeting to plan the Armageddon of the wicked sinners in the county.

The prohibitionists attacked on a second, less violent front, by securing a temporary injunction against the operation of lewd houses. Satisfied for the moment, the Christians sheathed their swords and took a wait and see attitude for the future.

In March of 1916, new prohibition laws were put into effect.  The following two weeks were the quietest ever known in Dublin.  It was the first time in anyone’s memory that no one was seen drunk in public. Court recorders were shocked when no one on the usual list of public drunks were on Judge Jule Greene’s Monday morning docket.

Although the number of incoming shipments of whiskey were the same, the volume of spirits decreased between 50 and 75 percent below the pre-prohibition levels.  A newspaper man commented, “One of the saddest crowds seen here yet was a bunch who did not get to the Express Office on Saturday evening in time to get their drinks before it closed.”  Deliveries were limited to 2 quarts, whereas before half of the people ordered 4 quarts and the other half accepted deliveries of 8 to 12 quarts.

The prohibition laws also affected the work of the grand jury clerks. One was out of work and the typical grand jury sessions were cut in half.

Despite the decline in alcohol related crimes, the lack of prosecution of high misdemeanors and felonies made locals cry out for the abolition of the four-county Dublin Judicial Circuit and the establishment of a one-county circuit for Laurens where the local voters could elect a Solicitor General, whom they presumed would protect his constituents interests in a better manner.

Humans were not the sole committers of crimes against people and property in Dublin.  There were so many rats in Dublin that merchants were actually considering hiring a pied piper to lead the gnawing rodents out of town down East Jackson Street and into the Oconee River.  The City Council appointed a special rat extermination committee headed by D.S. Brandon.  Local merchants were aghast at the estimated loss of 10 to 15 thousand dollars in lost merchandise each year.  City officials were fiercely intent on punishing the varmints, mandating the deathly penalty for their ghastly crimes.

Just as bothersome were the enormous amount of stray chickens which were roaming about the streets of town doing damage to home gardens all over town.  The county began studying an ordinance to keep the fowls in their own yards.  Any stray chickens were subject to the extreme punishment of drawing and quartering when they ran afoul of the new law.

Both state and county lawmen had to deal with another animal which was aiding and abetting criminal activity.  When Deputy Revenue Collectors S.M. Moye and E.C. Pierce and Sheriff Clark approached a suspected liquor still site, they found not a single soul guarding the liquor making machine, except for a sow, who was getting soused on the sour mash around the stills.

In 1916, the City of Dublin published the city’s first comprehensive code.  Among the acts considered criminal were tying animals to shade trees, installing a fence gate which swung out onto the street and digging dirt out of the street.  The city mandated that all utility poles be color coded with Western Union poles painted black, Southern Bell painted chocolate brown and the city’s poles painted the obligatory green.  Remember the city furnished electricity in those days.

It was illegal to spit tobacco juice or saliva on the sidewalk or drop a banana peel or peanut hulls on any sidewalk or church floor.  A citizen could sell his or her own old clothes but not the clothes of anyone else.  All boxing and wrestling matches were banned. Operators of traveling shows had to advertise the price of admission at least three days before the performance.  If you were not at least sixteen years of age, you could not be seen on the streets after 10:00 o’clock p.m. without the accompaniment of an adult.  All tramps and vagrants engaged in commerce had to register with the chief of police.

Failure to comply with city ordinances could result in fines or in some cases imprisonment.  For those who were sent to jail, they could be required to work on the street gang.  If any prisoner unreasonably refused to work, he was subject to being whipped by the street boss.

Now is the time to ask ourselves, how would these 1916 lawmakers react if they were  living in today’s world?

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