tv Organized Crime in the South in the 1950s CSPAN August 22, 2016 4:59pm-5:59pm EDT
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house at 7:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv on c-span 3. >> up next, history professor tammy ingram discusses her book "the wickedest city in america." sex, race and organized crime in the jim crow south. she chronicles the crime investigation city chair in 1950 and 51 and field hearings they conducted in the house. the center for legislative archives hosted this event. it's just under an hour. >> thank you for attending today's researcher talk, i'm the historian at the center for legislative archives, part of the national archives that holds the records of the u.s. senate and the house of representatives and which sponsors the series. researcher talks invites scholars to tell us about their projects and how the records support them. since the highly visible senate and house investigations of the
1950s have received much researcher attention over the last few years, we have invited historians to speak about the records. we've asked them to talk about labor and management, better known as the mclellan committee, several have made presentations based on the research on the house on the american activities committee. historians have conducted considerable research in the senate special committee to investigate organized crime and interstate commerce better mean as the kefauver committee. for that reason, we are especially pleased to have our guest today, tammy ingram, associate professor of history at the college of charleston whose talk is titled "dear senator, estes key faufr and the anti crime crusade in the south.
she has researched senator kefauver's records at and personal papers at the university of tennessee. this research supports her book project, "the wick eddest city in america: sex, race and organized crime in the jim crow south." with such a tantalizing title, we are also eager to hear tammy -- from tammy which city she considers the wickedest. she earned a ph.d. in history and she's the author of the book "dixie highway, road building and the remaking of the modern south 1900 to 1930" published by north carolina university press in 2014. tammy has just been named a guilder yeller fellow at yale and will spend the next year
writing the first draft of "the wick eddest city. " 4 /* congratulations, tammy, on having been named a fellow and moving your project full steam ahead. as always we'll have time for q&a after the presentation. remember to raise your hands so we can pass the microphone and before you ask your questions. so thank you for joining us, tammy. >> thank you for being here. i'll start my stopwatch and try not to go over. i want to start by giving you an overview of the kefauver committee's origins, responsibilities and what i see as some of its limits. i assume some of you are familiar with it but for the benefit of anyone who might not be the kefauver committee, it was the senate special committee
to investigate organized crime in interstate commerce, the kefauver committee was empowered to investigate the use of the facilities of interstate commerce by organized crime syndicates nationwide. they were especially interested in gambling operations. that's what kefauver thought was the -- he called it the life's blood of the mob. the resolution proposing the creation of the committee was introduced by senator kefauver of tennessee in january of 1950 and approved by the senate in may. over the next 15 months a five man hearing hosted committees around the country. the public took a keen interest. some hearings were televised. we were talking about that a few moments ago and an estimated audience of about 30 million people tuned in to watch. many not from their living rooms. the local movie theaters were showing the talks. so wonderful stories about women pushing their baby carriages
around new york city and when the kid would fall asleep they would duck into the theater so they could watch a few minutes of it. and it was fascinating to see kefauver and his colleagues interviewing some prominent politicians whom they suspected of having ties to organized crime. the committee's final report was issued in 1951 and it concluded that organized crime syndicates did exist, were not smiths and that they depended upon the support and cooperation of public officials around the country. public interest in organized crime had deep roots already but at the end of the second world war there was a great resurgence of interest in and deep concern about organized crime in the united states. the fbi had long down played the existence of the mop and the public and media hadn't ignored it but they had paid less sustained attention to organized
crime since the last of the high-profile prohibition-era gangsters either died or went to prison in the 1930s. there were a number of other reasons that scholars have wantered about for this renewed interest. i'll run through a few of them briefly, these are the ones that have direct bearing on my research. there are four big ones that i think relate here. one is in some cities there certainly was the perceptions but that mob violence had increased. people sometimes mistakenly argued the kefauver committee came about in the first place because of a particular murder of a kingpin in kansas city. inform the spring of 1950 the committee was in the works at that point but that was a timely event, came at a time when people were becoming more aware of and worried about organized crime and it certainly helped kefauver, it helped to underscore the need for federal action.
another reason is that labor racketeering was undermining some powerful unions in the country during and after the war when industrial out put was of paramount concern. but the two that have the most bearing on my project are one that it was becoming more clear to people that racketeers had corrupted the political process in cities where they had thrived more or less unchecked for decades. that lull between the '30s and '50s when we weren't paying as close attention to what they were doing was a period of tremendous growth for organized crime operations, particularly in the south. and finally i think the on set of the cold war contributed as well. in an atmosphere of heightened anxiety about corrupt officials, espionage, blackmail, any amoral or extra legal activities were subjected to greater scrutiny. and in this environment it makes
sense that any perceptions of political corruption seemed especially dangerous. so that's the kind of -- what's happening on the national level. i'm focusing on this story, the history of organized crime in a place called phoenix city. that's the wickedest city in america. you probably never heard of it, some of you haven't, the map here gives you an idea of roughly where it is. my book examines organized crime and government corruption between the end of the civil war and the beginning of the cold war. it tells a story of how phenix city, alabama, the small city on the chattahoochee river, just across the river from columbus, georgia, if you know where that is. you can literally walk across the bridge into phenix city. how it became the headquarters of an organized crime ring. after fot buenning was established, the racketeers had
a sed difficult stream of revenue from soldiers on payday. by the 1930s, the syndicate ran the city. it did so with the cooperation of the local officials. it was a dry county, but they ran saloons. they ran brothels, all kinds of gambling rackets from numerous lotteries and slot machines rigged to never pay out. slot machines were in casinos and gambling halls and clubs but they were in the drugstore, there was a grocery store people joked that you could not find a loaf of bread anywhere in that grocery store but that was the front. there were milk crates set up. i've talked to a couple people who remember going in and playing the penny slots when they were little. there were little milk crates so the kids could reach them and play if they wanted to. but they also ransom fancier establishments, big casinos for high rollers who came into phenix city specifically to
visit those places. by the early 1950s when the kefauver committee was investigating the extent of organized crime nationwide. the mob in phenix city was running a pretty sophisticated enterprise. one that by some estimates generated $100 million a year and enabled racketeers to control local or state politics. but the mob's wealth and power also depended upon more nefarious businesses in phenix city. i won't talk about this too much today but just by way of explanation this is one of the things my larger project is looking at it was the growing power of the mob to grow, exchange and profit from the sale of women's and children's bodies. prostitution including -- involving women sometimes --
children sometimes as young as 12 or 13 years old was rampant, so were illegal adoptions. especially involving the children of single or poor mothers. these were extensive operations that enriched the racketeers in phenix city but also linked them to criminal networks outside of alabama and the south. the mob there exercised complete control over municipal government and local law enforcement but it also exercised tremendous influence in state politics. local citizens made a few attempts to clean up the mob in the early part of the 20th century, they go nowhere with those efforts. that didn't change until the late 1940s when a stronger crime-fighting organization, a group of local citizens was organized. it was called the russell betterment association. phenix city is in russell county, alabama, and its members
became targets of mob violence right away. that's a pretty good testament to how threatened they felt by this new organization, in 1952, they bombed the home of one of the leaders of the russell betterment association. they set fire to the law office of another one. and in june of 1954 when the mob's efforts to rig the democratic primary to prevent a local crime-fighting attorney -- the same one whose office they burned -- his name was albert patterson, to prevent him from becoming the state's new attorney general failed, he won the democratic primary in spite of their efforts, they assassinated him outside of his law office in downtown phenix city. local officials and law enforcement were so corrupted that the governor had to declare martial law in order to sort out the mess and when the dust settled the next year, the nation was shocked to learn that the three people suspected of his murder were prominent public officials. the deputy sheriff, a man named albert fuller, the circuit solicitor, a man named arch
farrell, and the sitting attorney general for the state of alabama whose name was silas garrett. shortly after the murder garrett checked himself into a mental hospital in texas and avoided being prosecuted. only fuller and farrell stood trial and only fuller ever went to prison and not for very long. he got out, moved back to phenix city where he was taken care of by his former associates for the rest of his days. the story made national and international headlines. a local newspaper won a pulitzer prize for the coverage of its case but it was no surprise to the people of phenix city who had been pleading with state and federal agencies for help for decades. they had appealed, in fact, to estes kefauver and his colleagues on the senate committee to investigate organized crime. the high point of tensions in phenix city overlapped with the work of the kefauver committee. indeed, senator kefauver and albert patterson, the man who was murdered by the mob, were
pretty good acquaintances and exchanged a lot of letters and back-and-forth advice about how best to deal with this problem. so i came here a couple of years ago for the first time looking at these collections in hopes of the learning more about that correspondence. specifically about that relationship. i'd seen a few letters in albert patterson's papers, the state archives in alabama and i wondered how much information he gave the kefauver committee. in looking through that correspondence i didn't find very much between those two here. my project is still very much a work in progress, as richard said, i'm starting to write it up next year when i finally mercifully have a little bit of leave time from teaching and committee work, but -- so i can't outline precisely how all of this fits into the book but i want to focus on the most important things i've taken away from my research and explain
what i think it these do with my larger project. the first big takeaway from this work is that the kefauver committee's work wasn't new. it mirrored and relied very heavily upon the work of existing anti-vice and local crime commissions. and evaluating the work of those committees, i've learned, as well as at aid they gave to the kefauver committee is essential in understanding the full scope of the senate committee's work. and also the limits of that work. a lot of cities have had anti-vice commissions before, there were many back in the early 20th century during the progressive era, but the ones that kefauver and his colleagues were communicating with in 1950 and 1951 were relatively new. most were organized in the mid
to late 1940s. so when the kefauver committee came around in 1950, dozens and dozens of local anti-crime commissions were already engaged in the same work, collecting up-to-date data on local criminal enterprises in order to measure the full scope of their activities and their influence, networking with other anti-vice groups to find better ways of addressing local problems, and perhaps most importantly a few years. before the kefauver committee put the national spotlight on organized crime by broadcasting to the entire nation what they were up to, these groups were publicizing the work of local criminal operations in an effort to paralyze them. one example i already mentioned was the russell betterment association in phenix city founded in the late 1940s. now one thing i learned from
looking through the kefauver records is that the russell betterment association was unusual in that it came out of a small town. most of the ones that existed, perhaps not surprisingly, were in larger towns and cities or a couple of images of the kinds of literature they would put out. i know this is difficult to see back there, it looks kind of dark but miami had one called the greater crime commission or the crime commission of greater miami, and it was founded in 1948. and one of the things that was interesting about the correspondence between some of the members of this committee and the kefauver committee is that i realized how much they were up against funding challenges, unlike the kefauver committee that had a grant from congress to do their work, these were locally organized, they didn't receive any public funding whatsoever. they may have had public officials on their members' roster but they weren't getting any funding, and in fact one of the things they complained about most to kefauver was how they spent most of their time not actually doing data collection,
not in the way they wanted to or coming up with real solutions to the problems that the city was facing but they spent a lot of time trying to raise money so that they could do those things. kefauver. they also did collect a lot of data anyway, though, they communicated that to kefauver. another example and i really like their literature was the commission in kansas city. they had a really good graphic design person. this -- i won't flip through all of it, they have a couple of images here, i'm sorry these are so small and difficult to see, i had them blown up, but their literature, as you can see here, tended to focus more on how crime cost the city money, they thought it was an effective way to get people to step in and do something about it, not to make arguments about morality and what is wrong with what they're doing, but to say, you know, do you like it or not, we're not, you know, asking who is participated in this, not
interested in that, they were really concerned about how much money it was costing the city to deal with these problems created by organized crime. as i said, these are typical anti-crime commissions that kefauver and his colleagues were corresponding with. and it would make sense that where there were bigger populations, and more money to support this work they would be more effective and thrive a little bit more. so it helps to explain why something like the russell betterment association was a little more unusual. nevertheless, these commissions were absolutely instrumental in filling in kefauver and his colleagues on the full scope of organized crime activities in the united states. and while the committee correspondence suggests that commissions like the russell betterment association were really the exception, the committee's correspondence does shed some light on the work of the russell betterment association. the files contained dozens of letters like this one from a man
named john latrell in phenix city, complaining about the pervasiveness of organized crime. he was a member of the russell betterment association, he calls it the citizens committee in this letter, but pretty clear that's who he's talking about. and he appeals to kefauver as many of his friends and colleagues on the russell betterment association did to understand that phoenix city racketeers were not just a local concern, they should not just be seen as a local concern. he alludes to the mob's ties to state government. and to its suspected involvement in criminal enterprises in florida. and he makes clear that he believes there is a connection between the cold war objectives of the federal government and those of the russell betterment association. near the bottom of the letter, he says while we're fighting for democracy in other countries of the world, help us root out those people who seek to buy our own government. and to document his claims, latrell included a local
newspaper clipping. this one i found particularly interesting because it is about one of the mob guys was getting a divorce, and his wife just put him on blast to the local newspapers and just let them know everything that he was up to. so she was probably one of the better sources of information they could have had. interestingly enough, i later figured out that she, her parents were the ones who were running the illegal adoption ring. he was -- her father was a doctor and his mother was a nurse. i want to talk about that in the end had here. it is probably the most salacious bit of information i have about what the mob was doing and one i felt was not true until i found some documentation of it, i thought it was one of those legends that had been based on some grain of truth that had been grossly exaggerated but it is not. it was actually true. now, he -- included the clippings with most of his letters, a lot of the correspondence did this. i think, you know, in an effort
to convince him that this was well known, that they're not just sort of spreading rumors about their neighbors, this is a real problem and one the committee needed to -- needed to address. kefauver wrote back to latrell, he tended to write back to the majority of people who were writing these letters, outlining the concerns, with a more brief response than this. i know it is difficult to read from back there. but this one is interesting because his reply say little less firm of a no than he would be giving to people later on. he simply tells them that time won't permit them to come to every place, but, you know, every small town where there might be some problems, but he indicates he's interested in learning more about what is going on in phenix city. unbeknownst to latrell, probably already corresponding with albert patterson and kefauver knew what was going on in phenix
city. he took special interest in those letters. and elsewhere there is other correspondence like this, but little memos like this scattered throughout the papers, saying hugh bentley called or somebody called and mentioned hugh bentley's name, he's the guy whose house was firebombed by the mob. below it you see the name of hoyt shepard, hoyt shepard was the main kingpin in phenix city. and the guy working for him who bombed the house, his name was tommy dynamite caps. each person had a specialty. there was the safecracker, didn't step on the safe cracker's territory. tommy dynamite caps, i wish i had his mug shot, it is interesting. and his long list of known activities, but he was their guy they called in to blow things up. but and there are a lot of snippets of information like this scattered throughout.
i got the impression that a lot of people were corresponding with kefauver and he knew a great deal of what was going on in phenix city. he often contacted the leaders of some of the crime commissions himself in order to solicit information. in fact, he often contacted the leaders of some of these crime commissions himself to get this information. and when there were no commissions to turn to, he wrote instead to sometimes the local law enforcement, i think he figured out that wasn't going to get him very far in phenix city. he would write to local journalists seeing if they would share any data they collected in working their stories. found a great one from a birmingham reporter named gene wartsman writing about birmingham and other problems in alabama, but wartsman knew a great deal about phenix city, one of two or three journalists who wrote a number of stories about phenix city and he and a man named ed strickland later
wrote a book following the patterson murder about the years of activities in the mob in phenix city. now, i'm hoping to over the next few months to dig a little deeper into the work of some of these commissions. now that i see how important their work was to kefauver, i'm interested in particular in whether or not they were also policing other quote/unquote criminal behaviors, i think that the kefauver committee and this constellation of municipal anti-crime commissions were responses to post war fears about crime and political corruption, then it stands to reason they may have supported other law and order initiatives not directly related to organized crime. it is impossible to fully disentangle genuine concerns about organized crime syndicates from cold war era fears about all kinds of other supposedly immoral behaviors. we know that kefauver had a keen interest in some of the other behaviors too. he was an ardent supporter of
legislation to limit pornography. he headed another committee later on and even during this time was very interested in juvenile delinquency. and some of these commissions, these local commissions had initiatives and one of them, i can't remember kansas city or miami, they specifically mentioned they're concerned with juvenile delinquency and how that might feed local organized crime activities. so they were doing things like trying to ban violent comic books or encourage parents to not let their kids see violent films and those kinds of things. now, the details about this is something the kefauver committee records don't clarify for me, but it has made me interested in looking at some of these local commissions to see if they were -- how much they were corresponding with smaller groups like the russell betterment association. and it is difficult to find the records of some of the local groups. so the kefauver committee records constitute some of the only documentation we have of
some of these organizations. and they are -- they're really fascinating. i also think that one of the things that has come out of my -- looking at the correspondence with the anti-crime groups and their members is an awareness of the shortcomings of these anti-crime campaigns because they don't really give the full measure of local involvement in and sometimes local support for or at least local tolerance for the rackets before things became openly violent or something happened that made people think, now, this really has to stop. it doesn't indicate anywhere in the records from listening to the committees talk that the men in these smaller towns and cities in particular were prominent local citizens. they were members of the jcs. the guy who shot albert patterson, a few years before that, he was up for jaycee of
the year. i'm told by somebody who knew him, didn't know him directly but knew somebody who knew him he was really embittered he didn't win. and they were little league coaches. they were deacons in the local churches. they were donors to local organizations. the high school band in phoenix city needed new band uniforms. one of the racketeers bought them. the county needed a new hospital. the one they had was hopelessly outdated. one of the racketeers donated the land. and they said, well, wonderful, thank you, we don't have money to build the hospital, so they gave them money to build the hospital as well. their full measure was as prominent citizens in the communities, not as embarrassments or criminals. i don't think there are a lot of devils or saints in this story. but to look at the anti-crime campaign, sometimes that's what you would be led to believe. just one more anecdote, i'll move on to the next one, patterson, albert patterson himself, the man murdered by the mob, he was a local attorney, he
had done work for them in the past. in fact, he defended one of the main kingpins in a murder trial a few years before his own murder. now, he in no way was sympathetic to them. they tried to buy him off many times and he wouldn't do it. but it certainly suggests that for many years like most of his neighbors he was more tolerant of their behavior and he really only turned against them and they against him when he joined the russell betterment association and developed political aspirations of his own and wanted to run for office. and, of course, kefauver was politically ambitious as well. and they all revelled in this reputation for being tough on crime. another -- my second sort of big take away from my work in these records and this one is pretty closely related to the first is that the kefauver investigation as we know revealed that organized crime was best known
as an urban affliction. one concentrated in northern major cities in the north and the west. new york, chicago, los angeles, las vegas, the very places where the kefauver committee conducted hearings. if the kefauver committee's public activities confirmed what most people already knew, that organized crime was real and that the syndicates were running loose in some of the nation's biggest cities. the records of the committee show that organized crime flourished in smaller cities and towns across the country. where racketeers and corrupted public officials exercised control over municipal politics, local law enforcement, local businesses, and sometimes state politics as well. presumably the committee assumed when they received some of the letters from people complaining about local problems that crime syndicates in smaller towns and cities were not only less common, but they were smaller and probably less likely to be engaged in interstate business. but kefauver's correspondence told him otherwise.
he certainly knew that phoenix city, sitting on a state boundary, was engaged in interstate commerce, but his correspondence told him time and again that this was -- this was so. this letter is very generic but i love it because this person is very passionate. cut off her signature there, but this is wanda from alabama who wrote this pleading letter to kefauver saying that the south was in trouble, that this has been going on for a long time, the situation is dire. she does not offer a lot of detail, but it is a very -- obviously very upset about whatever it is she knows. most of the letters he received, though, were very specific. they named names. they had dates. they had specific information about what was going on and where and when. the correspondence files were organized by state. and you can just scan the boxes and look and see that the southern states are full. they're thick files of letters
from people, detailing these kinds of activities. and over and over again people are making the same kinds of complaints about their local problems. these are local problems, they would always say they are linked to problems in other cities, other states, other parts of the country. they know the kefauver committee is looking at interstate commerce, they know they got to get the attention too. they attended to highlight that and as i mentioned earlier, they would include newspaper clippings to document their claims to say i'm not just pulling this out of thin air, this is happening and we know it is happening around here. there were many, many people writing with complaints about phenix city too. but there are also letters from places like birmingham, mussel shoals, gadsen, alabama, chattanooga, tennessee, port arthur, texas, galveston, texas,
i could go on and on and on. and the queries were all very similar. dear senator, they began, and then each letter outlined complaints about illegal gambling, prostitution, and intimidation, sometimes violent intimidation by a small group of racketeers and employees. but the men and women when wrote the letters also linked those activities to the things i mentioned earlier, to political corruption, to labor racketeering or to just meddling in local -- whatever the local business was and to cold war security concerns. one person in mussel shoals wrote a letter to kefauver writing he was certain that communists were running the mob in muscle shoals. another person, this person called himself or herself an american, wrote this rather odd
and paranoid sounding note to the committee saying that communism was the brother of the black market. another man wrote a letter to kefauver calling racketeers parasites, and saying that he thought they were an even bigger threat to democracy than communism was. a number of people in phoenix city were saying that to him as well. this is a huge problem. we're not really too concerned about what is going on in the cold war and we see that as a problem, but the real war is right here in phenix city. the accusations as this one sort of indicates and i know probably is difficult to read it there, but i'll leave it up so you can scan it for people with good eyesight, sometimes the accusations were so outrageous that kefauver and his colleagues didn't pay much attention to them. a few of them -- i thought i had an image of one, somebody had written in the margins, this is a crackpot. some of them were. there were also letters from people who seemed to have personal vendettas against certain local officials. they would write to him and say, you know, john doe is into this and you need to come and get him.
and hoping that kefauver would come and investigate him. so some of it, whether it was true or not, there was some other motive behind it. but i was struck by -- i thought there would be more of that in the papers. certainly is a good deal of it. but it is obvious they were also receiving a lot of really good information detailed information, information as i said earlier that sometimes people volunteered and sometimes kefauver solicited from people that he trusted. now, in terms of the outcome of this campaign and its bearing on my research into phoenix city, i think that certainly the committee's conclusions and final report in 1951 were no surprise to those thousands of citizens writing him letters in 1950 and 1951. but the committees didn't lead to what they wanted, a serious crackdown on organized crime, either in the big cities where the hearings were held, or in
the small towns like phoenix city, whose citizens pleaded mostly in vain for any kind of attention from the committee or any sort of help because they could not rely on corrupted officials at the local and state levels to help them out. in phenix city, despite the work of the russell betterment association, the mob thrived in the early 1950s and for years after the kefauver committee suspended its investigation. local elected officials, local law enforcement and the state attorney general facilitated the work of the racketeers there. it really didn't end until they overstepped in 1954 when they killed albert patterson and the governor declared martial law. that was the only way to root it out. interestingly most of the people involved in the mob, the ones who didn't go to jail and most of them didn't serve any real time, they were from phenix city. they stopped maybe operating their saloons and brothels, but
they all stayed in phenix city and continued serving as jaycees, continued coaching little league and serving as deacons in the churches. this is what they always have been. citizens well integrated into the local community and they stayed there afterwards. but, organize, organized crime didn't end there in the south. this is beyond the scope of my work, but most of you are probably familiar with some of the other more high profile cases in the 1960s like the murder of fuzzy hoard and jackson county, georgia. buford pusser's campaign in mcnair county, tennessee. and a lot of very high profile cases along the gulf coast from the 1960s, well into the 1980s. my big question, and the ones i still am working through, when i came here to start my research, my big questions were why haven't we focused on the south. why didn't kefauver pay
attention to all these people? and what would a closer look at organized crime activities in the south really tell us? why do we need to know? the records don't offer any easy answers to that first question. but they do show that there was overwhelming evidence that organized crime thrived in the south and had corrupted local and even state politics by 1950. and that everybody knew about this. this was no secret. the rich correspondence files also outlined the extensive diversified and sophisticated work before the 1950s. they provide some of the best documentation we have. city by city, and state by state of the full scope of organized crime in the south in the first half of the 20th century. as for the second question about what this can teach us about the south, i think a number of big things i'm still working through, but one thing that the kefauver committee's response to some of the letters got me thinking more about is that like
most citizens, they started their -- they had the assumption that this was an urban problem. and these preconceived ideas about what constitutes a real urban space too. it made me realize in some ways this project is engaging questions that i worked on a little bit in my first book. did not have a sexy title as you heard earlier. it is about a highway. but about connections between urban and rural communities. because phenix city it was an important market town for farmers. but it was also a weigh station for the same kinds of vice and danger and depravity that southerners in that time associated with bigger cities, more industrialized cities. and phenix city, what was happening in phenix city challenged ideas about the safety and the security of small town life, even as industry and big agribusiness took over as drivers of the national and
regional economy. anxieties about that transition along with challenges to the national -- to the racial and sexual status quo that were magnified by the mob's activities were projected onto attitudes about the state's regulatory responsibilities, which they increasingly believed meant that they needed to define and punish criminal behavior. as phenix city along with the rest of the south shifted away from an agricultural society to a more urban and industrial one, industrialized one, it embodied larger and increasingly fraught regional fluctuations and negotiations between citizens and the state. by the late 1940s, when the imperatives of cold war policy making reshaped the idea about safety and security in more global context, the heightened responses to the presence of organized crime reflected their growing anxieties about global and also local threats to their safety and to the economic
order. another sort of big take away from this, big question i'm thinking about in terms of what this tells us about the jim crow south is that the correspondence files for me really confirmed how common it was for citizens to link their fears about organized crime to their fears about safety and security after the war. as the phenix city case played out, cold war paranoia was making its way into american homes where people wanted to think they could still retain some measure of personal safety and control over their own lives. the patterson murder in phenix city shattered these illusions for people, for white southerners in particular. the more degradation of their communities by decades of vice had been bad enough, they thought, but the cold-blooded
murder of a prominent elected official prompted outrage. there is a wonderful quote from, i believe one of the local papers carried it, from someone near phenix city shortly after the patterson murder who said, you know, political assassinations, those things are supposed to happen in latin american dictatorships and eastern european provinces but not in alabama. that doesn't happen here. and i think it spoke volumes about how rattled people were that this was going on there. they knew it was going on, but just didn't think it was going to go quite that far. and at the heart of this book, ultimately, are a lot of long overlooked connections between white southerners' resistance to civil rights, and the backlash against organized crime as the foundation of post war conservatism and i'm really interested in the ways in which a -- i can put criminal and -- a criminal subculture whose definition was constantly in flux, especially as ambitious politicians started to get involved in it and casting
themselves as being tough on crime. that -- these ideas about a criminal subculture co-existed for so long alongside reactionary ideas about race and gender and the role of the state. in practice, the southern commitment to law and order, i think, masked widespread corruption for decades in much the same way that myths about racial purity and sexual morality had for so long obscured a range of sex crimes including widespread prostitution of underage girls 12 and 13-year-old girls in phenix city. those are documented cases. and the unprosecuted rapes and sexual assaults of black women by white men. i'll wrap up my sort of summation of the committee and what it teaches us here is that i think that most of our popular knowledge about organized crime comes from what we know thanks
to the work of the kefauver committee. but i think the limits of the committee's work shaped what we know as well. the correspondence files are incredibly extensive and rich sources of information that reveal that southerners were deeply interested in the work of the committee and they worked tirelessly to get the committee's attention. and while the committee didn't conduct a serious investigation in any deep south city except for new orleans, its correspondence files document a very active and extensive network of organized crime activities in the post war south. activities unchecked for decades and unfortunately for phenix city, would continue far beyond the life span of the kefauver committee as well. thank you. [ applause ]
>> thank you very much. do you have a sense from your research of how independent kefauver could be as a senator in the senate that contained so many very powerful southern senators? did they put up any pressure against exploring the links in the south? >> not from what i've seen, not from my search in the records. that's beyond the scope of what i'm working on. i haven't looked into it too much. but nothing that i've read and there is some correspondence in there back and forth between the colleagues, but it is nothing that i've seen there or in any personal papers would indicate that there was any serious pushback. in a way, you know, this is not a difficult thing to support
either. there was some wrangling over who would run the committee and where the funding was going to come from and ends up being a special committee and not tied to an existing committee because of that. but beyond that, i think everybody wanted a little credit for it probably. so beyond that, i think the work that the committee was doing was an easy thing to support. not to say there wasn't any whatsoever. i'm sure there was. but i haven't come across anything that i can speak to specifically about that. if anybody knows if there is, i would love to know that, who was going after him. >> i think maybe i have a misconception when i hear the mob, i think mafia. so i'm wondering what you might comment on demographics of the mobs you've looked at. >> that's a great question. thank you. and people asked me that a number of times. i think that's -- it is not a misconception necessarily. that's what we think of when we think about the mob and just as
i said i think we organized crime. in the urban areas we think of the mafia. in the south as far as i've been able to tell, definitely not in phenix city, but not in any other iterations of mob or racketeer activity in the south was there any particular ethnic orientation or there is not anything that ties people together other than the fact that they're interested in these kinds of activities. it was a relatively -- the people who were running it were a relatively small but very well organized group of people. in phenix city, there were -- there was -- he was really the sort of big kingpin. but there were a couple of other people who were considered kind of bosses or kingpins and they used that terminology to talk about them. but most of the people working for them were just, you know, sort of petty criminals who had, like tommy caps who had proven himself to be adept at dynamite. another guy named clarence
rebel, ran a safecracking school in phenix city. they had a building where they actually would bring people in who showed talent for safecracking and they taught them how to do it. when i say it was a sophisticated organization, i sometimes jokingly call it disorganized crime in phenix city, but it was quite organized and what they -- everybody was very specialized and it was very carefully set up. but it wasn't -- there were no -- nothing that i can figure out so far, have not found any credible links between the italian mafia and new york or group in chicago or something or the irish mob and the racketeers in phenix city. >> so within the mob in phenix city, it was all diverse demographically? >> all white men. i mean, yeah, but yeah. >> as far as ethnic background? >> no, they were -- most of them were from phenix city or from nearby.
so there were a few people who came in from the outside, there was -- well, actually, i was going to say one guy who was not born in the united states, but that's not true. his -- i think his parents were immigrants but they had come to alabama and he was born there. englishman because they thought of him as being -- having this, like, you know, very different kind of background from them. but most of them were locals or had been there for a very long time. so people had forgotten where they moved there from. phoenix city interestingly it had this reputation for a long time dating back to the early 19th century, even before alabama became a state people would run, if they were running from the law in georgia, before alabama did, they would run into alba ma to get away. and the area that became phoenix city had a number of different names but i was amused to learn that at some point in the early 19th century, formal name was soddom. that was the name of the community. so it had this reputation for a
long time. but i think it would be unfair to say there was anything approaching a real organized racketeering operation until a little bit in the 19 teens and 20s when the state passed a prohibition law and they were openly flouting it. the state attorney general came in, and put the sheriff on trial because he was refusing to enforce the law. and he was -- they kicked him out. they replaced him. and a couple of years later when election season came around, the people of phoenix city re-elected that same guy. and in the 1930s, the city started selling licenses to raise revenues, the city was broke. so that's one of the reasons it really flourished there in the city. when i say they actively cooperated, they really did, they sold licenses and looked the other way at a lot of legal violations in order to keep revenues up.
>> you reference the jim crow south, and i was wondering what was it about the fact that it was jim crow that -- and the relationship or was there an impact on the unorganized crime because it was jim crow? >> this is one of the big sort of questions that i alluded to at the end of the talk. i'm sorting through here. i can -- i don't have a clean answer to that, but i can tell you a few things about it. one of my overarching concerns about this going into the project was, you know, what did it mean or how did it affect race relations in phoenix city and alabama when you had this all powerful white mob, calling it the mob, they called themselves -- people called it the mob there, they didn't call themselves that. but what did that mean for race relations? from what i have learned about phoenix city, the way that race played into the mob's activities didn't quite work the way i
thought it would. i thought there would be more tensions. there really weren't more tensions necessarily. the mob had absolute control over the city and the city government. the gambling establishments were segregated like everything else, but a lot of african-americans were employed by the mob in phoenix city. and even though the segregated the black establishments were white owned, they put african-americans in charge of running those clubs. i also wondered about political involvement of the mob and who were they supporting and what kinds of things. from -- i can't -- as far as i have been able to tell, they were for democratic party was running the county and running the state, but they were for anybody they could buy. and it really didn't matter who they were, what they were. hoyt shepard, the kingpin i
mentioned, is the only one that i found any -- really just from oral histories. i don't have any documentation of this but that the only one that i have any indication was in the kan. and he made no secret about that. but people were more afraid of him because he was hoyt shepard the kingpin than because of his klan activities. and some of you may know this, but albert patterson who was murdered, his son was john patterson who became at governor of alabama. i interviewed him a couple of times about this. he'll be 94, i believe, in september. and he says he has a vivid memory as a little boy of watching the klan parade and he said, you can tell who everybody was. it was a small town and you knew their shoes. so he said, you know, i would see him marching in the parades and everybody knew he -- that he was in the klan. but as far as this is my bigger question about what does it mean to have this white mob exercising this kind of local control? i don't think they were doing anything -- i haven't been able to determine so far that they're
doing anything out of the ordinary or different than what was happening anywhere else. they would occasionally when they needed to rig election, they would try to exploit and manipulate the black vote in russell county and gun pay people to come in and vote who otherwise would not have been allowed to vote in elections. there was some of that going on. i haven't been able to determine that that was the way they got the elections fixed. i don't think they had to. the election that they almost stole away from albert patterson for the democratic primary to become the new attorney general, they just went in and erased the election returns and wrote in the numbers that they wanted. so they didn't even go so far as to try to pay people to vote. and when patterson, they already were upset with him because he had this crime fighting reputation, he was promising that one of the first things he was going to do when he was elected was clean up phenix city. they're upset about that. the immediate thing that got him killed is that he knew they had changed the returns, had gotten his hands on some of them, and he was going to testify before
the grand jury in montgomery the following week. and they knew it. and they had to stop him from doing that. so -- >> i'm from alabama. >> where? where from alabama? >> i'm right on the alabama line. where in alabama? >> small town called perish, about 35 miles west. >> okay. all right. >> tammy, thank you very much. an extraordinarily interesting presentation and thank you for telling us so much about the kefauver investigation records, and it is quite clear they are rewarding the project for your book and you're off to a wonderful start and we're glad to hear about the next phase and we look forward to having you back some day. >> thank you so much. thank you all for coming. i really appreciate it.
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