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Chicken tags hailed, hated by motorists

POSTED: May 29, 2011 12:30 a.m.

Probably a few longtime Hall County residents have an old "chicken tag" lying around, having saved it from the 1950s and '60s or found it at a garage or yard sale somewhere.

The tags supposedly were required on vehicles that regularly used city streets. They were renewed every couple of years or so and changed colors. Some years they were white with red lettering; other years green with white lettering.

The "chicken tag" name came from the profile of a chicken on the tag and the slogan "World's Broiler Capital" because of Gainesville's booming poultry industry. Some residents applied the tags to their vehicles with pride; others didn't like them. The opponents generally just hated the hassle of having to buy a city tag on top of one already required by the state. But the poultry industry liked them because the tags promoted its business.

Yet that was just the reason a few didn't think Gainesville's government should be in the business of advertising private enterprise. One vocal opponent wrote to city commissioners at the time that instead of a chicken, they could just as well place a lump of coal on the tags or a plow or a jackass. The "lump of coal" was an apparent reference to Mayor Charles Martin Jr., who was in the coal business. But other commissioners couldn't figure out to whom the plow or jackass referred.

Outside-city motorists in particular resented having to buy Gainesville tags, and many didn't until, perhaps, they got stopped for a traffic violation and required to. The tags themselves cost $1 at first, but later $2. Some believed that the chicken tags were responsible for two elections voting down expansion of the Gainesville city limits.

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While poultry remains prosperous in Hall County and the rest of North Georgia, it really boomed in the 1950s. Gainesville has resumed a chicken festival of sorts in recent years, but the Poultry Festival that began in 1953 was a really big show for many years. A Poultry Queen was crowned, and poultry and other businesses decorated elaborate floats that paraded along with bands and other organizations through downtown Gainesville.

Large crowds would take part in the festival, which usually featured prominent political speakers. The Daily Times, as this newspaper was called back then, usually published a large special section filled with articles about the poultry industry and advertisements from the various companies based in Gainesville and elsewhere.

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Just to show how times have changed since those 1950s, the National Collegiate Athletic Association was so worried about television affecting attendance at college football games, they were limiting telecasts. You could see very few games on TV back then.

But the NCAA learned quickly they and colleges could make some money out of television, and nowadays in the fall you can't turn on the TV without seeing a game anytime from Tuesday through the weekend.

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County commissioner recall is in the news these days with petitions circulating for the recall of one or more present Hall County commissioners. In 1953, a recall effort was launched to un-elect commissioners R.G. McConnell Sr. and Cone Abercrombie. The local ministerial association led the campaign in opposition to legalization of alcoholic beverages in the county.

Amid confusion about a beer and wine ordinance, McConnell and Abercrombie had voted to issue licenses to Post 7 American Legion and American Veterans. Although technically it was legal to do so, commissioners had delayed any license approvals.

While ministers and others gathered signatures for recall, they later found out no recall law was on the books.

Other early 1950s news:

n Pete Harrison became the first black man to serve on a Hall County jury in January 1953. Meanwhile, a movement started to allow women to serve on juries.

n The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools warned Gainesville its high school facilities were inadequate and threatened loss of accreditation. The warning was the impetus for building a new high school at its present location at Century Place.

n Ben Hogan won the 1953 Masters Golf Tournament, and Tommy Aaron, still in high school, began to play more amateur tournaments. Two decades later, he followed Hogan as champion.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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