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Small steps meant a lot to minorities in 1947

POSTED: February 5, 2012 1:00 a.m.

There was a lot going on that inaugural year of 1947 for the Gainesville Daily Times, the name now shortened to simply The Times. The newspaper just marked its 65th year last month.

Significant news events were making headlines in the early months of the year.

In Gainesville, city Commissioner George Ashford won a recall election against him by almost 500 votes to continue his eighth year on the commission.

In the state legislature, debates were dominated by the white primary law that would exclude blacks from voting in primary elections. Rep. Dick Kenyon of Gainesville was among those who fought against it, along with Helen Dortch Longstreet, widow of Confederate Gen. James Longstreet, during hearings in the state Capitol. That same year her portrait was unveiled in the Capitol.

Despite their efforts, the white primary bill passed the legislature, only to be shot down later by the courts.

The infamous three-governor controversy also highlighted 1947 after Gov. Eugene Talmadge, Herman's father, died before he could be inaugurated for another term. Herman Talmadge had more write-in votes than other write-in candidates and claimed his father's office. But Lt. Gov. M.E. Thompson and outgoing Gov. Ellis Arnall did, too. Thompson eventually was allowed to hold the office until a special election, which Herman Talmadge won.

A fire destroyed the former Pete Henson home north of New Holland, and another fire destroyed a dormitory and classroom building of the Oliver Industrial School for Negroes that Beulah Rucker Oliver started.

In Greenville, S.C., a mob broke into a jail, dragged out a black prisoner accused of assault and robbery, and beat and stabbed him to death.

In sports that year, $10,000 was the purse on the national golf tour, which featured Ben Hogan. Louise Suggs and Babe Didrickson Zaharias were the top women's golfers. Charlie Trippi, the University of Georgia football star, signed a $10,000 contract to play centerfield for the Atlanta Crackers.

All of that made interesting reading in the Gainesville Daily Times, for which subscribers paid $15 for a year.

At that time, most of the papers were delivered by young boys on bicycles. The newspaper called them "Little Merchants," and awarded prizes for those who signed up the most subscribers.

One of them was Leroy Wright, who won fourth place in the subscription contest, entitling him to a ball and bat from DeLong Home and Auto Supply. Leroy was black, and his accomplishment made front page news with his picture in the Gainesville Daily Times.

Amid all the negative news about race in those days, something positive about a black person was on Page 1. Most newspapers in the South those "white supremacy" days printed mostly negative news about blacks.

This wasn't lost on Hall County's black community in 1947. Erica Meyer Rauzin, daughter of the late Sylvan Meyer, who was editor of The Times in its early days, was going through memorabilia from his newspaper days and found a framed letter from black citizens noting the article. The letter read, "On Wednesday, March 26, there appeared on the front page of the Times, a very nice picture of Leroy Wright, colored news boy, who was awarded a prize for his participation in a news carriers contest here.

"We, as Gainesville Negroes, would like to express our appreciation for the liberal unselfish attitude of this act; almost never is it our pleasure as a race to see a Negro's picture in a Daily, unless he is pictured in some silly undignified or degrading manner, as eating watermelons, shooting craps, or after some murder episode; such pictures only give the worst side of our race and occasionally the only side that many newspaper readers see.

"Not being a Negro, you can never know the deep appreciation that we feel for the Democratic spirit exemplified by this (to you) simple publication of a boy's picture, but for this act, may we offer our genuine thanks."

Among the signatures were those of Dr. E.E. Butler, first black member of the Gainesville school board, Clara Poole, Maynard (Yank) Brown, Doyce Hughey and D.S. Lowe Jr.

Obviously that was a watershed moment for the black community. It apparently also impressed the young editor Meyer and the newspaper as he framed the letter to hang in his office.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.



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