Sunday, July 9, 2017

When the Country Club of Jackson was the battlefield for booze

No one would have ever thought that a scene of tuxedos and tiaras would be the battlefield where prohibition died in Mississippi  but that is exactly what happened at the Country Club of Jackson in 1966.  Whiskey and other spirits were illegal in 1966 as Mississippi was surprisingly the last state to dissolve prohibition.  Bootleggers in places such as the Gold Coast or Gulf Coast made a fortune as supply met demand, laws be damned.  Mississippi collected a "black market tax" that backstabbed local law enforcement officials who  tried to enforce prohibition (if they weren't on the take themselves.).  Imagine the state collecting taxes on weed while a Sheriff announces on tv he just seized a shipment of the same weed. Liquor laws were that dysfunctional for many years in Mississippi.

Well, the Hinds County Sheriff had enough of the hypocrisy.  The biggest and swankiest social event of the year was the Carnival Ball in Jackson.  The ball was held at the Coliseum but the real party took place afterwards at the County Club of Jackson where the Pearl River turned into Whiskey River.  The Sheriff's Chief Deputy said that either Mississippi was going to legalize booze or ban it - and if it was banned, then it was going to be really banned in Hinds County. Instead of picking on redneck or black bootleggers, the Sheriff went for those who funded their illegal ways- the creme de la creme of  Jackson society.

Deputies showed up at the Country Club of Jackson at 7 p.m. on February 4, 1966 and seized 114 cases of whiskey, wines, and champagne that were valued at $10,000 ($100,000 in 2017).  The Assistant Manager, Charles Wood, was arrested and charged with illegal possession.  There are some fancy names in the articles: Hood, Brunini, Wells, and so on.  The deputies finally left at midnight but not before Governor Paul Johnson stopped by to get a drink only to see his beloved booze go out the door under armed escort.  However, all was not lost as the Country Club of Jackson showed up in County Court first thing Monday morning and got an order that stopped the Sheriff from destroying the booze so it could possible be saved for savoring on another day.

The lawyers scrummed all the way to the Mississippi Supreme Court.  Attorneys for Mr. Wood argued that the black market tax and spotty enforcement voided the prohibition laws in Mississippi.  It was shown in court that Mississippi collected $4.5 million ($45 million today) in black market taxes on sales of $36 million ($360 million today).  Mr. Wood tried to quash the search warrant.  Natchez, Biloxi and Vicksburg officials also testified in court that they didn't enforce the prohibition laws in their respective cities and made no bones about it. 

County Judge Charles Barber ruled in April that the black market taxes and discriminatory enforcement voided the prohibition laws.  However, Hinds County Circuit Judge M.M. McGowan postponed enforcement of Judge Barber's decision until it was adjudicated by the Mississippi Supreme Court in a ruling issued a few days later. The Mississippi Supreme upheld the prohibition laws in June (Don't attorneys wish the court still moved that fast?) and remanded the case back to the trial court.

The raid ripped off the mask of hypocrisy, however, and spurred the legislature to action. The raid took place while the legislature was in session. The legislature quickly passed a local option law despite the anguished cries of the drys. Then the real fun started as booze referendums were placed on the ballot in 24 counties for an August 2 vote. The Clarion-Ledger thundered against legalizing booze while the Wets and Drys took out full-page ads in the newspaper.

19 counties voted to approve alcohol sales. The referendum drew the largest vote ever recorded in Hinds County as 34,711 people went to the polls. The wets won with 59% of the vote and the rest, they say, is history.  

Step back into time as the newspaper articles covering the bust and the Hinds County vote for booze are posted below.    There are quite a few interesting articles, letters, ads, and even a poem. Yes, a poem.  The pictures of the high-society types struttin' their stuff is included as well (p.11). 


Anonymous said...

Interesting how prohibition always creates opportunities for the laws to be selectively enforced.

KaptKangaroo said...

What is interesting to me is, the more we change, the more we repeat history... or, in the case of Mississippi, we continue to employ the same families over the control of governing morality, booze, boondoggles, scandals, and abuses of power. Oh, and once in a while the plebes are allowed a come-uppance. What next?


Anonymous said...

blah, blah, blah, might as well be talking about teenage sex, it's going to happen.

Anonymous said...

Does this surprise anybody? This is the most ass-backwards state I've ever been stationed in. The "Christians" here are the most judgmental, cliquish, backstabbing people I've ever met; and the political system reminds me of a poorly functioning banana republic. The great thing is, I get to leave, and all of you who think it is so amazing here can continue to live in denial and be the laughingstock of this country.

Anonymous said...

2:17 - You're 'stationed here'? You sound better suited for the 'don't ask' bases in Mexifornia.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean "surprisingly the last state to dissolve prohibition".? Is that a misprint? Who's surprised? Mississippi was the last state to prohibit slavery. I could be wrong. It may not have been prohibited yet. Please investigate. Thanks.

Kingfish said...

Google "sarcasm", dummy.

Anonymous said...

Don't we still have prohibition?? This state is a confusing patchwork of dry counties, wet counties, wet cities inside dry counties and dry cities inside wet counties...damn, I need a drink!

And to 2:17, you forgot that people don't know how to drive here, never use their turn signals and have no idea how to merge onto the interstate, stay in their lane when making turn or yield the right of way at a 4-way stop.

Anonymous said...

I think there are still 36 dry counties. Bootlegging is still a big business in Mississippi.

Anonymous said...

Whats the story on Hinds showing up half dry?

James Bonney said...

I was present at the raid on the Jackson Country Club as an Associated Press reporter. One of my articles is in this thread. Tom Shelton was a former sheriff of Union County and was Chief Deputy because Sheriff Pickett had been pushed aside because of some alcohol abuse issues. Shelton was brought in to run the department. He was a straight shooter and nobody could buy him. The Junior League Carnival Ball was a big deal and the Jackson Country Club was newly established in North Jackson. Shelton raided the club and Manager Charlie Woods refused to open the wine cooler. Shelton told deputies to break it open. Woods opened it and deputies began hauling cases of wines and liquors out. One tipsy Junior League woman tripped Shelton as he was walking out and turned to Gov. Johnson and said: "You need to do something." He replied that a few days earlier the had made his stand. Meaning he had publicly called for the Legislature to address the alcohol issue.

The Jackson Country Club case centered on unequal enforcement of the law. Chief Justice Ethridge of the State Supreme Court notified the Legislative leadership that the court was going to rule that the alcohol laws were going to be voided and he gave the heads up to the Legislature to put something in place, or else there would be no laws. The Baptists were against the wall --
no liquor laws or some sort of regulation. That is the reason we have a beer law and a wine and spirits law. Nobody wanted to risk amending the beer law. Now we have separate laws tha cause problems.

A restaurant can not sell beer and wine without getting two permits. The wine permit requires full state ABC alcohol permits. The beer permit is a local issue.

Good post Kingfish.

Anonymous said...

My Granddaddy made a lot of money from the end of WWII until 1966 picking up truckloads of whiskey in Tallulah and bringing it to sell in "dry" Mississippi.

Anonymous said...

3:59, maybe "stationed" was an inartful word to use (I guess I'm used to military nomenclature); I am here temporarily to assist an agency with a specific problem set.

In case you weren't aware, folks with real skills tend to get sent where they are most needed.

Anonymous said...

James Bonney has it right; but, here's the rest of the story. Circuit Judge Leon Hendrick was the titular head of all those who opposed legalization. Judge Hendrick was a fine, upstanding gentleman but a true believer when it came to the evils of alcohol. Sheriff Fred Pickett stayed drunk all the time and was totally ineffective. Judge Hendrick recruited Tom Shelton and pretty much told Fred Pickett to make him chief deputy. Judge Hendrick honestly thought that this would put an end to the proliferation of alcohol in Hinds County. It wasn't too long into Tom Shelton's tenure that the situation at the Country Club came along. With the back room guidance of Judge Hendrick, he conducted the raid "by the book," made the token arrest of the manager, and seized all the whiskey at the Country Club. They had full intentions of breaking every bottle and pouring it down the drain in the basement of the courthouse. They had done this on other occasions, but as Mr. Bonney points out, the Country Club whiskey was saved, and the matter was quickly handled in court. The ruling in this case prompted the legislature to immediately legalize liquor in Mississippi.

The irony is this -- Judge Hendrick's zeal and Tom Shelton's diligent police work did nothing but hasten the legalization of what they considered "the devil's brew." Neither of them ever recognized this publicly but you know they had to know it.

Now, this thread won't be complete unless someone posts a copy of Soggy Sweat's speech. If you don't know what that is -- look it up.

Louis LeFleur said...

Always good to be reminded of this story. There was at least as much hypocricy in the "good ol' days" as there is now. Seems like I've read a longer, more complete version of this event along with the broader statewide backstory recently. Couldn't have been a whole book on this, maybe more like a chapter in some other book about pre 1970's Mississippi. Maybe Joe Reiff's BORN OF CONVICTION? Ring a bell for anyone?

Anonymous said...

Being sent to Mississippi to straighten out an agency? Hmmmm. That right there is mighty curious. Must be computer problems.

Anonymous said...

What was truly interesting to me was that our learned Supreme Court determined that there was no problem having a black market tax that the State could collect at the same time the State could outlaw liquor. On the same day, the Court said you could keep women off a jury.

Don't let logic and law get in the way of a good opinion.

Anonymous said...

Technically, MS is still a dry state. When we came out from prohibition, it allowed a county to vote to come out. But unless and until, then they remained dry. So yes, prohibition is still the standing law.

Hinds County is divided into two judicial districts - and the one on the West (Raymond Courthouse) is still "dry". Of course, you have the other situation that cities over 5000 can vote for beer sales separate from the county, ergo the sale of alcohol in the Baptist conclave of Clinton.

Anonymous said...

Soggy Sweat's Speech:

"My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise."

Anonymous said...

Thank you 12:24 AM I knew I could draw it out.

Messick said...

Check out the well-dwellers that Mr. Hood was busted with in the photo:

Old Crow
Gilby's gin
Ballantine Scotch (blended, of course. Bet it was hard to get single malts in MS back then)
Seagram's VO
Cinzano vermouth (which isn't too bad)
Taaka Vodka

Anonymous said...

Old Crow??? Are you shittin' me?

Robert P. Wise said...

My father was an attorney for JCC along with Julian Alexander. I was a teen at the time, but I clearly remember how joyful my father found that fight. It was a much welcome chance for him to confront and overcome the holier than thou hypocrisy of his day that was holding us back as a people. It still holds back our progress in new contexts. The effort must be to continue to push forward instead of backward.

Anonymous said...

As a teenager in the sixties, I remember the large, brick 2-story houses some of the sheriffs and ALL of the judges lived in. How they do that on what those jobs paid? A high sheriff over in Bolivar became a legislator and until his death lived real high on the hog. They musta had excellent investment knowledge.

Kingfish said...

Why is old crow a big deal?

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