1946, Athens, Tennessee. Large numbers of GIs have returned home from Europe and Japan after WWII. Their small, southern town is corrupt as so many of them were (and still are). A Southern Democrat political machine controlled the county through the corrupt sheriff. The sheriff’s office made money based on their arrests, which lead to frequent and fraudulent arrests. The US DOJ investigated election fraud, yet did nothing.
The entire county was under the control of the political control. The deputies who replaced the men who went to fight, were in some cases, convicts. Every level of employment and government was under the control of the cronies. The GIs returning home were arrested and robbed of their pay when they mustered out.
In the 1946 election, the anti-corruption candidates stood for election. A black farmer who came to vote was beaten, then shot, after trying to flee the beating. A poll watcher was arrested for inspecting the ballot box. A man was savagely beaten when he objected to an unregistered, underage woman voting. When the counting began and the anti-corruption candidates were in the lead, the deputies stole the ballot boxes and took them to jail.
Knowing that by dawn, the corrupt cronies would receive reinforcement, the GIs decided to act. With the corrupt politicians “certifying” their own election in secret, the only way to stop the fraud was through violence. The GIs broke into the National Guard armory and armed themselves with rifles and submachine guns.
The GIs assaulted the barricaded jail. Shots were fired. Under the guise of evacuating wounded, an ambulance was used to allow the corrupt sheriff and former sheriff to escape. The GIs then used dynamite to break into the jail. The deputies surrendered and the ballots recovered. No one was killed (in the battle). The GIs won the election fairly and took over the government.
The GIs acted quicky and decisively before the fraud could be perpetrated. They acted resolutely and fearlessly. These were men who risked their lives and lost friends in the fight for the preservation of the free world (I argue that the Second World War was a battle for global freedom). The GIs had suffered a long train of abuses and usurpations of a design that reduced them under absolute despotism.
Unfortunately the intrepid GIs of Athens were a lone beacon of hope in a dark, corrupt place. Sadly, the GI’s victory was not to last. The old ways of complacent people voting for the same party allowed the machine to take over again, except this time the leaders were a bit more careful not to force the pot to boil over (or lose) again.. Eventually Tennessee changed, but it took decades and the Civil Rights Act, which caused problems of its own. As Benjamin Franklin once said “A republic, if you can keep it.”
There’s even a movie on YouTube about it.
Author Don Shift
Don Shift is a veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office and avid fan of post-apocalyptic literature and film who has pushed a black and white for a mile or two. He is a student of disasters, history, and current events.