Or How Common Citizens Removed A Corrupt Government From Their County.
The Battle of Athens (sometimes called the McMinn County War) was a rebellion led by citizens in Athens and Etowah, Tennessee, United States, against the local government in August 1946. The citizens, including some World War II veterans, accused the local officials of political corruption and voter intimidation.
Here is what happened:
Following World War II in 1946, violence erupted when returning American soldiers discovered their Tennessee county had been taken over by political corruption. Their plan to take it back involved bullets—lots of bullets—and dynamite.
Why Athens in McMinn County, Tennessee became a battleground was due to Paul Cantrell, a Democrat running for sheriff in the 1936 election. He won over his Republican opponent, although the victory was tainted by rumors of fraud. Cantrell was a corrupt sheriff—for example, since state law allowed his office to collect fees for each person booked, jailed, and released, deputies boarded buses passing through the city and arrested passengers on bogus charges of drunkenness, forcing them to pay fines. Prostitution, gambling, and kickbacks from illegal drinking establishments were commonplace.
The tide began to turn in 1945 when GIs returning to Athens were subjected to arrest on the flimsiest excuses and heavily fined. When the fed up soldiers attempted to support their choice for sheriff against Pat Mansfield (by then, Cantrell had been elected to the state Senate and backed Mansfield’s bid), matters boiled over into direct conflict on Election Day 1946.
Mansfield hired several hundred armed “deputies” to patrol the voting precincts in Athens—and no doubt to assist in the typical ballot stuffing and voter intimidation. The volatile situation escalated when Walter Ellis, an ex-GI and volunteer poll watcher, was arrested by Mansfield’s deputies and held without charge. A black resident, Tom Gillespie, was refused the right to vote, beaten, and shot. More GIs were arrested and threatened with violence. By the end of the day, the former soldiers had enough.
They broke into the town armory for weapons and besieged the jail, where Mansfield and his deputies had taken the ballet boxes. Battle continued sporadically throughout the night, resulting in wounded on both sides. When the GIs ran out of bullets around dawn, they began throwing dynamite. The deputies inside the jail surrendered.
The highly publicized Battle of Athens not only ousted corruption from one county in Tennessee, the lesson learned would ultimately lead to great reforms in Southern politics.
This is a part of American history that all elected official should learn and remember. When the government forgets whom they serve and dictates to the American People what to think, do, say, read, and how to vote, it is incumbent upon the citizens of that town, city, county, state or nation to rise up and remove (By force if necessary.) the dictator.
What happened in Athens, Tennessee was the most extreme example of citizen action. The last resort of a desperate people.
In such desperation the American people will do anything to return their rights to them. Something every politician in this nation should remember.