MEMPHIS STATE UNIVERSITY
UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS LIBRARIES
3 2109 00698 9991
RECENT TENNESSEE POLITICAL HISTORY
INTERVIEW WITH FRED R. TRAVIS
AUGUST 5, 1988
BY CHARLES W. CRAWFORD
ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE
MEMPHIS STATE UNIVERSITY
liEiPUIS STATE UNIVERSITY
ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE
I hereby release all right, title, or Interest In
and to all of my tape-recorded memoirs to the Mississ-
ippi Valley Archives of the John Willard Erister Li-
brary of Memphis State University and declare that tluy
may be used without any restriction t"h?.tsocver and mny
be copyrighted and published by the eald Archives, i.'hlch
also may assign caid copyright and publication rights
to serious research scholars.
PLACE fkcbdh J TJ/'
DATE MAY 2 5 mi
(For the IliTsiTjippi ValMJy Archives
of the John .Jillard Brister Library
of Memphis li'.ute University)
(OHRO F0R1I B)
THIS IS THE ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE OF MEMPHIS STATE
UNIVERSITY. THE PROJECT IS "RECENT TENNESSEE POLITICAL HISTORY."
THE INTERVIEW IS WITH MR. FRED R. TRAVIS. THE DATE IS AUGUST 5,
1988. THE PLACE IS NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE. THE INTERVIEW IS BY DR.
CHARLES W. CRAWFORD, DIRECTOR OF THE MEMPHIS STATE UNIVERSITY ORAL
HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE. TRANSCRIBED BY BETTY WILLIAMS. INTERVIEW
DR. CRAWFORD: Mr. Travis, could we get a little background about
you--when and where you were born, and who your
family were, and where you grew up?
MR. TRAVIS: I was born in Murf reesboro , Tennessee, and grew up
there. I went to Middle Tennessee State Teachers'
College it was then, for a year and worked part time on the local
newspaper— The Daily News Journal . Subsequently, I became the
editor of it though I never got the title or the pay, anyway I did
the work. I left that and went to the Rutherford Co urier which
was a twice weekly newspaper. In 19^0 I went to work for the
Chat tanooga Times. And then after World War II was over and I
came back to the Time s I was assigned here as their correspondent
at Nashville for the Chatt anooga Times. That continued until 1980
when I retired from the Time s and went into free-lance business.
So I covered the Tennessee state government and politics on a kind
of peripheral basis when I was in Murf reesboro .
Gordon Browning opened his reelection campaign, the election
for governor, there [Murf reesboro ] in 1938. One of his colonels
presented him with this trailer — very plush. I was covering for
the Tenn essean although they had a political writer that was
covering Browning's speech and so I decided to do a story about
this trailer. I asked this Colonel Cox from Chattanooga who was
in charge of the presentation where the trailer came from? He
said it came from Louisiana.
I said, "Well, who owned it?"
He said, "It was owned by a big oil man down there."
It turned out it belonged to Huey Long. So that was one of
the things that Crump made a big issue out of. It was that
Browning was, in the 1933 campaign for governor , about Browning's
campaign having a trailer that had been used by Huey Long.
DR. CRAWFORD: You started your journalism career in politics in a
very colorful campaign. What years did you go to
school at Murf reesboro?
MR. TRAVIS: I went there in 1935 and 1936. I only went one
year. I guess I was hooked on being a journalist
from the first time I went to look inside a newspaper office and
when the Linotype operators set my name in one of the pieces of
metal and gave it to me. I guess I was so impressed with that
that it was the beginning of my desire to be a journalist.
DR. CRAWFORD: I understand that. I worked on a college newspaper
and I think I still have a paper weight set in
Linotype with my name on it from that.
MR. TRAVIS: I didn't keep mine, but anyway, that was one of my
first impressions of being around a newspaper.
Then I was editor of the school paper when I was in high school.
DR. CRAWFORD: That was Murf reesboro?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, that was Murf reesboro at Central High School.
DR. CRAWFORD: What year were you born, Mr. Travis?
MR. TRAVIS: I was born in 1917.
DR. CRAWFORD: What were your parent's names?
MR. TRAVIS: William Lee and Annie Brents Travis. My great
grandfather on my mother's side was Thomas Wesley
Brents. He grew up down in Marshall County. He wanted to be a
doctor. And it was kind of hard to do back then. You had to know
Greek to get into the medical school and where he learned Greek
we never found out. But anyway, he went to medical school down at
Macon, Georgia, I believe it was, and graduated there and stayed
on as a member of the faculty. Later on, he became a Church of
Christ or Christian Church preacher and traveled over the South
and Southwest doing for the Christian Church what Alexander
Campbell did for it in the east. He was very active and some of
his books are still used by the David Lipscomb College here which
is the Church of Christ educational insititution .
DR. CRAWFORD: His name was Brents?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, Thomas Wesley Brents.
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir, I have seen the name.
MR. TRAVIS: That was on my mother's side. On my father's side
my father was a merchant in Murfreesboro and ran
a hardware business. I started out working in the hardware store
there when he owned it. Then I managed to persuade the local
newspaper to hire me as a part time reporter for two dollars a
week. This was in 1935. It was during the Depression and we
didn't always get the two dollars. Sometimes we would get due
bills on the advertisers to buy things I had no need for.
DR. CRAWFORD: Did you plan to be a journalist when you went to
school at Murf reesboro?
MR. TRAVIS: Well, I didn't really, but when I was in college
I did have plans to go into journalism. The part
time thing became more and more full time so I gave up college and
spent all my time working on the paper there and covering
everything—local politics and courts and crime and everything
else. They just had two or three people on the staff so you had
to do some of everything.
DR. CRAWFORD: Was that the Courie r?
MR. TRAVIS: That was the Daily News Journal of which E.W.
Carmack, Jr. was the publisher. And Minor Bragg was
the publisher of the Courier . They offered me twice what I was
making on the News Journal so I decided to take it. I stayed
there until Julian LaRose Harris who was executive editor of the
Chatta nooga Times offered me a job. It was when the Tennessee
Power Company was being acquired by the municipalities and the co-
ops and TVA. I went to Chattanooga with the Murfreesboro city
officials to cover the negotiations between them and some power
company representatives and TVA. So when I walked into the
meeting to sit down, Cap Krug who was the General Counsel for TVA,
came over and asked me if I was a reporter. I said, "Yes."
He said, "Well, you'll have to leave. This is a closed
Not having anything else to do, I went up to the Chatta nooga
Times and I met Jim Jar vis, who was the Managing Editor, and he
took me around and introduced me to Julian Harris. Subsequently,
Julian Harris called me one night and offered me a job.
DR. CRAWFORD: That was in December of 1 9^0?
Well, it was December 1939- I went to work for
them in January, 19^0 as soon as I wound up my
DR. CRAWFORD: So Cap Krug or Julius Krug was in a way responsible
for your going to the Chattano oga Times .
Yes, I guess so.
I interviewed him in Knoxville about his TVA
experiences. Of course, by then he had been in
Truman's cabinet and back out again.
MR. TRAVIS: The C hatt anooga Times —public power was a big
journalistic topic in this part of the country in
those days, especially in Chattanooga. So they had a reporter
that specialized in covering the public power thing. I'd been
involved in covering public power in Murfreesboro in a smaller
way. In Murfreesboro it was the transition from Tennessee
Electric Power Company to the Municipal Electric System and the
Cooperative that had the rural areas. When the reporter that the
Times had for public power had died that was the reason they
called and offered me a job. So when I got there, I thought I was
going to work as a reporter covering public power, but they had a
rule that you had to work on the copy desk as a copy editor. So I
went to work on the copy desk and I never did cover a public power
story for them. I spent all of my time as a copy editor and later
on as assistant to the managing editor. I left and went into the
Marine Corps as a combat correspondent and came back and they
wanted me go back to doing the same thing.
I said, "Well, if you are going to do it that way, I'll just
resign." So then they sent me to Nashville as the Nashville
DR. CRAWFORD: Were you ready for a change? Why did you want to
come to Nashville?
MR. TRAVIS: Well, I wanted to be a reporter and they said
there was more future in the executive end of it.
Journalism doesn't pay enough to go into it for money unless you
are going to be a publisher or a chain operator or something. The
only thing you get out of it is entertainment as a reporter and it
held a lot more entertainment in watching it and covering it than
there is in sitting on a desk editing somebody else's copy or
making up the newspaper or the other things you have to do.
DR. CRAWFORD: About 1946 you came to Nashville?
MR. TRAVIS: September of 1946 I came to Nashville. Then in
1947 was the session of the Legislature in which
Jim McCord, who was governor, sponsored the sales tax and began
his downfall in politics. He and Browning ran in '48 and Kefauver
ran for the Senate and I spent a great deal of time covering those
campaigns, especially Kefauver 's because he was from Chattanooga
and there was a great deal of interest in his campaign in the
Chatt anoga Times circulation area since he had been Third District
Congressman over there for years and years.
Of course, I guessed the key to his election was what was
going to happen in Shelby County. When I found out in the fall of
19^7 that Crump had decided he wouldn't support Tom Stewart, the
incumbent Senator for reelection, that became the point at which
Kefauver really appeared to have a pretty good chance of winning
election to the Senate. So the rest of that summer, the
Democratic Primary was the decisive factor then. The Republicans
didn't have enough strength to really make a show out of it in the
general election. So I spent a great deal of time in Memphis
covering the development of the Kefauver so-called "Blue Ribbon
Campaign Committee" down there headed by Edmund Orgill.
DR. CRAWFORD: May I ask you first if you know why Mr. Crump
decided not to support Tom Stewart?
MR. TRAVIS: Jared Maddux who told me about it after he came
back from Memphis said that Crump was convinced
that Stewart couldn't get reelected . Stewart was notoriously
lazy and a poor campaigner. The first time he ran and got elected
was in '38 when they had that Cooper-Stewart-Hudson ticket. Pete
Hudson from Clarksville was the nominee for the Public Service
Commission and he was the only one of the three who could make a
decent speech. They put him on the ticket to do the orating for
the other two. Cooper was a notoriously dull speaker and so was
Stewart. With Stewart they had to wake him up and get him out of
the car to make a speech when they stopped at some courthouse.
Campaigning in those days was done on the courthouse yards and
along the streets and in the public parks. T.V. wasn't a factor
and not even radios were a factor in state and local politics.
DR. CRAWFORD: It involved a lot of driving and a lot of speaking,
MR. TRAVIS: A lot of driving and you drove from town to town
and you stopped in one courthouse yard and you
heard the same speech you heard in the last courthouse yard and
the same one you are going to get in the next courthouse yard.
DR. CRAWFORD: It's got to be a little dull for political
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, but there were some interesting times. One
day I was with Kefauver and he was at Fayetteville ,
I think it was, and his next stop was in Shelbyville. He asked to
ride with me in my car. He said he wanted to talk to me about the
situation in Memphis. I had been in Memphis a few days earlier.
So we rode along. Kefauver said, "Do you have a cigarette?"
I took out a package of cigarettes and handed to him and he took
one of the cigarettes and put the package in his pocket and
searched around in his pockets again and said, "Do you have a
And I took out some matches and gave them to him. He lit his
cigarette and put my matches in his pocket. Then he thought of
something he wanted to write down and he said, "Do you have a
So he took my pencil and took out that package of envelopes-
battered envelopes—he always carried in his back pocket. He
wrote down something--I don't remember what it was--and put my
pencil in his pocket. So we neared Shelbyville he said, "Do you
have a comb?" I happened to have a pocket comb. I gave it to
him. He took it and took the rearview mirror and turned it
around so that he could comb his hair and put my comb in his
pocket and left the mirror up where I had to move it back.
(Laughter) When he got to Shelbyville, he got out and went to
make his speech.
Charlie Neese was the Kefauver's campaign manager. He was
from Paris, Tennessee, and he was a bright young lawyer down
there. He was the one who went to Memphis and engineered the
organization of that committee. He started out talking to Ed
Meeraan, who told him he ought to talk to Lucius Burch and either
Meeman or Lucius Burch mentioned Edmund Orgill. The question was
how to persuade Orgill to take an interest in the campaign and
head it up. He was a very prominent merchant down there. They
thought he would be the ideal man to head it up.
So either Burch or Meeman told Neese that Orgill was
interested in the Atlantic Union and the One World Concept that
people called it then. So then Neese went back to Kefauver and
explained all this to him that he needed to go to Memphis and
explain to Orgill his interest in the Atlantic Union. That was
the key to getting Orgill into the campaign.
I met with that committee, I guess, on three or four
occasions. They were all very friendly and they had their eye on
what they were going to do. Even though Crump maligned them and
all kinds of rumors circulated that they were involved in things
that were disreputable, it was really sort of a mean sort of way
DR. CRAWFORD: That was not unusual for Shelby County though.
MR. TRAVIS: I understand it wasn't. (Laughter) But they held
on and they were lighter on Orgill because of his
standing in the community was so high, but Burch, they were
unmerciful in dealing with him. Crump often called him Lusious
Burch and other things. They implied that Meeman was a homosexual
and I don't know what all else. Anyway, they held on and the
election night came around and as I recall, Kefauver got almost
28,000 votes in Shelby County. I believe Tom Stewart got 2,700 or
The error that the Crump people made was they had been per-
sauded by Joe Carr and Frank Hobbs (Joe was the Secretary of State
and Hobbs was Chairman, of the State Democratic Executive
Committee) and they believed there would be a repetition of the
experience after the First World War when the 117th Field
Artillery came back to Tennessee. Colonel Luke Lea was
publisher of the Tennesse an and had been colonel of that regiment-
-commanding officer of that regiment — and he was a very persuasive
man and a political power. And Carr and Hobbs thought that would
occur again with the same sort of reaction that the veterans of
World War I [when they] became such a powerful force in Tennsssee
politics. They thought the same thing would happen again after
World War II. They (the veterans) would take control of politics
in Tennessee. They persauded Crump that they needed a World War
II veteran to run for United State Senate. They chose John
Mitchell who had served in the First World War and had served in
the Army Air Corps in the Second World War.
Mitchell was not a very good candidate. Of course, it split
the Democrats with Stewart running — Stewart still had some
following. That split the Crump forces between Stewart and
Mitchell at least, not only in Shelby County but in the other
counties where Crump had political alliances. That was the
contributing factor. It was just a mistake in judgment. I don't
know, it would be idle speculation as to whether Kefauver would
have beaten Tom Stewart without Mitchell in the race. Having the
opposition divided made it much easier.
Of course, McCord had the sales tax and Browning led a lot
of people to believe he was going to repeal the sales tax. His
promise on it was: "I say to you no tax is sacred." A lot of
people thought he was going to repeal it.
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you think he really intended to repeal it?
MR. TRAVIS: He never intended to repeal it. He admitted that
in an interview with somebody. I forget who it
was. He wasn't going to repeal it. I remember he said on one
occasion that the sales tax would remain, but they were going to
take the large sums of money that had been given to local govern-
ment for their school system and they were going to redistribute
that and use it to give teachers another pay raise.
So the Tennessee Education Association was meeting here after
the election after McCord had lost his fight for renomination and
when he was introduced and got up to speak, they gave him a
standing ovation. He asked them, "Where were you in August when
I needed you?" (Laughter)
Crump told McCord no governor who had sponsored a sales tax
and had ever been reelected, but agreed to go ahead and support
McCord anyway. But that conference in which that happened, was
the one in which he let out word he wasn't going to support Tom
DR. CRAWFORD: What about that conference? That was an important
point in Tennessee history. You've heard some
things about that or you covered some as a reporter, Mr. Travis.
What do you understand took place in that meeting in Memphis when
Governor McCord went there to persuade Mr. Crump to accept the
MR. TRAVIS: I can't remember what my impression of it was at
the time. I can't separate it from the things I've
learned about it since. The first information I had on what
actually went on, I asked Jared Maddux. I said, r 'I've heard that
Crump is going to support McCord for reelection."
Jared said, "Yeah, and I'll tell you something else, he is
not going to support Tom Stewart," which was a very important
development as far as the Chattanoog a Times was concerned since
Kefauver was from Chattanooga. That was the beginning of the
Throughtout that campaign Dick Wallace, who was the chief
political writer for the Pres s Scimitar , kept saying that the
Crump organization was a myth--an empty shell--it didn't really
have any power anymore. But it was evident to me on my frequent
visits to Memphis that the myth was still very compelling on
business people to whom I talked. When I was trying to find how
much support there was for Tom Stewart, they said, "Well, we are
getting along well down here. I don't want to stir up anything."
Then I heard stories that if a businessman bucked, the Crump
organization would send the sidewalk repair people over to plow up
the sidewalk in front of their place of business and in effect
close it. Even after the election which Crump lost, Browning
through the State Commissioner of Finance and Taxation seized
total control over the liquor business regulation. There were
several people--not a large number as I recall--in the liquor
business who had aroused Crump's anger for some reason. And he
closed up their liquor stores. Browning had his commissioner
overrule that and reopen those stores after he got in as governor.
Anyway, the Crump organization and the election itself
demonstrated what Dick Wallace said was true--The Crump Machine
was largely a myth--all the power had gone out of it. It had lost
some of its effective allies in other counties. The GI revolt in
1946 in McMinn County overthrew the Paul Cantrell-Pat Mansfield
political organization in McMinn County [which was at] Athens.
DR. CRAWFORD: How had that worked before, Mr. Travis, the
Cantrell-Mansf ield organization in McMinn County?
Had that been a help to Mr. Crump?
MR. TRAVIS: They always supported Crump's choice for the
Democratic nomination for governor or any statewide
office. They went along and McMinn County is a Republican county.
Crump had the help of Birch Biggs in neighboring Polk County and
in Athens Paul Cantrell , who was a banker, and Pat Mansfield, who
was Sheriff. They superimposed this Democratic political machine
on the Republican county.
The so-called GI Revolt was in reality a movement of the
returned war veterans. Although a great many of them participated
in it, it was really an effort of the Republicans to regain
control of McMinn County. In this process there were some—what
would have been called in another country political prisoners —
that Mansfield had arrested and locked up in jail on election day.
These GI's,who had some expertise in using explosives, made some
bombs and went over there and tossed a dynamite bomb on the front
porch of the jail and blew the door open, letting the prisoners
DR. CRAWFORD: That was just prior to or about the time of the
MR. TRAVIS: It was at the August election in 1946. It was the
election of the county officials that they were
really interested in although the primaries were the same day.
They didn't have any interest in the Democratic primary of a
governor. Of course, McCord was renominated which was equivalent
to election then. But the veterans and Republicans were
interested in the sheriff's office and the county judge's office
and other offices in the courthouse.
DR. CRAWFORD: Did you cover that as a reporter?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, I covered the election proceedings up there
that day. Then they sent another reporter up when
the real fighting broke out along about 3:30 or 9:00 o'clock at
night. The situation was tense. I mean all day long it was as
tense as it could be. You could feel it walking around the
streets. The people were grim-faced and after dark they brought
out their shot guns and rifles. What the GI's had learned in the
infantry was put to use.
DR. CRAWFORD: Was it a little like being a war correspondent
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, quite a bit and much more difficult. At least
in World War II you knew roughly where the enemy
was and you knew where your troops were. In a political warfare
like that, you don't know who's on which side. You've got to be
careful what you do and say.
DR. CRAWFORD: How much of that did you see, Mr. Travis? What
really happened that day?
MR. TRAVIS: Mansfield and his deputies and a state highway
patrolman who was assigned there, were very much in
evidence. They were in and out of the polling places. They were
in and out of the courthouse. Some people were arrested for some
sort of charge — disorderly conduct—something in connection with
the election and were taken down to the jail and locked up. Along
about late afternoon the thing seemed > to calm down. The
impression was that it wasn't going to be any outbreak of active
fighting. But a little later as dark fell, the people began to
show up with their rifles and shot guns. Then they dynamited the
jail. Paul Cantrell and Pat Mansfield fled to Georgia along with
the highway patrolman. I can't remember what his name was. I
remember calling Lynn Bomar who was the Safety Director, it was
then of the state of Tennessee, and asking him about this highway
patrolman. He said, "I don't know where he is, but wherever he
is, he is fired!" But they later reinstated him and reassigned
him to Cookeville or Crossville or some place.
DR. CRAWFORD: Did they use anything from the National Guard
Armory or were these all private shot guns and
rifles they were using?
MR. TRAVIS: There were stories that they got weapons from the
National Guard Armory and they may have. But a lot
of the weapons were hunting rifles and shot guns. They meant
business and fortunately nobody was killed. As I recall, nobody
was badly hurt. But they toppled the Democratic machine.
Then this thing subsequently spread to Polk County and was
the downfall of the Birch Biggs machine there. Birch and his two
sons, Birch Biggs, Jr. and the other one was an elder son.
DR. CRAWFORD: What happened to Mansfield and Cantrell? Did they
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, I think they both came back to Athens later
on. It seems to me that Paul Cantrell went back to
work in the bank. He was president of the bank. I don't know if
he went back as president or in some other capacity. They never
had anything to do with politics after that and no influence on
DR. CRAWFORD: Was the county under Republican party in control
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, I think it has been ever since.
DR. CRAWFORD: And was not allied with Mr. Crump anymore after
'46, I suppose?
MR. TRAVIS: Probably to some extent, the Crump organization
always had working agreements with the East
Tennessee Republicans. Carroll Reece, the First District
Congressman, was the boss of the Republican party organization and
Crump would work with those people up there. Reece needed Crump's
influence in the Legislature which elected the state election
board. It was composed of two Democrats and one Republican.
Crump always allowed the Carroll Reece's organization to select
the Republican to serve on the state election board. So the
Republicans crossed over into the Democratic primary and voted for
Crump's candidates for Democratic nominations and that is all
Crump wanted. He didn't care whether they voted for the
Democratic nominee in the General election because they knew the
Democrat was going to win. So that was a kind of an alliance of
convenience, I suppose you would call it, a marriage of
convenience, whatever. Reece and Crump were very practical men.
I guess the most impractical thing that Reece ever did was
deciding after Kefauver was nominated in 19^8 the Republicans had
a chance to elect a U.S. Senator. So Reece was the nominee of the
Republican party. They had on a joint ticket with Roy
Acuff [Republican candidate for governor], the country music king,
who was supposed to draw the crowds, was running against Browning
and nobody gave him a chance to win and nobody ever gave Reece a
chance to win, but the idea of the campaign was that Acuff was
supposed to draw the crowd and Reece was supposed to persuade them
to be Republicans. But it didn't work.
I remember being down in Covington or Ripley or some place
down there in West Tennessee. Maybe it was Ripley. It was a
night that Acuff was performing and Reece was speaking. C.S.
Carney, a legislator , was there on the square. I asked him about it
and he said, "Well, we kind of like Roy Acuff. We wouldn't mind
voting for him, but Carroll Reeee, we know he's a Republican."
DR. CRAWFORD: What kind of a presentation did Roy Acuff make?
Did he make speeches or sing any?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, he sang and played his violin and did his bow
trick in which he put the bow on his nose and
walked around on the stage. It was a good crowd. Of course, even
that late the campaigns were centered around the courthouse yards.
People came out.
Politics was still an entertainment factor in people's lives.
They went to political rallies for entertainment. Television and
participatory sports hadn't become what they are now. A candidate
would be lucky to draw a crowd of fifty people in the courthouse
yard in say Murfreesboro on a Saturday afternoon now. Whereas,
back then hundreds of people would turn out to see the candidates
perform. It wasn't as big as it was when Bob and Alf Taylor were
running against each other when thousands of people just thronged
to the railroad station to meet them and escorted them to the
DR. CRAWFORD: That was real entertainment!
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, and it was the best entertainment they had.
DR. CRAWFORD: I can understand the attraction of Roy Acuff, but
the Republican party just traditionally didn't win
that sort of thing.
MR. TRAVIS: No, that's right. And Reece being from East
Tennessee, it was pointless for him to campaign in
Democratic West Tennessee. He was utterly wasting his time.
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you think that Mr. Crump really gave full effort
to supporting Jim McCord in that campaign?
MR. TRAVIS: Well, not as much as he had helped some earlier
candidates. In his earlier campaigns he had been
noted for his advertisements—full page advertisements throughout
Tennessee— in which he lambasted the opposition. I can't remember
any of the ads that extolled the virtues of his candidate for
Democratic nomination for governor. One of the ads that he ran in
1938 was that Gordon Browning was the kind of man who would milk
his neighbor's cow through a crack in the fence. Of course, he
made one of his big blunders in the '48 campaign when he ran an
advertisement comparing Estes Kefauver to a 'coon. He said,
"Kefauver was like a coon who would be looking the other way to
divert attention while his hindfoot was searching in the bureau
drawer for trinkets he could steal."
The Kefauver people came up with the coonskin cap which had
been an advertisement gimmick of Pioneer Bank in Chattanooga. The
owner of that bank had bought a bunch of coonskin caps and used
them to promote the bank. Somebody had one of those and gave it
to Kefauver and suggested that he wear it. He even had one that
was called the TVA coons; it was rigged up with a battery and
flashlight bulbs so he could make the lights flash on and off on
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you know where he first wore that?
MR. TRAVIS: No, I can't remember. Charlie Neese can probably
tell you because he was there. There were some
misgivings about it. I recall some people thought it was beneath
the dignity of a candidate of U.S. Senate to be going around in a
coonskin cap. But it was an effective [gimmick] the cap combined
with Kefauver's answer to Crump. He said, "I may be a coon, but I
am not Mr. Crump's pet coon." Then Neese got somebody to make
some statements that the coon was the most American of animals.
That it was indigenous to America and was the cleanest animal,
that it washes its food before it eats and all that sort of thing.
Of course, the reason a coon washes it's food before he eats it is
because a raccoon doesn't have saliva glands and he needs some
moisture in the food.
Anyway, the coon thing backfired on Crump. Crump had lost
his touch with the people in Memphis. He had surrounded himself
with 'yes' men--Francis Andrews and Will Gerber, the District
Attorney General. They were trying to tell him what he wanted to
hear and he didn't get out and circulate among the people the way
he did. During that campaign I saw him on two occasions. One was
when I was traveling with Jim McCord and I think he had been in
Somerville or somewhere down in there. When he got to the edge of
Memphis, and was going into Memphis, Crump had a big motorcade
parked on the side of the road and he was there. I saw his straw
hat and he went around shaking hands with people and greeting
McCord and rode with him on back to wherever they went. I've
Then I interviewed him briefly later over in the hotel there
where he had his campaign office where he operated his politics.
It was just down the street there from his insurance office. He
was up in years and he had lost touch with the political realities
of life. He had been sold this idea that the World War II
veterans were going to make all the difference in the world in how
the election and Tennessee politics were operated. It turned out
that they were just as diverse in their political philosophies as
everybody else was and that there was no cohesion among the
DR. CRAWFORD: That was a miscalculation.
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, the alliance with East Tennessee fell apart be
cause the Republicans concluded that Browning was
going to win and they decided they had better cast their lot with
Browning instead of with McCord, the Crump man. Carroll Reece was
skillful in moving from one side to the other. Of course,
Browning adopted Crump's practice in dealing with the Republicans.
He let Reece select the Republican members of the state election
DR. CRAWFORD: Just as had been done before?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, just as had been done before. To nullify the
Crump influence on the state election board,
Browning packed it by adding two more Democrats and one Republican
which brought it to six members. Of course, the two Republicans
and the ones Browning had the Legislature elect to the board
voted together and voted and overrode any decisions made by the
Crump holdover on the election board. In appointing county
election commissions they appointed Reece Republicans and Browning
THIS IS THE ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE OF MEMPHIS STATE
UNIVERSITY. THIS PROJECT IS "THE RECENT TENNESSEE POLITICAL
HISTORY." THE INTERVIEW IS WITH MR. FRED R. TRAVIS. THE DATE IS
AUGUST 5, 1988. THE PLACE IS NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE. THE INTERVIEW
IS BY DR. CHARLES W. CRAWFORD, DIRECTOR OF THE MEMPHIS STATE
UNIVERSITY ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE. TRANSCRIBED BY BETTY
WILLIAMS. INTERVIEW II.
DR. CRAWFORD: Mr. Travis, let's talk a little more if you can
about the campaign of '48, the Kefauver campaign.
What do you know about the organization of the Kefauver campaign?
Who was in charge of it? Who did most of the work for him?
MR. TRAVIS: Charles Neese, who was a lawyer from Paris,
Tennessee ,was the campaign manager. He did a great
deal of the organization and putting the campaign together.
Kefauver had a knack for attracting people. People were
enthusiastic about him all the time. He didn't have much trouble
getting people to volunteer to work in his campaign. He attracted
a lot of young people. They were enthusiastic. They would pass
the buckets at rallies to get people to contribute money.
Kefauver admitted once in a conversation we had it was an
effort to get more people involved in the campaign. They weren't
raising much money with passing these buckets at rallies, but he
said, "Once a man donates to your campaign, he's got an investment
and he's got to protect it by getting out and helping you get
DR. CRAWFORD: I can see that, but I'm not sure that would work
under campaign disclosure laws.
MR. TRAVIS: He thought the small contributor was more likely to
do something to help win the election than some
contributors. I think he may be right.
DR. CRAWFORD: They can work as hard. What about Mr. Neese? How
do you spell his name?
MR. TRAVIS: N-E-E-S-E.
DR. CRAWFORD: He is from Paris, but lives in Nashville.
MR. TRAVIS: He served as Kefauver's administrative assistant
when Kefauver first was in the Senate. Then after
he resigned, he returned to Paris and resumed the practice of law.
Kefauver nominated him for appointment for a federal judgeship in
East Tennessee. He was confirmed and was judge at Greeneville for
He came back here to Nashville to preside over the trial of
the clemency for cash case in the Blanton administration where
they were trying Eddie Sisk and, three other people in connection
with the clemency scandal during the Blanton administration.
Neese had gone through the preliminary conf erences--pre-trial
conf erences--had established the ground rules for the trial. Late
that afternoon or early evening, he suffered a heart attack and
had to withdraw from the case. They appointed another judge to
replace him. He retired as a regular federal judge and took senior
status, as they call it. He died in 1990. He was a senior judge,
had an office in the federal courthouse, a court room and tries
some cases. He had much knowledge about the '48 campaign.
Kefauver's campaigns always looked like they were going to
fall apart and his speeches people thought would ramble on
forever. Albert Gore had a theory Kefauver was such a poor
speaker everybody in the audience felt like they had to help him
through the speech. By the time he got through the speech they
were totally sympathetic because they thought they were the ones
who enabled him to finish the speech. He was always goofing
something up like "everybody knows what I have done for the Dixon-
Yates deal" which is the thing he fought so hard to prevent
happening and in his speech he said he had done a lot for it. He
often wouldn't remember the name of the town he was in. If he
remembered it he would probably mispronounce it.
But his strong suit in politics was listening to people.
Kefauver didn't really do a lot of talking. Once I was explaining
this to somebody and trying to show how it worked. I said,
"Kefauver goes into a courthouse yard and a farmer comes up to
talk to him." I said, "He stands there and listens and if the
farmer stopped talking, he asks him a question like, 'What do you
think we ought to do about Red China?' Everybody knows what to do
about Red China. The farmer would talk another fifteen minutes
about that. He'd go home and tell his wife, 'That Senator Kefauver
is the smartest man I ever met.' He'd say, 'He was down in that
courthouse yard today and I talked to him for twenty minutes and
he's real smart.' All Kefauver had done was ask a couple of
questions." I was telling this to State Senator Doug Henry one
Doug said, "I met him one day and he asked me what to do about
Red China?" (Laughter)
DR. CRAWFORD: Is that what Doug said? (Laughter)
MR. TRAVIS: Yes. The contrary situation to that was that
Albert Gore would go down there and he'd tell this
farmer what I am doing in my bill, and what my policy is on this,
and what my committee is doing and what my committee is
considering, and wouldn't let the farmer get a word in edgewise.
The farmer would go home and say, "Senator Gore is not nearly as
smart as that Senator Kefauver."
DR. CRAWFORD: Did you travel with Estes Kefauver when he
MR. TRAVIS: I traveled with him in all of his campaigns. My
travel with him in 1948 was somewhat limited
because I had to spend so much time in Memphis covering aspects
of the story there.
In his last campaign he had the drug investigation going. I
went with him to East Tennessee. It seemed to me almost very
place we stopped, drug stores were adorned with Kefauver 's
picture and campaign posters. At quite a few places the local
druggist was his campaign manager. Tip Taylor was counting on
druggists to rise up en masse to beat Kefauver because of his
investigation of the drug industry. I finally asked somebody what
was going on with all these pharmacists supporting Kefauver. He
said, "They are pretty clever up here in East Tennessee." He
said, "They raised the price of medicines and people come in and
complain." They said, " 'It isn't me, it's those big drug
companies. That's why I am supporting Senator Kefauver. He wants
to get these drug prices down.'" (Laughter)
DR. CRAWFORD: And you really did see Kefauver photos in drug
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, and I took a picture of him and Nancy. It was
Kefauver's birthday and this was in 1960. I took
a picture of him and in front of a drug store. I think the
druggist was one of his campaign managers. I've forgotten where
it was--Dandridge or some place like that. The AP distributed the
picture. I had it developed in Johnson C ity Press and got them to
transmit it to AP in Nashville so they could retransmit it to
Chattanooga. Of course, they distributed it all over the state
and the picture was reused time and again to illustrate Kefauver's
war on drug prices. It really wasn't too good a picture. I just
shot one frame. It was a little blurry. It got a lot of use.
In another aspect of the Kefauver thing, we mentioned earlier
Crump's alliance was with Republicans in East Tennessee. Gordon
Browning and Kefauver took advantage of this too. In 1960 Carroll
Reece was almost openly supporting Kefauver for renomination in
the Democratic primary because the Republicans were in charge of
the White House. Since both Tennessee Senators were Democrats,
Reece was in charge of federal patronage in Tennessee. Many of
the appointments required confirmation by the Senate. Kefauver
realized a good thing when he saw it and would get those things
confirmed so he could put the bite on Reece for help in politics
whenever he needed it. In 1960 Tip Taylor was counting on the
East Tennessee Republicans to hate Kefauver so much they would
vote against him, but Reece had them all voting for Kefauver.
DR. CRAWFORD: So he was getting support from the Republicans in
What kind of party did he travel with? Did he have
many people with him when he went around the state?
Yes, he had a lot of young people who traveled
with him. He had quite a few people who were on
his staff in Washington who came down here. In his first
campaign — in the '43 campaign—he had his House office staff. He
may have to take them off the House payroll and put them on the
When he ran the first time, Nancy went along, carrying a
stenographer's notebook. Every time Kefauver talked to somebody
she'd get the name and address and write it in this notebook.
Then Kefauver would send them a letter saying he was glad to have
seen them in Fayetteville , Shelbyville or wherever. He would build
his campaign that way. Kefauver was a tireless worker. He was
almost cruel to his staff. He had insomnia. He couldn't sleep
so he would work and he wanted everyone else to work too.
He had this way of leaning on everybody. Nancy would say
he would be getting dressed and he'd say, "Nancy, where are my
shoes? Nancy, where is my shirt? Nancy, where is that tie I am
going to wear?" Then, when he got everything together and
dressed, he'd looked at her and say, "Well, why aren't you
dressed? It's time to go?"
She'd say, "How could I get dressed? I've been waiting on
He was that way when he was Commissioner of Finance and
Taxation. I talked to some of the people who worked for him.
Maxine Syerson who was then secretary to the Commissioner. She
had been secretary when Kefauver was there. She said Kefauver
would keep them there till midnight if he had something he wanted
done. He didn't want to go to bed. He'd probably have a few
snorts and they'd just keep right on working. He was the same way
campaigning. He campaigned tirelessly. I think that contributed
to his death. He abused himself by drinking, smoking and had a
lot of women.
DR. CRAWFORD: I had heard that. Do you know if he wrote many
letters after these stops? Was this a routine
thing to write back to people he had met?
MR. TRAVIS: Oh, they did it en masse. I guess most of them were
form letters. They probably had a sample form
letter. One was mailed to Albert Gore. Somebody had put Albert
Gore's name on the list--old Albert, that is--when Kefauver was
campaigning in Carthage. He'd met Gore and Gore's name turned up
on the list. Of course, they were both in Congress and Gore got a
letter from Kefauver saying, "Glad to have become acquainted with
you during my visit to Carthage." (Laughter) "Hope you will help
my campaign." Of course, Gore wanted to run for the Senate, but
didn't quite have courage to take on the Crump organization.
Kefauver was more daring.
Gore said he thought it better for Kefauver to run than for
him. So he waited four years and then ran against McKellar, and
DR. CRAWFORD: 3y that time was McKellar in his eighties?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, he was senile. He was just out of it. [
covered the opening of his campaign in '52 at
Cookeville. It was a scorching hot day. I think it was in June.
The old man had his tie and coat on and he got up to speak. His
delivery wasn't too bad, but the heat and strain obviously was
getting to him. I remember he reached for a glass of water and
got it up, but his hands shook so he couldn't get it to his mouth.
It was very touching.
DR. CRAWFORD: Was that late in life?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, I would have to look and see how old McKellar
was then in '52. But he was up in his eighties.
He had gotten so senile he often when presiding over the Senate,
he didn't know what was going on, didn't know who was speaking,
and had to have somebody there to prompt him. When he came down
here for that opening of that campaign, I think it was on late one
evening. His headquarters was in the Hermitage Hotel. I went
there and was introduced to him. His southern customs were deeply
ingrained: he stood up to shake hands, but he didn't stay after
the campaign opening. He went back to Washington and others took
over and ran the campaign.
Of course, he lost and Crump had warned him he would lose.
He tried to persuade him not to run, and told him he wouldn't be
able to do it again, but McKellar ran anyway. As Lucius Burch
once said, "Very few politicians die in office and none ever
resign . "
DR. CRAWFORD: It is hard to be objective about whether or not to
MR. TRAVIS: Yes. A few of them are finally deciding it is
better to give up than to stick around too long and
have somebody defeat you.
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you suppose that Estes Kefauver ever thought
about retiring from politics?
MR. TRAVIS: No, he never gave that impression and he never gave
up hope of being president. Some of the people
who worked in his campaign in 1960 said they had a hell of a time
trying to keep him from going to Los Angeles in the hope that
lightning would strike even yet. They persuaded him that he had
to stay in Tennessee and run his campaign for reelection. That
was of more immediate importance and he didn't really have a
chance of being the presidential nominee and should stay in
Tennessee and run his campaign. He did, but they said it was a
hell of struggle to get him to do it.
I think his enthusiasm for politics never went out until his
health deteriorated to the point where he was having an awfully
hard time. His energy was sagging and I guess he had that trouble
with his aorta putting a burden on him. Of course, he should have
been in the hospital months earlier. Those things are hard to
find. I know some doctors can catch them pretty quickly, but
others are too late. Once it ruptures even if the doctor is
standing there with scalpel in hand there's nothing he can do
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, they weren't prepared to operate then, were
MR. TRAVIS: They didn't operate because they were trying to get
his blood pressure down. He had extremely high
blood pressure when he gob to the hospital. The doctors felt it
was impossible to operate on him in that condition. While they
were trying to get his blood pressure down, the aorta ruptured and
that was the end of it.
DR. CRAWFORD: Of course, alcohol is bad for blood pressure and
then he had probably been driving himself for a
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, as I say he had an insomnia problem. He not
only drove himself he drove everybody else. No wonder
he had to have so many young people around him. Nobody else could
have stood it.
DR. CRAWFORD: What kind of organization did he build up?
MR. TRAVIS: It was mainly a personal following. It was unlike
the Crump organization which was meticulously put
together. Of course, key people in key places in both the
Democratic party and local political organizations—Hillary House,
mayor of Nashville, and Wiley Couch, the county judge of Hamilton
County, Birch Biggs in Polk County and the Paul Cantrell-Pat
Mansfield organization there in Athens. I never knew that the
Crump organization had any particular strong ties in Knoxville,
but they did have this working agreement with Thad Cox, who was a
prominent lawyer in Johnson City and was very influential in
Democratic politics in upper East Tennessee and then they had that
understanding that always existed between the Republicans in East
Tennessee and Crump. Since he tolerated and even protected the
Republican party in exchange for help when he needed it to win a
The Republican party wasn't a threat to the Democratic party
in those years.
DR. CRAWFORD: No one assumed the Republican party could win any
statewide elections then. What about the Birch
Biggs organization in Polk county? How did that operate?
MR. TRAVIS: Well, Birch came to the Legislature and I don't
know whether he had been elected sheriff or whether
he was planning to run for sheriff but he was sheriff over there
off and on. He had his two sons. He'd serve the maximum six-
year term as sheriff and then one of his sons would serve and then
Birch would come back and serve six more years and the other son
would serve. So it went on like that. He got the Legislature to
pass a bill saying a county with one jail and two courthouses--
Polk county had a courthouse at Copper Hill which is over the
mountain from Benton, the county seat-- the sheriff would be paid
ten cents a mile for transporting each prisoner from the county
jail to the courthouse.
Then he got himself a school bus and he was hauling these
prisoners out of the jail thirty or forty at a time at ten cents a
mile for each one over that mountain to Copperhill about thirty
miles, as I recall. The trip to Copper Hill was over some of the
worst roads and the poorest land you ever saw. It was the most
desolate part of the state.
Hauling prisoners was Bigg's graft or his way of robbing the
county. He was making a lot of money out of it. He was
converting it to his personal and political use. His story, I
suppose, is true. The old man tnay have been crooked in politics,
but he was strait-laced moralist. He had one of his sons over
here--I can't remember his name — but he came over here as a
sergeant at arms in the Legislature. He was staying here on the
weekends , playing poker with some of his buddies and drinking and
The old man got concerned about that , according to the story
I heard. He came over here one Saturday, went to the Andrew
Jackson Hotel, where his son was staying, and went up there got a
key, opened the door to the room and walked into this poker party.
He went over, caught his son by the ear and said, "Come on, Son,
let's go home. Your family needs to see you ." (Laughter ) He led
his son right oat by the ear. (Laughter)
There was a big movement over there to get rid of him. They
finally overthrew him.
There was another political boss in that part of the state
and his name was Walter White, who was the Rhea County School
Superintendent. He would get himself elected to the Legislature
and pass a local bill so he would be the school superintendent for
Rhea County. He didn't have a college degree and I think he
didn't have a great deal of education. By all the standards that
the state established for superintendents, he failed to qualify,
but he repeatedly changed the law to make an exception in his
case. He supported the Crump organization. He could deliver the
vote in Rhea county.
Of course, then there was Howard Warf in Lewis County-- a
small county--but on election day he would turn out the vote and
the vote would come in more one sided than it did in Shelby
County. It would be 2010 votes for Warf's candidate and 50 for
DR. CRAWFORD: Now, did Mr. Warf cooperate with Mr. Crump?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, he always supported the Crump candidates for
governor and other state-wide elective offices. To
my knowledge I don't ever remember anything different. He is
still around. He's in his seventies. He may be be a good source
to talk to. Very thorough!
One day when Clement was running for governor, I think this
was in '52. I'm not sure it may have been in one of the other
races. The last speech he was to make that day was at
Hohenwald, the county seat of Lewis County. It was going to be
out at the football field. I got there a bit early. The crowd
hadn't begun to show up yet; just a few people scattered around.
A carpenter was there working on a stand from which Clement was to
speak. I was talking to the carpenter, making conversation
"You built all this stand? What are you going to do if it
rains?" I asked.
He said, "Mr. Warf had me build another one just like it in
the gymnasium." (laughter)
DR. CRAWFORD: Now that is thorough! (Laughter)
MR. TRAVIS: He was very thorough and very knowledgeable about
things. When he ran the Education Department he
ran it from stem to stern. When Dunn became governor, he
replaced Warf with Stimbert,the Memphis school superintendent, who
thought people in the department ought bo manage their own
division or office. But Warf had so regimented them, they didn't
know what to do.
Finally Dunn fired Stimbert and appointed a new
DR. CRAWFORD: I remember E.C. Stimbert did not last very long.
MR. TRAVIS: No, there were other differences between them too.
Anyway, after Warf had regimented the Education
Department for eight years it was difficult to turn it around.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, Lewis County was not a large one and McMinn
County was not, Polk County was not but if you add
them together, with others around, you put them together with
Shelby, you have got a lot of political power in the state.
MR. TRAVIS: Nashville with Hillary House and the city machine
here and then County Judge Wiley Couch was a power
in Hamilton County. He knew how to get it done.
DR. CRAWFORD: Did Wiley Couch work with Mr. Crump too?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes.
DR. CRAWFORD: How long did Hillary House continue to be active
MR. TRAVIS: I don't know. He had been out of the mayor's
office some time when I came here in 1946. It
seems like it may have been several years since he had been mayor.
Tom Cummings was mayor then. After House, Crump never did have
any really strong ties with an organization here. Although I
think Davidson County usually went along with Crump in the
DR. CRAWFORD: The Ten ne ssean usually opposed him, didn't it?
MR. TRAVIS: The Tenn essean — Silliman Evans, Sr.--who was the
publisher of The Tennes sean . I don't remember all
the details. Charlie Nash, who was assistant commissioner of
institutions when I came here. Charlie said that Crump and Evans
had worked the same side of the street in beating Gordon Browning.
The T ennessean just chewed Browning up one side and down the
other. They accused him of allowing overweight trucks to destroy
the highways and then when I mentioned this trailer that Browning
had, The Ten nessean took off on that. This plush trailer which
had been presented him had belonged to Huey Long and of course,
The Tennessean would ride that every day. The trailer was so big
and cumbersome they had a Buick roadster and put something on the
back of it— a kingpin on it--the trailer had to ride on this
kingpin that was inserted up through the trunk of this Buick
roadster. Then they hired somebody from Georgia to drive the
thing. The Tennessean went into vibrations about having to go to
Georgia to hire a man to drive the Governor in his campaign when
you got all these people in Tennessee needing employment. They
worked him over.
DR. CRAWFORD: What year and what campaign was that?
MR. TRAVIS: That was in '38. Browning had written letters and
The Ten nessean had them. They blasted him and
Crump was blasting him with those ads — you know about "27 pictures
of Judas Iscariot in the art galleries of Paris--none of them look
alike, but all look like Gordon Browning."
DR. CRAWFORD: What were the letters that Gordon Browning had
written? What were the nature of them?
MR. TRAVIS: Browning had written a letter to somebody in Rhea
County as I remember it. This man had a complaint.
Browning had gotten the Legislature to pass a law that a person on
welfare who owned any property had to sign over that property to
the state at the welfare recipient's death. It had some merits.
Instead of rewarding the man's heirs with a piece of clear real
estate when the state had supported him because the children
wouldn't. Yet they would inherit his property. Anyway, this
fellow wrote Browning a letter about it. Browning wrote him back
a very nasty letter in which he said that it was people like you -
-"dead beats"--that are causing all the trouble with welfare, or
words to that affect.
Browning had the unfortunate habit of writing letters and
saying things no politician should ever say except on a telephone
or in person and then deny it if somebody claimed he had said it.
DR. CRAWFORD: Historians continue and letters stay around.
MR. TRAVIS: They dug up all kinds of letters on him. They used
them. Crump and Evans fell out in 19^0 about the
Democratic Convention. Silliman Evans wanted to be a delegate
a delegate-at-large but there was no vacancy. Crump gave up his
place as a delegate and let Silliman Evans be designated to
replace him. Silliman was one of these big spenders and so when
the delegates arrived in Chicago, he threw a big dinner for all the
Tennessee group and asked them to elect him chairman of the
delegation. I've forgotten how that came out. But Crump was
incensed about it. Here he had given up his seat and he said
Evans was trying to take control of the delegation. That was the
end of the political alliance between Silliman Evans [and Crump]
and pretty soon Evans was back to running editorials and stories
about the "vicious Crump political machine."
Of course, when Browning and Kefauver ran, well, The
Ten nessean beat the drum for them in an effort to break up the
DR. CRAWFORD: I think Mr. Crump was calling him Silly Man Evans.
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, he called him Silly Man Evans.
DR. CRAWFORD: Was The T ennessean active in recruiting Gordon
Browning to run in '48--getting back from Europe?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, in '46 Joe Hatcher went to Europe. They tried
to run a campaign in absentia. Joe stayed in
Germany, where Lt . Colonel Browning was an officer in the Allied
Military Government, for several weeks. He wrote stories about
what a great job Browning was doing in the military government in
Germany. Hatcher told how much Browning wanted to come home and
run and they qualified him. The candidate didn't have to sign a
qualifying petition then. If you had 25 names of qualified voters
on it that was all you needed. They qualified him and got his
name on the ballot and then he made a pretty good showing. The
Tennes sean stirred up a lot of anti-Crump sentiment which wasn't
too hard to do. Browning received 120,535 (38.5%) to 187,119 for
McCord. Browning claimed the vote was a draft for him to run in
1948 after he came back from Europe. He said he "hit the ground
running" and people had shown so much confidence in him by voting
for him when he was still in the Army he was really going to make
a race out of it.
DR. CRAWFORD: He capitalized on the anti-Crump feeling around the
state , didn ' t he?
MR. TRAVIS: He capitalized on the anti-Crump feeling and on the
sales tax thing. He had a lot of stories. I guess
you have heard those about Willy Gerber and Crump out in the
cemetery at night. Willy would kneel down with a flashlight and
look at the name on the [tombstone]. "Mr. Crump, I am having
trouble. I can't read this name." Crump would say, "Willy,
you've got to read that name. We are going to have an honest
election . "
DR. CRAWFORD: Copying names in the cemetery to vote.
MR. TRAVIS: Yes. That's what Browning said.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, Will Gerber was not popular with a lot of
people by that time.
MR. TRAVIS: No, he was not. He was extremely unpopular.
Gerber was worse than Prentice Cooper. He could
commit assault and battery (Laughter) by just speaking to you. He
didn't have to shake hands with you. (Laughter)
DR. CRAWFORD: What was it that Gordon Browning said about him in
that campaign? "That if elected. . ."
MR. TRAVIS: "If I'm elected Governor and Willy Gerber comes to
the capitol, I'll personally kick him down the
steps." And the crowd went wild.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, he was elected.
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, and Gerber never came to the capitol again.
DR. CRAWFORD: He had been at the capitol often before, hadn't he?
MR. TRAVIS: Oh yes, he was there especially when the
legislature was in session. He was the head honcho
in executing Crump's orders to the delegation. As I told you in
the 19^7 session when the right to work or anti-closed shop bill
came up the delegation split and Gerber stood at the back of the
House and watched while the roll was called. It was an oral roll
call. T.Robert Acklen was the first name in the Shelby delegation
and was first on the roll call. They called that name and he voted
against the right to work law and the next one voted for it and
the next one, Charles Black, voted for it and right on down the
line. There were eight House members and they voted four to four-
-four for it and four against it.
DR. CRAWFORD: Split the vote — divided the vote.
MR. TRAVIS: Divided the vote-~equally . They couldn't accuse
Crump of being anti-union.
Of course, you had a different situation in the Senate where
Perry Pipkin was one of the Shelby County senators and Blanchard
Tual was another one. Harry Scruggs was the name of the third
one. As a lawyer he had represented some labor unions and so he
took the position of opposing the bill and when the roll call came
he voted against it. The other two voted for it. They couldn't
get an absolute split on that. They went one step further against
the bill by having this senator who had ties with the labor union
make a vigorous speech about why this wasn't a very good idea.
I don't recall Pipkin or Tual speaking although they may
have. Browning was a very colorful politician. It is a shame
that his biographer and Clement's biographer didn't catch any of
the color of the people they were writing about.
DR. CRAWFORD: I think so often that is missing from the
historical accounts. People tell you about it but
so often it doesn't get in the written accounts.
MR. TRAVIS: Browning was quite a phrase maker. In the '43 cam-
paign he said in addition to the sales tax, McCord
had increased the state debt with bond issues. With World War II
over there was a great deal of need for construction in the state.
Although some money had been accumulated, it wasn't nearly enough
to do things that needed to be done. We needed a tuberculosis
hospital, for example. McCord got bond authorizations to finance
these things. Browning hit him on that by saying, "McCord was
borrowing and spending money 'like a newly rich wastrel heir.'"
They had that refinancing law--the Tennessee Debt Refinancing
Law passed in 1937--when Browning was governor. Browning always
claimed sole credit for it although it was initiated by Hill
McAlister who got the bill or resolution through the Legislature
to bring in financial experts from New York. They addressed the
The problem was Tennessee had plenty of money to pay all its
bonds when due. But the money was in separate sinking funds and,
although the total was enough to pay the bonds, some sinking
funds had more than enough to pay the bond issue they were pledged
to and others didn't have enough because of the way the taxes were
apportioned among these sinking funds. The experts--Tabor and
Tabor, New York--draf ted a plan to consolidate the bonds and pool
all the sinking fund money and pool all the revenue for the
sinking fund and issue only one kind of bond--not issue one kind
of bonds for highway, or school bonds or other kinds of bonds but
issue consolidated bonds. The sinking fund was together and all
bond issues were together.
Browning charged McCord, spending money "like a newly rich
wastrel heir," had violated principles of the refinancing act "I
passed while I was governor." McCord made some remark he couldn't
understand what Browning was talking about. Browning's reply was:
"He said he can't understand what I'm saying. All I can give him
is information. Only God can give him understanding." (Laughter)
DR. CRAWFORD: He was an interesting man.
MR. TRAVIS: Browning said, "They haven't built any roads for
the past four years and now they've got so many
survey stakes out there on the highways rabbits are knocking
themselves unconscious trying to run."
DR. CRAWFORD: He was quite a public speaker, wasn't he?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, he and Clement were both colorful. Neither
one was a great speaker in the literary sense.
They weren't Winston Churchill. Clement wasn't the phrase maker
that Browning was, but he had pretty quick wit in responding.
McCord was probably a better speaker than Browning was. He wasn't
the phrase maker that Browning was. McCord had been an
DR. CRAWFORD: Cattle auctioneer, I believe.
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, and he was more attuned to telling folksy
stories and things of that kind. Browning had a
lot of stories he'd tell, like the fictitious one about Willy
Gerber and Ed Crump in the cemetery.
DR. CRAWFORD: Very interesting and very fictitious. I'd like to
get into more of this, Mr. Travis. Our tape is up
in about a minute. So we will stop here.
THIS IS THE ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE OF MEMPHIS STATE
UNIVERSITY. THE PROJECT IS "RECENT TENNESSEE POLITICAL HISTORY."
THE DATE IS MAY 26, 1989. THE PLACE IS NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE. THE
INTERVIEW IS WITH MR. FRED R. TRAVIS. THE INTERVIEW IS BY DR.
CHARLES W. CRAWFORD, DIRECTOR OF THE MEMPHIS STATE UNIVERSITY ORAL
HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE. TRANSCRIBED BY BETTY WILLIAMS. INTERVIEW
DR. CRAWFORD: Let's ask about the 1936 gubernatorial election
first, Mr. Travis, and your recollections of it.
MR. TRAVIS: In the 1936 election the Crump organization was
still the most powerful in the state although
Browning had by tradition belonged to what had been a rival
political oraganization headed by Colonel Luke Lea, publisher of
Nashville Tennessean up until it went into bankruptcy in 1930.
After it came out of bankruptcy it was taken over by Silliman
Evans, who bought it and became the publisher. In 1936 Crump
announced he was going to support Gordon Browning for governor,
which was a departure from the Crump tradition. Senator McKellar,
who was also a part of the Crump organization, refused to go along
and he endorsed Burgin Dossett. As a matter of fact, McKellar
made his endorsement before Crump made his. Most of the members
of the Crump political organization over the state were wearing
Dossett buttons. Dossett was a very attractive candidate and so
was Browning, who was a very colorful candidate. The prevalence
of the belief that Crump would go along with McKellar in endorsing
Dossett was so great that Hilton Butler, Nashville correspondent
for The Commercial Appeal speaking of the meeting of the
Democratic Executive Committee being held at the Capitol in the
Senate Chamber, I suppose, said all the members showed up with
Dossett buttons on their lapel. This was while the meeting was in
progress, according to what Hilton told me one time.
DR. CRAWFORD: That was Hilton Butler?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, Hilton Butler told me while the meeting was in
progress, word was received Crump was endorsing
Browning. And Hilton said, "The Dossett buttons bouncing off the
floor sounded like a hail storm had broken out inside the Senate
Chamber." (Laughter) Everybody rushed out to get a Browning
button to put it in their lapel. Of course, Browning won easily.
Browning sent that famous telegram to Crump saying, "Sixty
thousand reasons why I love Shelby County." It was the majority
by which he carried Shelby County and he sent Crump this telegram
which was to come back to haunt him later.
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you have any idea, sir, why Mr. Crump supported
Browning and why he overruled the previous decision
of Senator Kenneth McKellar?
MR. TRAVIS: I don't know. I don't recall what the explanation
for it was he decided to object to McKellar 's
endorsement of Dossett. Another thing that made it so much out of
character was Crump had bitterly opposed Lewis Pope when Pope ran
for governor and lost the Democratic primary because of Shelby
County. Pope ran as an independent and lost in the general
election to Hill McAlister. Lewis Pope was top political advisor
to Gordon Browning and another thing which made it so much out of
character for Crump to endorse Browning. The rupture between them
came not long after Browning became governor. Browning had the
Legislature create a delinquent tax attorney's office to collect
taxes owed to the state. It was to get a commission on the amount
of money collected and he appointed Lewis Pope the Delinquent Tax
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you know why he appointed him?
MR. TRAVIS: Well, I suppose because Pope was a lawyer here in
Nashville and wanted a job and Pope was one of the
closest friends and supporters Browning had. At the time I was
city editor of the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro which was
published by E.W. Carmack Jr., the son of the prohibition leader,
whose statue stands over the tunnel at the entrance to the
Capitol. The Legislature, perhaps for the first time or it may
have happened before — I am not sure--met in December 1936 before
the governor-elect was inaugurated in January. The reason for it
was Congress, at President Roosevelt's request, passed the
Employment Security Act and the Social Security Act. For the
state to take advantage of these new laws, it had to set up a
state program to participate in the Social Security Program and
also in the Employment Security program which is unemployment
compensation for those who lose their jobs. The Legislature met
in December so legislation could be passed and signed by Governor
McAlister before the deadline expired on December 31st.
Carmack was also a Browning admirer and was a close friend of
Lewis Pope. They sent me to Nashville for the organizational
session of the Legislature in December. Carmack insisted I go
interview Lewis Pope. I went to his office which I recall was
on Fourth Avenue. Pope explained to me, although the Legislature
was meeting with McAlister still as Governor and McAlister was
going to approve its legislative acts, Browning was going to be in
control of the Legislature and Browning's candidates for speaker
of the Senate and House would be elected without serious contest,
which is what happened.
So Browning had full charge of the Legislature. McAlister in
1935 had authorized a commission to reorganize the state's
financial structure and devise a management plan for the state's
debt. The problem was the state had issued bonds for numerous
projects and had set up a separate sinking fund for each bond
issue. The result was some sinking funds had more money than was
needed to pay the interest and maturities on the debt and others
didn't have enough. So the state was defaulting on bonds not
because it didn't have enough money to pay them but because it
wasn't in the right place.
They had a New York consulting firm that was retained to
draft a plan--Tabor and Tabor. Maurice Tabor was one of the
partners in the firm and spent a good deal of time in Nashville
working on this plan. They adopted an executive budget which
meant a general appropriations bill conforming to the Governor's
budget and presented to the Legislature. Then they consolidated
all the bond issues into consolidated bonds and consolidated all
the sinking funds and pledged all the sinking funds money to all
the bonds. That way the bonds regained their validity and the
state regained its credit rating.
DR. CRAWFORD: Which was much needed I suppose in Depression
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, up to that point the Legislature had written
the General Appropriations Bill and also had
written a new tax law every two years to provide the money to
support the Appropriations Bill. Under this new arrangement,
there was a permanent tax code which made the taxes permanent and
then the Governor's budget was permanent and he had the power to
impound parts of appropriations if the revenues were insufficient
to support them. By gaining control over the budget procedure
the Governor gained complete control over the Legislature and also
over the state government.
There was a reorganization bill that was passed while
Browning was Governor and it set up a Department of Administration
which had the office of the Budget Director and the office of the
Accounts Director and this Department of Administration had
several others, including purchasing. I think there were five
agencies grouped in that department. I've forgotten who Browning
appointed commissioner for that department, but he became a source
of controversy. Then the selection of Pope as the Delinquent Tax
Attorney really angered Crump greatly. Crump thought the fee was
outragous. I've forgotten what it was. I think Pope stood to
make about $75,000 in commissions on these delinquent taxes in
a year or two. Crump criticized it very severely. After all
$75,000 was a heck of a lot of money in 1937.
That became a source of friction between Crump and Browning.
Browning claimed Crump was trying to dictate to him what to do.
Gordon Browning said he wasn't going to accept any dictation from
Crump. So then the contest began to heat up sharply. The
Tenn essean which had joined Crump in supporting Browning for
governor took out after him.
DR. CRAWFORD: After Crump?
MR. TRAVIS: No, after Browning. There was a lot of
controversy about truck weights and The Ten nessean
began running a series of articles about violations of the truck
weight law and damages being done to the highway by overloaded
trucks and blaming it on the Browning Administration. As the
program provided that revenues weren't sufficient to spend all the
money the Legislature appropriated , then Browning would impound it.
Although he wasn't actually impounding any money, he was just
impounding the unfunded part of the appropriation.
Crump and The T ennessean made this to appear Browning was
withholding money for the welfare program and various other things
that were geared to the hearts of a great number of voters. They
painted Browning as a pretty black character. So Browning decided
the solution to his growing political problems because of his loss
of the support of the Crump organization was to curtail power of
the Crump organization. He called a series of special sessions of
the Legislature. One passed a County Unit Bill similar to the
primary voting process in Georgia in which each county was
allotted so many unit votes. Regardless of what majority of the
popular vote a candidate received in that county, he only got that
county's unit vote. I think the Shelby County vote was something
like six out of the total and every county got, I believe, at
least two votes. This would have meant the Crump organization was
emasculated. Whatever the popular majority Crump could have
amassed was good only for six votes out of the total. That was
not enough to have much influence on the outcome of the Democratic
DR. CRAWFORD: That would have been tremendously effective because
I believe Shelby County had something close to 20%
of the state population then. With the Crump Machine the
percentage of voting there was extremely high.
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, it sure was. That was back in the days of
poll tax and Crump had allied himself with the
various other political organizations across the state including
the Republicans in East Tennessee. He had also made the Blacks in
Shelby County become voters and to vote for the Crump candidate.
He had a real organization down there.
The Legislature passed some other acts including one giving
the Governor the power to pack the State Election Commission by
increasing its membership. So then they were going to require, I
believe, if I recall, re-registration of all voters to purge voter
registration books. Back then they didn't have permanent
registration, everybody had to register to vote every two years or
some time during the two year interval if they wanted to vote.
That expired with the end of that two-year period. Then they
started the process over.
Browning got this law passed to purge the voting registration
rolls. It too was aimed at the Crump organization. They were
going to purge registration rolls in Shelby and other counties
where Crump anti-Browning influence was strong.
Then he was going to call out the National Guard to police
the holding of the primary. The Crump organization appealled to a
federal judge in Shelby County who issued an injunction against
Browning using the National Guard and also nullified the county
In one of those sessions interestingly enough, Crump raised
the issue members of the Legislature had been appointed to jobs in
the Executive Branch in violation of the constitution. I think
there were about eight or maybe ten members of the Legislature who
after the regular session of the Legislature had adjourned had
been appointed to jobs in the Executive Branch of the government.
This was patently a violation of the constitution. But Browning
persuaded Nat Tipton, who was an assistant state attorney general,
to give him an opinion these weren't actually executive
appointments since the appointments had been made by the
Commissioners and been processed through the Personnel Department.
Therefore, it wasn't a part of the Executive Branch of the state
government which was an opinion which bore very little
relationship to facts of the constitution or the facts of law.
DR. CRAWFORD: That sort of invited a state appeal to the courts,
MR. TRAVIS: What the Crump organization did was each day the
Legislature would meet in one of these special
sessions, they would object to these members who had accepted
executive jobs from participating in the voting. Of course, the
Legislature ignored these protests. The practice of the Governor
appointing members of the Legislature continued for many years
until finally the opinion of the Attorney General's office was
reversed, and that was much later.
The thing (controversy) became terribly bitter. One of the
leaders in that fight against the county unit bill and other
punitive legislation measures which Browning obtained from the
Legislature was Prentice Cooper, who was also a veteran of World
War I. He was in the Senate. I think it was the first time he
had served in the Legislature. He became very prominent as the
leader in the Senate of the Anti-Browning forces.
Not long after the legislation was over and the date for the
primary and qualifying candidates for the primary, Cooper walked
into The Te nn essean office. Joe Hatcher was City Editor and had
been chief political writer for The Tenne ssea n for many years.
He knew Cooper very well. Cooper walked in and asked Hatcher if
he could use a typewriter. Joe said, "Yes, you may."
Cooper went over and sat down at the typewriter, put a piece
of paper in it and pecked out a statement announcing his candidacy
for the Democratic nomination for governor. He handed it to Joe
(laughter), who was totally surprised.
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you know if Prentice Cooper had talked with
Mr. Crump about that?
MR. TRAVIS: I don't know. I would suppose he had. I imagine
being allied in that fight against Browning that
they had become well acquainted with each other and that there had
been some contact. I don't know whether Crump encouraged him to
run or whether he usurped the position by announcing and then
Crump had to join up. I don't know which had happened in that
case. I wasn't devoting that much time to covering politics.
Cooper was a very aggressive type. He was a short man—about
five feet seven, I guess, or something like that. He was a poor
speaker. The Crump candidate against George Berry — Nathan Bachman
had died and Browning had appointed Berry— who was head of the
Pressman's Union from Pressman's Home in East Tennessee to the
U.S. Senate to serve till the next election. That's as long as
the Governor of Tennessee can make an appointment to an elective
office. Tom Stewart, who was the District Attorney in Southeast
Tennessee and had been the nominal prosecutor in the Scopes Case
(The Monkey Trial) in 1925, was chosen to be the Crump candidate
for the U.S. Senate against George Berry. Stewart was a poor
speaker and not very energetic as a candidate. So then it was a
county judge in Montgomery County, Pete Hudson, who was chosen to
be the candidate for the Public Service Commission. He became the
orator for the ticket. And for the first time they had what was
known as the Crump ticket which was three candidates— one for
governor, one for U.S. Senate and one for Public Service
DR. CRAWFORD: Hudson and Stewart and Cooper.
MR. TRAVIS: It was known as the Cooper/Stewart/Hudson Ticket.
Cooper and Stewart would make short speeches. Then
Hudson would come on as the orator to build the enthusiasm of the
crowd. The Triple Member Ticket won the primary. Browning didn't
make any effort to run as an independent. He gave up and let
Cooper become Governor. But he had his farewell at the inaugural
in which he delivered his farewell address in this very
vitriolic, vituperative speech which is in the Senate and House
Journal so there is no need to go into that.
DR. CRAWFORD: What do you remember about that farewell address
though? What are the highlights you remember?
MR. TRAVIS: Well, he denounced the Crump organization. He
really painted them as dishonest and dictatorial
and said everything mean he could think of to say about them.
Browning had a talent for saying mean things in very colorful
language. I've read it once or twice, but I wouldn't want to try
to recite any of it since it is in the published record. Cooper
was a very forceful and dedicated governor. He treated the
state's money like it was his own. He was known to be tight-
fisted with his own money and he turned out to be tight-fisted
with the state's money. He was a dedicated public servant.
The war in Europe began. The next year Roosevelt asked
Congress to establish the draft. This meant that he had to
establish a selective service system. They didn't want to use the
term "draft" and they called it Selective Service. They had an
embryonic organization in each state that had been established by
the federal government—reserve or National Guard officers who had
been assigned to draw up plans for the Selective Service System in
the states. They had a colonel in the Army Reserve whose name was
John B. Elliott, who had been designated as the acting Director of
Selective Service for Tennessee. He went all over the state
contacting prominent people to serve on Selective Service Boards.
They had to have at least one board for each county and a larger
county would have to have several boards. He drew up a list of
boards that were to have three members, and the people he thought
best qualified to serve on each board.
When the Selective Service law was passed, the boards had to
be appointed by the President bat nominated by the Governor of
each state. So Cooper asked Colonel Elliott for the list of
people that he thought should serve on the boards. Cooper went
over it very carefully and discarded some of them that he didn't
like and put other people on there that he wanted. I think he
spent two or three days on the telephone calling each one of these
people and personally asking them to serve on the Selective
Service Board. He was very effective at that sort of thing.
As the war deepened things for which the state could spend
money was limited. Cooper was careful to see what money was
spent was spent usefully instead of being wasted. He undid a lot
of the things that Browning did. He abolished the Department of
Administration and made the Budget Director and Director of
Accounts a part of the Governor's office. The Safety Department
which had been a department in administration was set up as a
separate unit of state government. It wasn't a cabinet ranked
department. Hilton Butler was appointed by Cooper to be the
Director of Safety. It wasn't a commissioner's job then, it was
Director of Safety. Butler ran that department for some time in
the role of a director.
That continued until Cooper wanted to use the Highway Patrol
to enforce the prohibition law and stop the sale of liquor along
the highways. Butler thought the Highway Patrol should be used
for highway traffic enforcement and safety. He objected but he
managed to avoid offending Cooper. He ignored Cooper's wishes and
didn't pursue the illegal whisky business very seriously.
DR. CRAWFORD: What was Hilton Butler's background, sir?
MR. TRAVIS: Hilton had been from Mississippi and he had gone to
work for T he Commerci al Appeal when Colonel Hammond
was publisher. That was after when The Commercial Appeal was then
the The Comm erci al and Eve ning Appeal and part of the Luke Lea
organization. When The T enness ean collapsed, so did Lea's other
publications—The Commercial and Evening A ppeal in Memphis and the
Kn oxville Journal . So it went into bankruptcy. Hammond, with the
help of Scripps Howard, bought The Commercial Appeal , I suppose,
it had become by then. The Evening paper had become the Press
Sci mitar . I've forgotten the sequence of those newspaper
developments down there.
Hammond took a liking to Hilton Butler as a reporter.
Hammond enjoyed a party and decided The Commerc ial Appea l would
have a bureau in Nashville. Hilton became the first Comme rcial
Appea l resident correspondent here. Hammond used to like to come
up and visit Nashville and visit with the powers in state
government. Hilton would always arrange for him to be entertained
while he was in Nashville.
After The Commer cial App eal supported Cooper for governor
against Browning, Cooper appointed Hilton Director of Safety.
During the course of this difference between Cooper and Butler
about the use of the Highway Patrol as a general police force
against illicit whisky business, Ed Smith, who was associate
editor of the News Sentine l in Knoxville came to Nashville and
interviewed Butler about it. Butler made some very frank remarks
and one of which he said in referring to the conversion of the
Highway Patrol into a state police force, "I ain't no policeman."
The next day the News Senti nel came out with an 8 column streamer
with black type 'I AIN'T NO POLICEMAN ' --BUTLER . Cooper fired
Butler as Safety Director, but he was so fond of Butler that he
made him his executive assistant or administrative assistant or
whatever it was then.
Of course, Butler was a very talented guy. He could write
good speeches. Cooper badly needed somebody to write speeches for
DR. CRAWFORD: May I ask you what was the position of The
Tenness ean in this. You know apparently it had
criticized Gordon Browning in his first term, but was a Browning
supporter later after World War II.
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, they supported Cooper and then they got mad at
Cooper. So then they ran Ridley Mitchell of
Cookeville who was a former member of Congress. I've forgotten.
He was from Cookeville. They ran him in the Democratic primary
against Cooper in the 19^2. Mitchell carried a good part of
Middle Tennessee which was kind of a vindication for The
T e n n e ssean. There had been a rupture between The Tenn essean and
the Crump organization. That continued, but Cooper went on for
three terms as governor. There were stories about him and there
are many, many stories about his frugality.
One of his chauffeurs, Trabue (Trib) Lewis, was on the
Highway Patrol and drove Cooper part of the time. He told me a
story about one day they were driving along and he came to a road
construction project. Cooper said, "Stop the car." Cooper looked
out and there was a man sitting on a rock fence smoking a
cigarette. People were working on the road. Cooper told Trib,
"Call that man to come over here."
The man came over to the car and Cooper said, "What is your
job on this project?"
He said, "I am superintendent."
Cooper said, "The superintendent is supposed to be up on his
feet seeing this job is done right. He is not supposed to be
sitting on a wall smoking a cigarette." You are fired."
Trib said the man sat down and cried because he didn't have a
job, you know, and jobs were scarce in 1937. He had just been
fired and he had a wife and children. He sat down and cried.
Cooper said, "Drive on."
He was very determined to get his own way about things. He
told the Highway Patrol that if they saw a state car being driven
on weekends or at ball games to take the numbers and bring them to
him. Cooper called the motor pool or whatever department the car
was assigned to and asked who had the car on that particular date.
Then he would have Jimmy Harding who had become his executive
assistant to call the employee to report to the Governor's office.
Cooper would personally demand an explanation why the state car
was being used for personal business on a weekend or at night.
If the man didn't have a good explanation, he was fired on the
DR. CRAWFORD: I suppose word got around the state very quickly.
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, and the other evidences of his frugality
lingered for a long time. When I first came here
in 19^6 Cooper had been out of office for over a year and you
could go through the state office building over here — The John
Sevier building. That was just one which incidentally, was
started when Browning was governor and they had a cornerstone in
it which had Browning's name on it as the Governor at the time of
construction. Cooper had that cornerstone taken out and had one
put in there with his name on it. (Laughter) So Cooper's name is
Cooper had a civil service system, but if some state employee
made a mistake and Cooper knew about it and it cost the state
money, Civil Service wasn't going to protect the employee because
Cooper was going to fire him without civil service proceedings.
DR. CRAWFORD: Did Governor Cooper travel around the state much?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, he traveled a great deal. Trabue Lewis told
the story about when they were going to Knoxville
or Johnson City or somewhere--and this was during war time. There
was a 30 mile per hour speed limit on all the roads to save
gasoline and tires. Trabue said he started out and he said,
"Governor, you want me to drive 35 miles per hour?"
"No," Cooper said, "we haven't got time for that. Just open
it up." Trabue didn't like to drive slowly anyway so it pleased
him to put the hammer to the floor.
DR. CRAWFORD: Is Trib Lewis still living?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, he was and I did a tape on him. I think it is
over in the state archives. In my interview with
him there were his stories about Prentice Cooper.
Jim Cummings said about Prentice Cooper, "He's the only man
I know who could commit assault and battery just by shaking hands
with you . "
Sometimes, Cooper was that abrasive.
DR. CRAWFORD: Did he have quite a temper?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, he had quite a temper. I think it was more
just cold calculation though; it wasn't the kind of
thing you think I am going to have a fight with you or something
like that. He had several encounters with reporters during press
conferences. This was while I was away in military service. They
had one reporter who was with the Associated Press and he and
Cooper got into a sharp exchange at one of the press conferences.
The reporter got up and said, "Nobody including the Governor of
Tennessee is going to talk to me that way!" and he stalked out of
the Governor's Office.
Many of the things Cooper did even though they had a mean
streak to them, they were handled in such a way they were actually
humorous. He didn't intend them to be funny, but some of them
were very, very funny.
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you remember any of them, Mr. Travis?
MR. TRAVIS: Oh, one is about George McCanless who was the
Revenue Commissioner under Cooper. Estes
Kefauver was Cooper's first Revenue Commissioner and then there
was a vacancy in the Third Congressional Seat. Kefauver resigned
to run for Congress and was elected. Cooper appointed George
McCanless a lawyer in Morristown to be the new Revenue
Commissioner—Finance and Taxation it was in those days.
McCanless said he was in Knoxville on one occasion and was at
the Andrew Johnson Hotel. He didn't know that Cooper was in town.
They happened to meet in the lobby of the Coffee Shop. Cooper
said, "I've got to go out and speak to a fraternity at University
of Tennessee at noon." He said, "Come on and go with me."
So he told J. J. Jackson, who was driving him that day. J.J.
was a sergeant on the Highway Patrol. So he told J. J. to find
out where this Sigma Chi House or whatever it was, I've forgotten
the name of the fraternity. He told him him he was to be there at
noon. So when time came to go they got in the car with Jackson
driving. They were driving out Cumberland Avneue and passing
right on through the campus. Cooper said, "Jackson, you are lost.
Turn left. You are on your way to Nashville. I told you I wanted
to go to the fraternity house at noon. You don't know where it
is, do you?"
Jackson said, "No, I haven't found out."
Cooper said, "Well, stop the car." So they stopped the car
in front of this house. According to McCanless, Cooper said, "Now
Sergeant Jackson, I want you to get out of this car and knock on
the door and a kind woman will come to the door and you tell her
that you are a sergeant on the State Highway Patrol and you are
lost and can't find the fraternity we are looking for and she'll
tell you where it is."
Well, the fraternity house was downtown. George said, just
like he said, a kind lady came to the door and Jackson explained
his predicament and she told him where the fraternity house was.
While Jackson was doing that Cooper asked McCanless, "You think
I'm pretty hard on him, don't you?"
McCanless said, "You didn't answer a question like that when
Cooper asked you. McCanless didn't say anything. (Laughter)
Cooper said, "Well, when he takes me home every night he
tells me this car has got to be worked on; when he comes to pick
me up in the morning it always has a hundred or a hundred-fifty
more miles on it." Cooper didn't take kindly to having the car
used for his chauffeur's personal business whatever it was. So
that was the end of that story.
Also the story was told — Elmer Disspayne was on the Highway
Patrol and was stationed in Nashville. That was the day when they
DR. CRAWFORD: Elmer Disspayne? Was he in the Legislature?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, he subsequently was in the Legislature. I
asked him about this and he said it really did
happen. Elmer was dating a Miss Haines who lived on a farm down
near Columbia. People back in those days in the rural areas quite
often didn't lock doors. Elmer would get on his motorcycle when
he was supposed to be patroling roads around Nashville. He'd ride
down to Columbia and go in and open the front door and walk in the
parlor and sit down and wait for this young lady to show up. I
presume Elmer made a cover story up in advance. I wouldn't think
he thought of this on such quick notice. But anyway, he opened
the front door and walked in and there was Cooper sitting there
with Miss Haines in the parlor. (Laughter)
Elmer said, "Young lady, your father at home?"
She said, "No, he has gone to town."
"Well," Elmer said, "His fence is down."
DR. CRAWFORD: Elmer Disspayne walked in Miss Haines' house to
court her himself and saw when he walked in the
Governor was sitting on the couch with her.
MR. TRAVIS: So he said, "His fence is down here on the road and
some of his cattle have gotten out on the road.
We think we have gotten them all back in the pasture, but tell him
when he comes home to get that fence fixed." Cooper said, "Now
that is the kind of men we need on the State Highway Patrol."
Elmer said, "He got out of there as fast as he could, cranked
up his motorcycle and headed back to Nashville . (Laughter )
DR. CRAWFORD: Was Cooper not married at all when he was Governor?
MR. TRAVIS: No, he wasn't married. His mother was his hostess
at the governor's mansion which was on West End
across from the Vanderbilt campus. He had a parrot and The
Tenne ssean always made fun of that parrot. Every time they would
draw a picture of Prentice Cooper in a cartoon, they would have
this parrot in it.
Cooper was the only governor in recent years who wasn't
Chairman of the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees. Most
governors held the job so regularly people think of the Governor
as an ex-officio Chairman of University of Tennessee Board of
Trustees. Cooper wouldn't let the Board elect him trustee. He
wanted his father to be Chairman of the Board. So he wouldn't let
the Trustees elect him to be the Chairman which the Board would
have done. But they elected W. P. Cooper, who was Prentice's
father and law partner in Shelbyville.
DR. CRAWFORD: His father served as Chairman of the U.T. Board.
MR. TRAVIS: Yes.
DR. CRAWFORD: What about that pet parrot that he had? What use
did the press make of that?
MR. TRAVIS: The T ennessean cartoonist would draw a picture of
the parrot saying something or Cooper saying
something to the parrot as part of the cartoon. They made the
parrot, I think, look a little bit like Cooper.
One story Trabue Lewis told me was, "Cooper on some occasion,
I guess it was Armistice Day or something, Cooper wanted to have
Alvin York who was in town out there at the mansion for lunch. So
he told Trib to go down to the Hermitage Hotel and find Alvin York
and bring him out there. Trib said, "H he didn't know Alvin
So he went down to the Hermitage Hotel and he happened to see
Jared Maddux and Jared was from the same area where York was from.
So he asked Jared to point out York to him. Jared pointed to this
guy in overalls with muddy shoes sitting on a couch in the
Hermitage lobby. Trib went over and got him and told him the
governor wanted him at the governor's mansion and drove him out
He said York immediately took over the conversation at the
Governor's mansion and spent the whole time trying to persuade
Cooper to provide more state money for the York Institute, which
was a high school in Jamestown. Cooper's tenure as Governor was
in its time a good performance because he saved a lot of money
which would have been wasted. Because the state was collecting a
lot of revenue and there weren't any materials to speak of and
there was very little that could be done in the way of
construction. All the steel and building materials were going
into wartime projects.
When Cooper left office he turned over a big general fund surplus
to Jim McCord, who succeeded him.
McCord was a very popular man. He was a Congressman. He'd
been a magistrate in Marshall County and served as mayor of
Lewisburg. I think he published a weekly paper down there. He
was an auctioneer by trade. He knew a lot of folksy stories he
used in his profession. He'd been elected to Congress and it was
an era of good feeling. There was no opposition to McCord in the
Democratic primary. I think he did have a nomninal Republican
opponent in the General Election. But Crump endorsed him and The
Ten nessean endorsed him and everybody was for him.
DR. CRAWFORD: That was a very happy time then in the election of
MR. TRAVIS: Yes.
DR. CRAWFORD: Governor Prentice Cooper, I believe, was the only
person since the Civil War to serve three
consecutive terms as governor.
MR. TRAVIS: Well, that is true. Of course, in the prevailing
political situation--he had a small electorate in
Tennessee--still had the poll tax--still had biannual
registration. I think the total vote in most of the Democratic
primaries was around 300,000. So you could win the nomination
with a comparatively small percent of the vote.
DR. CRAWFORD: Mr. Crump's machine total then would be a large
part of that, wouldn't it?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes. Crump was as much as 15 or 20 percent of the
total state vote.
DR. CRAWFORD: If you had 60,000 or probably more with city
growth, by then and you add the counties where he
had influence it would be a large part of 300,000.
MR. TRAVIS: Well, another thing that helped Cooper remain in
the governor's office was people were more
interested in the war than in state government. They just didn't
really care who was governor of Tennessee. Cooper was a good man
for the job because he was managing the thing well. He was a
terrible candidate. Probably if he had to make it on his own, he
never would have been governor the first time, but the political
situation with Browning making such a mess out of things it was
comparatively easy for Cooper to be a popular candidate even
though he wasn't a very good candidate from the standpoint of
speaking talent or personality.
DR. CRAWFORD: What about his relations with Mr. Crump? How were
they throughout his term?
MR. TRAVIS: I think they remained fairly cordial. I think
there was very little friction. And because of the
war there wasn't much to fight about, you know. If it had been
normal times, and Crump had decided Cooper wasn't building the
roads in Shelby County Crump wanted, then some friction may have
risen, but Cooper had supported legalization of liquor stores,
which Crump wanted. Also, about that time they legalized Sunday
movies which was another thing Crump wanted. So Crump had gotten
the things that he wanted. Shelby County, I suppose, was treated
as well as any other county in the state with what little
resources there were.
DR. CRAWFORD: I believe Mr. Crump made the statement to the
effect that Prentice Cooper was the best governor
Tennessee ever had.
MR. TRAVIS: He may have, as I say, given the times in which he
was Governor, for that particular time, he probably
was the best governor that Tennessee could have had. There were
probably other people who could have done as well, but they
weren't in position to get elected and Cooper had made his name
in the fights with Browning. Browning was tremendously unpopular
and so it was easy for Cooper to get elected. Cooper also had the
shortest regular session of the Legislature, I believe, that
Tennessee has ever had in 1943.
The reorganization of the state government when Browning was
governor had made the Governor totally dominant in the Legis-
lature. And the members of the Legislature didn't really care
about general legislation because most of them were elected to
enact local bills. That was what they came to the Legislature
for and sometimes the Legislature passed a thousand or more acts
which applied to one city or one county and no more than 250
general laws would be enacted. These local measures were known as
Ripper Bills; a legislator would legislate his enemies out of the
court house and city hall and legislate his friends in and you
could put those people in and you could name them in the
legislation you created for a new charter for a municipality
maybe and repealed the old charter, which had been passed by the
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you know why they were called Ripper Bills?
MR. TRAVIS: Because they took and ripped people out of office.
(Laughter) They would, of course, by repealing the
charter they abolished the office and therefore, the elected
officials were thrown out of office. Then the new officials were
named in the bill. That way the members of the Legislature
appointed the mayor and all the members of the local governing
board or appointed the County Highway Commission and a County
Highway Superintendent or others.
One member came to the Legislature from Rhea County—Walter
White, who was a Republican and a political power over there
and worked with the Crump organization. He had practically no
qualifications to be a County School Superintendent. I don't know
if he even had a college degree. But everytime they would pass
some law in the Legislature, prevent Walter White from serving as
county school superintendent in Rhea County, White would get
himself elected to the Legislature and pass a law saying the
particular law didn't apply to Rhea County and put himself back in
In 1943 they — the House and the Senate—each had an enrolled
bills committee. The Chairman of it usually was paid a bonus of
$750.00 or something for his services during the session. The
purpose of this committee was — which was totally unnecessary-- was
to certify the bills sent to the Governor for his signature was
the bill passed by the House and passed by the Senate. Of course,
that is done by the Speakers of the House and Senate when they
signed the bill they certified it was a bill passed by the two
But Cooper controlled these enroll Committees and all the
local bills passed went to the enroll bills Committee and none
were sent to the Governor.
Finally, some members of the Legislature got enough courage
to ask Prentice Cooper what was happening to their local bills
since they had passed them and the copies signed by the Governor
weren't showing up. Cooper said, "When you pass my program and a
sine die adjournment resolution, I'll sign your local bills."
DR. CRAWFORD: He was holding them.
MR. TRAVIS: Yes. So they rushed back and spread the word in
the House and the Senate Cooper was not going to
sign any local bills until he could get his program and
appropriation bill passed and a sine die adjournment resolution.
They concluded the session in 42 days. When there was a sine die
resolution in place Cooper told the Enrolled Bills Committee to
send him the local bills. The Legislature then had to remain in
session until all bills were signed otherwise they would end up
with a pocket veto if the Governor didn't sign it before the
The Ripper Bill thing became so bad and acquired such a bad
reputation and became so repulsive one of the main purposes of
1953 Constitutional Convention was to do away with Ripper Bills,
which they did. So since then the Legislature has devoted more
attention to General laws and less to enacting laws to put people
out of office and other people in local governments.
DR. CRAWFORD: That has given the Legislature more influence in
state-wide policy, hasn't it?
MR. TRAVIS: Well, yes, it did although the Legislature's real
influence came later when it declared its
independence from the executive branch. McCord had more
opposition when he ran for reelection in 19-46, but he was
renominated. A great many problems had remained unsolved during
the war years and had accumulated, the teacher's salaries were
frozen and there was a big dispute over the poll tax. McCord was
trying to solve some of these problems because teachers had begun
to strike because teacher's salaries hadn't been increased for
several years. And the Depression and pre-war standards which the
salaries had been set with were found intolerable by a lot of
school teachers. They were having problems all over the state.
McCord had set up two commissions--one was the Constitutional
Revision Commission to study means by which the Constitution could
be modernized without having a general constitutional convention.
They just selected parts of the Constitution. This commission
drew up a list, as I recall, of eight amendments which the
Constitution needed to make it more flexible and meet more modern
The other commission was to study revenue sources and to find
new revenue sources because the state revenue from the property
tax which had been reduced by the local governments cutting back
on property assessments and the state tax had to be uniform
throughout the state. I think at the time it was eight cents per
100 or something like that.
Anyway the local governments could undermine state revenue by
cutting assessments and raising their tax rate. So some counties
had assessments which were about 10 or 12 percent of the actual
value of the property but they had a tax rate that might be $8.50
per 100 or something like that. It would be way up there. The
property tax had become totally undependable as a source of
The Tax Study Commission came up with a number of suggestions
and one of them which was that Tennessee which had privately owned
liquor stores could convert to state-owned liquor stores so the
state could get more revenue from liquor. McCord subsequently
said he was prepared to go to the mat with the liquor store
owners—but he could persuade the Legislature to override their
objections to their business being taken over by the state. He
said he had trouble with the owners of the property--
prohibitionists and Baptists who owned property where the stores
were and they didn't want to give up what they were getting out of
it. McCord said he couldn't overcome them, but he couldn't
blackjack them with his legislative actions so he had to give up.
Then he decided the only course was to have the sales tax.
He went to Memphis and asked Mr. Crump about sales tax. Crump
told him no governor who sponsored a state sales tax has been
reelected in the United States. He said, "You are probably going
to be defeated if you sponsor a state sales tax." But Crump said,
"I won't oppose it." McCord came back and proposed a two cent
He said it would produce about $20,000,000 a year. The rural
block teamed up to raise that rate to three percent and to
apportion one cent of the sales tax to the counties for school
purposes on the same basis as the gasoline tax is apportioned,
which is half the money is divided equally among all counties and
the other half is apportioned on the basis of area and population.
They wanted to use the same formula which would have provided an
enormous subsidy for education in the rural counties--one cent of
the three cent sales tax and one cent of it earmarked for local
McCord said the two cents was as much as the people of
Tennessee could afford and as much as business and industry could
absorb. If they passed a three-cent sales tax he would veto it,
Then they worked out this compromise: there would be a
$20,000,000 ceiling on the state sales tax revenue and provide
all over $20,000,000 would be among apportioned local governments
on the gasoline tax formula. McCord agreed to it. There were a
few people in the Legislature and one of them was Cliff Curry, who
was a senator from Hamilton County, and told me several times:
"They are wrong about this sales tax estimate at $20,000,000." He
said, "It is going to be almost twice that." Cliff was a man who
had made some investments and was a lawyer and he knew something
and made a conscious study of things like this when it came up in
the Legislature. His forecast was right.
In the first month of the sales tax collections came in, it
was obvious that the gross for the year was going to be nearly
double the $20,000,000 and this was going to provide a lot of
money for the local school systems in the rural areas.
But of course, there was nothing which could be done about
it. Browning, having come back, he had his name on the ballot
against McCord in 19-46 and The Tenness ean vigorously supported
him. Joe Hatcher went to Germany , where Browning was still on duty
with the army in the military government of Germany.
Hatcher wrote a series of columns about Browning and about
what he was doing in Germany, and how he wanted to run for
Governor of Tennessee but his duty to his service and country came
first, and all that sort of thing. It built Browning up as a real
Browning announced his candidacy for governor in the
Democratic primary and a candidate for the nomination of governor
in 19-48. He said he was encouraged by the vote he had received as
he was a candidate in absentia in 19^6. When he landed in the
United States he hit the ground running was his expression. The
Tenne ssean supported him and Browning accused the McCord
Administration of having spent money like a "newly rich wastrel
heir" as Browning would say with an inflection in his voice to
make it sound absolutely terrible what they had done. He said,
"This fine refinancing program that he had sponsored when
of Tennessee before, Governor had been sadly mutilated by the
changes made in it by the McCord administration. They issued
bonds and spent money they didn't have and all sorts of financial
DR. CRAWFORD: Wasn't that quite a change for The Tenn essean that
had opposed him in his first term to be supporting
him in this way when he came back?
MR. TRAVIS: Of course, there had been a break between Crump and
Silliman Evans, Sr. Charlie Nash, who was
Assistant Commissioner of Institutions here for a number of years
and was a part of the Crump organization, told me a story about
how that split came. In the 1 9 ; 4 Democratic National Convention
Silliman Evans wanted to go as an at-large delegate from
Tennessee. Evans was one of these people who liked to spend money
and liked to drink whisky and he liked to exert his power, but the
delegate at-large seats had been decided and of course, Crump was
going to be one of the at-large delegates. Crump agreed,
according to Nash, to give up his delegate at-large seat and let
Silliman Evans have it to maintain political harmony in the
Democratic party in Tennessee. But Nash said when they got to
Chicago for the convention, Evans invited all the Tennessee
delegation to a banquet and made a pitch for him to be elected
chairman of the delegation. Crump resented Evans trying to take
over the Tennessee delegation at the Democratic Convention. That
was the break which occurred at the 19^4 convention. I believe
it would have, because it was a convention in which Crump
organization and Tennessee delegation refused to vote for Harry
Truman for the Vice Presidential nomination. Prentice Cooper was
the state's favorite son for the presidency and then when it went
by the board Roosevelt's nomination became inevitable. Then he
announced he wanted Harry Truman for his Vice presidential candi-
date. The Crump organization objected and Cooper was their
chairman of the delegation. The Tennessee delegates voted for
Prentice Cooper for the Vice Presidential choice. Mr. Crump gave
his explanation Truman was a product of a corrupt political
machine in Missouri (laughter) which was the Pendergast Machine.
A lot of people thought it a case of the pot calling the kettle
black; here was Crump wanting to pub his man in the Vice
Presidency and didn't want a Pendergast 's man put in. The
relationship between Crump and Evans was totally disrupted. The
Tenne ssean began to take up Browning's cause again.
In the dispute about the financial reorganization thing where
Browning accused McCord of having crippled the financial
reorganizaiton plan and Browning claimed total credit for it and
didn't give Tabor and Tabor or Hill McAlister or anybody else any
credit. To him it was Browning's Financial Reorganization.
McCord said he couldn't understand what Browning meant by these
remarks he was making about the way he, McCord, had managed the
state's finances. Browning's reply was: "All I can give him is
information. Only God can give him understanding." (Laughter)
Browning was a colorful phrase maker. Another one he used in that
campaign was: "They haven't built any roads in Tennessee for the
past four years and now the election is coming up they have so
many surveying stakes out on the highway the rabbits are knocking
themselves unconscious running into them."
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you know where he got that gift of being such an
orator--a user of the language?
MR. TRAVIS: I don't know. It was kind of an old fashioned
oratorical style and the first time I heard him
speak was when he ran for the United States Senate against Nathan
Bookman in 1934. I remember him making a speech. Browning opened
all his campaigns in Murf reesboro . You went to the court house
yard as everybody did. You didn't have television and all these
participatory sports to divert people from the entertainment
provided by politics. In small towns the whole county would
gather in the court house yard on Saturday and spend the day
listening to politicians making speeches and itinerant preachers
preaching. It was the local entertainment of the day.
Browning was in his speech opening his senate campaign, I
thought he was one of the most remarkable speakers I had ever
heard. Of course, I have heard a lot of speeches since then.
None of them have much influence on anything. Occasionally, one
Bachman had been appointed by [Hill] McAlister when Cordell
Hull resigned to become Secretary of State and Bachman was a
congressman from Chattanooga at that time and was appointed to the
Senate. He had to run for the rest of the term as it was or maybe
it was for the full term in 1934.
Browning had gotten himself into some trouble by writing a
letter to Bachman saying he wasn't going to run against him that
he had no disagreement with Bachman. McKellar was the man he
wanted to beat. Of course, when he became a candidate against
Bachman, this came out. Browning had the unfortunate habit of
writing letters which got him into trouble or sending telegrams
which got him into trouble like his "60,000 reasons why I love
Browning defeated McCord. He handled sales tax issues
saying, "I tall you no tax is sacred." Everybody said well, he is
going to repeal the sales tax. After the election was over,
Browning said, "I didn't say that. I just said, "No tax was
sacred. I didn't say anything about repealing the sales tax."
McCord was a very courteous gentleman. He told Browning, he
said he hoped he would keep the sales tax; the state needed it.
McCord went very gracefully through a transition period and took
Browning with him to the Southern Governor's Conference — some of
the meetings being held about that time. Browning had promised
the school teachers a raise. So he said the surplus in the sales
tax had ceased to exist: it existed because we didn't know how
much revenue we were going to have. He said, "Now we know how
much revenue the state is going to get from the sales tax, we are
going use the sales tax money to raise teachers' salaries." Of
course, that was very popular with the teachers.
Another thing happened after the election was the Tennessee
Education Association was meeting in Nashville and it was in the
fall after McCord had been defeated in the Democratic primary in
August. Of course, McCord had given the teachers a great big
raise after enacting the sales tax. The teachers at the TEA
meeting gave McCord a standing ovation when he was introduced to
speak at the meeting. McCord thanked them and said, "By the way,
where were you on August 7th?" (Laughter)
DR. CRAWFORD: When he needed them!
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, when he needed them. "Where were you on August
the seventh when I really needed you?"
DR. CRAWFORD: What do you know about the role of Mr. Crump in
that election? I know he was a strong opponent in
19^8 of Estes Kefauver, but what was his relations with Browning?
Did he strongly oppose Browning?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, he opposed Browning. He did everything he
could to help McCord get elected. Browning didn't
have much hope of getting many votes in Shelby County. He had
Robert Taylor, a lawyer in Memphis, who was Browning's campaign
manager. Nobody was paying much attention to him. Kefauver with
this blue ribbon committee headed by Edmund Orgill who was a well
respected businessman down there really went to work and made some
inroads in the Crump organization. Of course, the Crump
organization had while supporting McCord had decided to discard
Tom Stewart. We may have covered this before, but I'll run
through this again. J. Frank Hobbs, who was a livestock dealer
in Lawrenceburg was chairman of the State Democratic Executive
Committee and Joe Carr was Secretary of State.
They decided the political future in Tennessee rested with
the World War II veterans who had come back and they conceived of
them as being the same sort of cohesive political voting block
World War I veterans were. Well, there was no comparison because
World War II involved so many people and because of some of the
unfortunate things which happened and with the state units of
National Guard units being captured in the Phillipines intact and
practically demoralizing a great area where the manpower of a
particular section of the country had been captured by the
Japanese in one swoop. So the army decreed you couldn't have
these state sponsored units any more like you had in World War I,
when you had the hundred and seventeenth field artillery commanded
by Colonel Luke Lea. The regiment was recruited by Colonel Lea and
the officers of the National Guard then were elected by the
recruits. Colonel Lea had himself elected Colonel. Browning was
elected a battery commander and some of these others and they were
all politicians. This became a ready-made political unit when the
war was over and all these Tennesseans came back as a ready-made
DR. CRAWFORD: I had never known why the War Department changed
policy of using complete state units.
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, they changed it right after that. I believe
that division was from Iowa. Joe Carr and Hobbs
convinced Crump the WWII veterans were going to be the political
force of the future. They ought to get a candidate for the
United State Senate who had a WWII war record. So Crump decided
to discard Stewart whose political talents were rather meager.
They chose John Mitchell, who had served in the Army during the
first World War and in the Army Air Corps in the second World
War. He was a circuit court judge in Cookeville and was
annointed the Crump candidate for the Democratic nomination for
This split the Crump organization and was a ready-made
situation for Kefauver. He got this blue ribbon group in Memphis
arranged through Charlie Neese, who was his campaign manager and
who went down there and explored various avenues for getting a
bunch of outstanding people. There were five members of the
committee and they took a tremendous amount of abuse from the
There were all kinds of insinuations made about their
ancestry, their morals and their private lives. They stood fast.
Although Kefauver didn't get a lot of votes in Shelby County, he
had managed to convert Crump's opposition into an asset in the
rest of the state. Browning was to some extent a beneficiary of
that as he was a beneficiary of the opposition to the sales tax.
Both of them won. Of course, the Crump organization went
into decline and within less than five years it was almost
totally out of business except for some hold on local offices in
Memphis and Shelby County.
DR. CRAWFORD: Crump died in 1954.
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, and McKellar died about a year earlier. Crump
had lost the touch he had for politics. Before
then, he would go out on the street and talk to people; he found
out what they wanted. Somebody said he could have given almost
anybody a telephone book or city directory of Memphis and still
won a contest on who could call the most people by their first
In his later years as so often happens, he had built this
little empire around him. It was a bunch of 'yes' men who tried
to think what would please Mr. Crump and propose it regardless of
whether it was a wise thing to do or politically beneficial. He
didn't go oat on the street much anymore and talk to people.
DR. CRAWFORD: He was much older by that time.
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, he had gotten on up in years. He was always
kind of an unreconstructed rebel , anyway .
DR. CRAWFORD: So the election of 19^8 was a very important one in
MR. TRAVIS: Yes, it was. Browning in addition was taking the
sales tax money and putting more of it into state
programs, especially educational. The Legislature had already
passed a law saying veterans of World War II didn't have to pay
the poll tax which relieved all World War II veterans and I think
it was all war veterans—World War I and World War II- — because by
that time most WWI veterans had outgrown the poll tax which I
think only applied to people under fifty years of age.
Browning persuaded the Legislature to enact a law saying the
poll tax was levied for the year 1871, which was the year it was
put in the Constitution and made a mandatory part of the election
process. The poll tax was levied for the year 1871 and in no
subsequent year, which meant that everybody was exempt from paying
the poll tax. McCord had endorsed a plan for a limited
constitutional convention, but there was a lot of opposition to
it. Oral Beeler, the state Attorney General, was very vehemently
against it. He claimed that if we had a constitutional
convention, the convention could rewrite the whole constitution
and proclaim it in effect without having a referendum.
So there were two particularly controversial parts of the
commission proposal. I believe one of them related to taxation in
some way and was real controversial, and the other dealt with
quorum of the House and Senate which is now two/thirds of the
membership. This was going to change it to the more conventional
majority of the members of each house. A lot of people thought
the Legislature would go hog wild if that was permitted. The
first referendum when McCord was Governor to call a limited
constitutional convention failed. Browning proposed and deleted
the two most controversial sections and retained the six most
popular, including elimination of the "Ripper Bill." They did
by putting the constitutional requirement any bill affecting a
local government in its proprietary capacity had to be ratified
either by two/thirds majority of the local governing board or by a
popular vote in a referendum. That just about killed the local
bill trade in the Legislature.
DR. CRAWFORD: It certainly did change things there, didn't it?
MR. TRAVIS: Yes. All of that was passed and calling that
convention was passed during when Browning was