When most people think of Georgia they think of Atlanta and busy urbanite cities and of course, Micheal “Lucifer” King, (The name JB Stoner bestowed to MLK). Georgia has been called the heart of the “New South” and in many ways it has sadly become much of that. However, there was a time when Georgia was ruled by hard working white ruralites, in particular, ‘ole Eugene Talmadge.
Indeed, many people outside of Georgia haven’t even heard his name; sadly, even most Georgians have forgot the man from their middle school history lessons. Governor Eugene Talmadge known as “Gene” by friends and a hillbilly dictator by the Yankee ((press)), who loathed him so much . Gene was the definition of a hard-ass and Southern fighting man. Gene wouldn’t back down, no matter what, like our modern leaders of Georgia (think Gov. Nathan “Straddle-Bug” Deal). Gene was a man who couldn’t give a damn about political correctness. He makes Governor Wallace look like an alter boy.
Gene was born in 1884 in rural Forsyth Georgia, to Tom Talmadge and his wife. Little Gene was an aggressive and determined boy who loved a good debate and a fight (something that would never change). He also loved to hear Tom Watson speak when he came to his local area. Gene was heavily influenced by Tom Watson and his influence has been described as, “Watson became the spiritual leader of the young man” (Anderson 9).
Watson was a hero in his own right and I recommend you look into the (((Leo Frank))) case and Watson’s opinion on (((Frank))) to see how much of a visionary he was for his time.
Talmadge has a reputation as a “mean” man and he knew it (later saying to a reporter, “I’m just as mean as Hell”). Gene would head off to the University of Georgia to become an attorney and would later live with relatives in Telfair County – specifically, the city of McRea. He would eventually meet the widower Miss. Mitt, who he would fall in love with and father the future Governor Herman Talmadge, as well as, two daughters. Talmadge wasn’t well liked in the local area due to his temper and sometimes heavy-handed attitude, plus his habit of defending sordid clients (he took the cases because of financial reasons).
Talmadge would get his political foot in the door in Telfair, but would get attacked and mocked by local political bosses known as “Court House Gangs” who ruled all over Georgia at the time. He had his own farm which Miss Mitt usually helped run and would hire sharecroppers (both black and white) to work on his land. Talmadge treated his black workers fair and would even eat at the same table with them during work breaks, but they knew their limits and he wouldn’t hesitate to put any of them in their place if they crossed him. He went as far as having once flogged one of them and, by accident, nearly killed one by hitting the sharecropper over the head with a loaded pistol that misfired.
Talmadge was known as a man who kept order in McRea and he would prove it to some Jews and their black servant.
A Jewish couple’s car had broken down in Georgia, while traveling from Florida. Their negro servant was in tow also. While the car was being repaired, the women and the negro butler were walking through a local park eating an apple. This discovery sent instant waves across the community of McRea, “The news had no sooner reached the courthouse than lawyer Talmadge exploded out of its door waving an axe handle furiously above his head” (Anderson 23). Talmadge was soon followed by another lawyer with a hammer and popped out yelling “I’m gone git you” – the negro servant went running for the hills when he saw the black haired hot tempered Talmadge.
A crowd of local whites then surrounded the car (that the Jews sought refugee in) and sent them packing – they even left the black butler. This might seem like an overreaction to non-racially aware people, but this is where Talmadge can truly be seen as a visionary. Talmadge realized what a problem the negro could become if given even a little leeway. He wasn’t one to forget what happened during Reconstruction a few decades before and the disaster of negro and Yankee domination of the Southland. He felt very strongly that the South must preserve her traditions and embrace her heritage if she were to survive. He even sensed the upcoming dangers, going on later to say, “Look beneath the smoke and you will see a raging holocaust burning away the very foundation of our Southern traditions and values”.
Talmadge deeply understood the meaning of blood and soil, he’s quoted as, “I am a native Georgian and my ancestors on all sides of my family have been in Georgia for 150 years. I am steeped in southern tradition and background. Neither I nor my people have ever strayed from the pasture of southern tradition. We have not even leaned against a fence.”