Nashville now and then: Battles over books and ballots

This week in our history: Citizens mobilizing against the Red Menace, and deadlocked Democrats trying to choose a U.S. senator... Also: A bizarre little magazine emerges from Nashville's 1980s rock scene
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January 30, 1953: Legions misled?

The "police action" in Korea wasn't going so well this week in 1953, but back on the home front, eternal vigilance protected us from the peril of communism.

For several days, a special legislative committee heard about subversive influences in Tennessee schools. Nashville attorney Sims Crownover, representing an American Legion post, testified that a 17-year-old history textbook used in Nashville was riddled with "pacifistic tendencies" and played "right into the hands of our enemies."

Legionnaire Bill Liddon went further. "Right here in Nashville," he testified, "a man who was run out of California" for un-American activities was known to be teaching. Liddon did not name the man or his school.

Mary French Caldwell of the Tennessee Federation of Women's Clubs offered the committee a list of other questionable textbooks. "We are prepared to face accusations of witch-hunting, Red-baiting, textbook-burning and strangling academic freedom," Mrs. Caldwell announced.

Just as the clatter of the pitchforks reached a crescendo, however, the Tennessean calmed it. An investigative report published on January 30 found that the local groups had been manipulated by a New York pamphleteer whose organization was labeled "fascist" by the Justice Department. The committee cleared the history text.

But the Legion's Crownover, who would later chair Tennessee's branch of the States' Rights party, still had a beef about the book. "It left out any reference to the finer points of war," he said. "The communists want us to think war is the worst thing we can have."

January 25, 1898: Agreeing to disagree

Before the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted in 1913, allowed voters to decide who would represent them in the U.S. Senate, the choice was up to state legislatures. This week in 1898, a sharply divided Democratic caucus convened in Nashville to pick a replacement for Sen. Isham G. Harris of Tennessee, who had died in office the previous summer.

Contending for the post were Thomas B. Turley, Benton McMillin and Bob Taylor. Turley, formerly the law partner of Harris in Memphis, had been appointed to serve temporarily after Harris died. McMillin was a long-serving congressman who would go on to become the state's governor and then a U.S. diplomat. Taylor, then serving his third term as governor, was already something of a legend in Tennessee politics after winning his first term in an 1886 race against his brother Alf Taylor, the Republican nominee.

The minority Republicans were united in voting for their man, meaning that the Dems risked losing control of the Senate seat if they split their votes three ways. Nobody in the ruling party wanted to see that happen, and so, in advance of the floor session set for January 25, the members worked out a scheme that would get them through the day.

"The Democratic members of the House, as their names were called, voted for the Democratic member preceding the roll call," the Washington Post reported. By the time the voting was over, no fewer than 86 different people had received votes. The Republican had a majority, but the Dems' tactic, which the Post pronounced "farcical," sufficed to prevent the vote from being valid under the rules of the chamber.

That night, the Democratic caucus held 19 ballots in an effort to break the internal deadlock, but the three candidates remained evenly split. It went on like that for days. Finally, on February 1, on the 145th ballot, Taylor's loyalists switched to Turley. The General Assembly elected him to the Senate the next day.

January 29, 1988: Rogue writers on the Rock Block

And finally, an anniversary dear to the heart of this wayward scribe. Twenty years ago this week, your narrator, then a mere stripling, was part of a group/cell/commune/conspiracy that announced itself to Nashville as The Fireplace Whiskey Journal. Our publication was nominally about local rock bands, but the subtext was rage against the machine. Except there wasn't a machine, so it was more like rage against $6.50 an hour and nobody to ask out this weekend.

Fair warning: When Society bores the wrong people, what you get is something like The Fireplace Whiskey Journal.

More about the FWJ can be found via this link. We leave you with a few choice passages from its moldering pages:

The Probability (P) that a couple will go home at any point in the evening is a function of the Sobriety factors (S) of the two parties (S1 + S2), where (S) is a number on a scale of 1 to 10, multiplied by the Hour (H), which is calculated on a special 24-hour clock, where noon = zero. Then multiply by the Bitch factor (B), the measure of friction between you two if you stay out versus go home, on a 1 to 10 scale. Then divide the whole thing by the Activity factor (A), or the interest value of the possible activities if you stay out.
— Nicki Pendleton Wood, later food editor at the Nashville Banner and a reporter for, on the equations pertinent to those living the 20-something lifestyle back then

Perry Farrell's voice sounds like the face you make when you open spoiled cottage cheese.
— Kath Hansen, now marketing director at the Modern Language Association, on the major label debut of Jane's Addiction, Nothing's Shocking

Fact. The #1 selling album at the Fan Fair record store was by Ricky Van Shelton. "Insignificant," you snort. Scramble the letters of his name and see who laughs. ELVIS OK. TRY CHANN is the message. Now, loop it by joining the final word with the beginning again. ELVIS OK. TRY CHANNELVIS OK. TRY CHANNEL 5 IS OK. TRY CHANNEL 5 IS OK. The rest is up to you. Is this a rendezvous code, or does the King just prefer Chris Clark and Brenda Blackmon over Fred Graham, like most of Nashville's TV-watching swine?.
— "Addison DeWitt" (Clark Parsons, later a reporter for the Nashville Scene and The Tennessean, as well as editor of Nashville Life magazine)

Some area Baptists sold their worldly possessions in preparation for September's predicted Biblical Rapture, flooding the market with clear plastic upholstery sofa covers and white Chrysler K-Cars. Meanwhile, the man who wrote 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Happen in 1988, the book that fanned the flames of fervor, was busy closing land deals with profits from his highly successful work. Take that, Iaccoca.
— Addison again

Birthdays of note this week:

  • Attorney Leigh Walton — January 26
  • Attorney Steve Cobb and former Mayor Dick Fulton — January 27
  • Attorney Susan Short Jones — January 28
  • Historian and Tennessee Encyclopedia Editor Carroll Van West — January 29
  • State ECD honcho Matt Kisber — January 31

"Nashville now and then" is a week-by-week look back at Nashville's economic, political and social history. Your thoughts, suggestions and questions are always welcome — leave them in the comments section below, or e-mail

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