I love the history of our area, and sometimes I accidentally discover something that is just so unusual that I cannot let it go without a little more research. We have a treasury of history about Avondale Mills and the people who lived or worked there; and B. B. Comer Library has a wonderful link to the archives of the Avondale Sun, that company’s newspaper. The article I discovered quite accidentally is what I want to share with you today. It comes from April 5, 1941, and is entitled “Citizenship Recognition Day Program.” The picture of Uncle Sam caught my attention at once in this year of the Presidential election in our country and the recent mayoral/council races in our city.
The Recognition Day Program was to take place at Sylacauga High School Auditorium on April 8, 1941. Sponsored by the Rotary Club, Avondale employees from Sylacauga and Sycamore are urged to attend, particularly those who have reached the age of 21 in the last year. It is the newly registered voters that are the target audience, and their names will be in the drawing for donated prizes. There are eighty or more donated prizes, and fifty passes to the Ritz Theatre will be awarded to the new voters who did not receive any of these prizes. This committee thought of everything to encourage attendance because six of the prizes were to be awarded to members of the audience who were not new voters. Governor Frank Dixon was to the keynote speaker. He was the Alabama Democratic Governor from 1939-43. Howard Arrington Parker, Mayor of Sylacauga, Superintendent of Talladega County Schools, E.A. McBride as well as Frank Samford, Rotary Governor, were each given five minutes on the program which was scheduled to begin at 8:00 p.m. The bold print at the bottom of the announcement that promises: “Music, Color, Gaiety, and Instruction” seems to promise a very long evening coupled with speeches and drawings.
These were the days when voters were required to pay a poll tax, $1.50, and some of the merchants made the payment of that tax the prize from their businesses. Minimum wage was $.30 and $1368 a yearly average income. Sylacauga businessmen including Drs. Kelley Robinson and J.M. Davis, J.F. Smith, Bob Edwards, G.B. Hill as well as Mavis Tatum and the Knight Hotel all contributed to the celebration by poll tax payments as prizes. The poll tax was not declared unconstitutional until 1965. I well remember my Dad taking me to register to vote with Mrs. M.H. Riley, the registrar, on Norton Avenue and Hickory Street.
Looking over these merchants and their donations has to bring a smile to our faces. Birdsey Flour Store contributed 48 lbs of flour. Anyone out there remember that establishment? Lane Grocery( which was a wholesale grocery as I remember) contributed a 24lb bag of Magnificent Flour (must be the old White Lily). A housewife of today would not know what to do with 25-48 lbs of flour, but the big families of that day used it quickly for biscuits, breads, and sweets. Another grocery name that I remember is Shop Easy Food Store and Market which contributed one 24 lb sack of Gilster’s Best flour and one skinned ham. More of you may remember Shop Easy which I believe was located on South Norton at one time. Other grocery stores who offered what would today be very meager amounts in trade were A&P and Hill Grocery, No. 1 and No 2. Batson Grocery, and Smith Grocery (6 lbs Coffee Shop coffee) rounded out that list.
The list of dry goods stores that contributed to the prize list included: The Leader, Sylacauga Cash Store, Helen’s, Mary Louise Dress Shop, Goldberg Brothers, and Marble City Dry Goods. The amounts of items listed as prizes included $1.50-2.00 shirts or skirts to silk hose (very scarce during the war) as well as a Beau Brummel tie and a City Club Man’s hat. The list of shops brings back memories of friendly faces and lots of places to shop in downtown Sylacauga. I particularly remember the Goldbergs, Mr. Coker at Marble City, and Mrs. Gordon at Helen’s. The multi-cultural community of Sylacauga merchants cooperated with each other and made living and working together a pleasure.
Community is when everyone throws in her gift, however meager it may seem. I love this article because it truly illustrates that principle which is really biblical. Community is kindness and love expressed to your neighbor even when I you disagree with him. I hope that I have reminded you of some old places and old faces, and I will continue with this article next time.
I cannot leave this page today without expressing concern for the poor voter turn-out in Sylacauga in our recent election. Reasons are rampant, but the truth is we need to wake up in this country if we want to keep the sacred principles for which so many have sacrificed. The hundredth anniversary of women being able to vote and the removal of restrictions on voting (like the poll tax) are reasons to vote, but this reminder may stir you like nothing else. Isaiah, that biblical prophet of old, speaks of the downfall of any nation. First there is religious apostasy, then moral awfulness and finally political anarchy. Sound familiar? I plan on my voice being heard!! How about you?