Historically Speaking: The Independent State of Dade--The LEGEND Still Lives

Holding a special edition of The Dade County Times which was published in the Confederate colors of blue and gray, announcing the return of Dade County to the Union, is Judge J.M.C. Townsend. Kneeling are, left to right: P.F. Newby, Silas Fowler, I.H. Price, J.M. Carroll and Elbert Forester. Standing are W.F. Morrison, Jim Geddie and Clyde Patterson.

When I was about 11 years old, I wrote two letters to what seemed like faraway and mysterious places. One was to President John F. Kennedy in Washington, D.C. I was requesting photographs of him and Mrs. Kennedy and Vice-President and Mrs. Johnson. They came with a letter from the White House, which I have since lost, but pictures are framed and hanging in my living room.

The other letter was to The Atlanta Constitution. I was fact-checking a story that my father had told me. I was a skeptic and I wanted proof that what he was telling me was actually the truth. A letter came a few weeks later with several copies of articles enclosed and all doubt was removed. Yes, there was a celebration on the Courthouse Square that honored the Free State of Dade’s return to the Union. It happened on the Fourth of July in 1945. If I, a native, born and bred, did not know the story of the Dade return to the Union, then there are probably a lot of new Dade Countians and young people who don’t know the story, so here is my annotated version.

Dade County was in an interesting position in 1945. The war with Germany had just ended and it looked like the war with Japan could soon be ending, too. There were approximately 600 young men from Dade who had been in service to their country during the years of World War II. Just before the war in early 1941, the road that we call Highway 136 had just been completed and for the first time since Dade County was in existence there was a portal to the rest of Georgia that did not include a ride to either Alabama or Tennessee. The state had built a park in Sitton’s Gulch and named it Cloudland Canyon. It was opened and Dade was ready for travelers and tourism dollars to roll in--and then, the war. Everyone continued in the conservation mode that they had become accustomed to during the years of the Depression. Rationing of gasoline, shoes, meat, sugar and most everything else were the daily norm from 1941 to 1945.

The county leaders could see an end of the war and rationing in sight and were ready to celebrate. They planned to have a big celebration for the Fourth of July. How would they manage it? The LEGEND might be a way to call attention to all of our new assets and the possibility that all of our veterans would be returning home.

The LEGEND was that in a rush to join the Secession movement, Dade County seceded from Georgia because Georgia did not secede fast enough to suit Dade County. The facts of that tale can be disputed at another time. The leaders were well connected with the political powers in Atlanta because of all the time spent in preparing for the building of the road and the park. They enlisted new friends in politics and media to create a reentry by the “Independent State of Dade” into the Union. WAGA radio in Atlanta and the Atlanta Constitution were full partners in the idea by the time the Fourth of July came around. Some historians have argued that some of the information transmitted during this celebration might be considered FAKE news. This show was going to be a big deal.

This telegram resides in the scrapbook of Mrs. Eva Townsend, wife of Judge J.M.C. Townsend. Allen Townsend, Wildwood resident, is the keeper of his parents' work and life in politics. ​

Quoting from The Dade County Times, July 5, 1945, here is a capsule of the day:

“After the Civil War no written document ever announced the return of Dade County to the Union. Eighty-five years later, a group directed by Judge J.M.C. Townsend decided to stage a celebration, whereby the “The State of Dade” would rejoin the Union.

About 3,999 citizens of the little mountainous County of Dade “from Sitton’s Gulch to Wildwood”, came in from the hills on July 4, 1945, to vote for and celebrate the event. The pageant, “The Return of Dade County,” was broadcast from the Dade County Court House at Trenton by Radio Station WAGA at 8:30 P.M., Central War Time, July 4, 1945.

Judge Townsend’s speech was broadcast over a Coast-to-Coast hookup of the American Broadcast Company. Paramount Motion Picture camera men were on hand to record the Pageant over the twelve station southern network.

The cast of characters were four local citizens: Judge J.M. C. Townsend, who led the county back into the Union; J.M. Carroll, the County Ordinary, who played the part of “Old Uncle Bob” Tatum, the Old Political Warhorse who made the threat to the General Assembly; Senator Elbert Forester and Mrs. Virginia Page of the County Selective Service Office.

The following is an excerpt from Judge Townsend’s speech: “Now let us consider a resolution a, that the Free State of Dade, on the July 4, 1945, shall cease to exist—and that Dade County shall return in spirit and in fact to the Sovereignty of the State of Georgia. All those in favor will signify by saying ‘Aye.’ This was followed by the unbridled bedlam with a chorus of AYES.

The Stars and Stripes officially flew over the “Free State of Dade” for the first time since the beginning of the Civil War.”

The news coverage was truly nationwide. I used Newpapers.com to see what kind of coverage there was for that day. I was amazed that this story or the iconic picture of the flag being raised was in almost every paper across the country. The Call-Leader of Elwood, Illinois showed a map of the Southeast and stated “The last stronghold of the Gray was no more.” The Call-Leader also touted the telegram from President Harry Truman which said: “Welcome Home, Pilgrims.” The Austin American (Texas) quoted an older resident, calling him a mountaineer as he viewed the flag for supposedly the first time in 85 years, in this way: “God, she’s a pretty sight at that, now ain’t she.”

The Dade County Times was published and edited during the war by two well- known residents, Jim Geddie and Cleron Kyzer. Of all the things that are known about these two gentlemen, running a newspaper did not cross my mind until I read the masthead of the paper. One of them (or possibly Elbert Forester) wrote an editorial for the July 5th paper. Here are the closing thoughts from that editorial:

“The legend of the “Independent State of Dade” ceases to exist; only a memory exists in our hearts and minds, but this memory, however pleasant, does not, nor has it ever exceeded our love and loyalty to the Stars and Bars.”

In 1976 and in 2010, there were celebrations to recreate events of that day in 1945. There will be another celebration next Wednesday at Jenkins Park on the Fourth of July. In 2010, then Better Home Town program manager and County Commissioner Peter Cervelli stated to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press that the LEGEND did not

die but still remains as “the most identifiable part of Dade County’s History.”

--Donna M. Street


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