Beer and Loathing in Dade County, Part I: The Lawsuit

February 24, 2017

 

On May 20, 1981, a tiny "filler copy" article on an inside page of The Dade County Sentinel--in those days, a well-written, newsy little paper edited by the late Myrna McMahan-- reported that Georgia had collected $48,968,870 in beer taxes in 1980, and that the 336 cities and 129 counties in Georgia that licensed beer sales had received $53,139,840.19 of that.


It was an easy article to miss, but it caught the eye of a Henry Nelson, who wrote a letter to the editor inquiring if the piece had been meant to take up white space or: "Is the Sentinel subtly preparing for a possible brainwashing scheme on behalf of certain members of the community who would like beer and other alcoholic beverages dispensed or sold in Dade County?" 
 

Mr. Nelson certainly hoped not. Alcohol, he wrote, had already caused more than enough "grief and expense" through being available in neighboring counties.
 

Whether The Sentinel really planned to brainwash its readers about the alcohol issue in 1981 The Dade Planet could not at this juncture presume to say; but what Henry Nelson's letter to the editor does show is that even in 1981, when Dade was a completely dry county, the possibility of local alcohol sales was not a new issue. There were already "certain members of the community" who wanted Dade to go wet, and Mr. N had dark suspicions that his local newspaper was colluding with them.

 

In any case, that filler copy, and the Nelson letter, were the first references The Dade Planet found in the local rag for 1981. But by the end of that year--whether because of the newspaper's "brainwashing" or otherwise--beer and wine were being sold openly in Dade stores.

 

Whether The Dade Planet hopes to wash any brains of its own 36 years later is also a moot point. But the fact that you are now reading a new newspaper article about alcohol sales in Dade demonstrates that the dry v. wet issue has been an uncommonly persistent one in this tiny rural county at the center of the universe. Though Dade voted in November by a 60-40 margin for liquor by the drink in restaurants, no licensing procedure is yet in place to allow for such sales, and citizens are increasingly stepping up to question that.

 

Remarks made at the February meeting of the Dade County Commission by Executive Chairman Ted "The Boss" Rumley in response to one of those questioners provided this article its genesis. Rumley, an enthusiastic local historian, gave a sketchy outline of how then-Sole Commissioner Larry Moore was forced by a lawsuit over three decades ago to begin issuing licenses for package sales of malt beverages. What The Planet was doing rooting around in 1981 newspaper archives was filling in the blanks.

 

 But let's start with something a bit more contemporary: an interview with Larry Moore (right) himself. Moore's position was eliminated in 1992 when Dade changed to a five-commissioner county government, and he now runs the family business, Moore Funeral Home. But last week he graciously consented to take a few minutes away from his work day to discuss with The Planet his 12 years at Dade's helm.


"I miss those days," he said.
 

But not, Moore hastened to add, all of them, particularly a few in 1981. "That was the biggest controversial issue I had," he said of the beer question. "Here I was, new in office ... I had other things that I needed to be working on."


Such as debt. Such as a decaying jail that the Feds were trying to close down. Such as a festering landfill and dumpsters that always seemed to be on fire. Such as parks and ball fields he had promised to build the county.  


Larry Moore had taken office in January 1981 after a campaign against incumbent Sole Commissioner Dan Hall that old-timers still describe as more contentious than anything before or since. The 1980 election had been so close that Moore was uncomfortably aware as he assumed his new duties that almost exactly half the county was rooting against him. He didn't want controversy, he wanted time to establish his cred. 


What he got instead, on Feb. 2, 1981, was an application for a license to sell malt beverages filed by Beatrice Haygood and Glenda Scott, through their attorney, Daniel C.V. Levy--who threatened a federal lawsuit if he refused.

 
Beatrice Haygood was the mother of Lawton Haygood, who years later would open The Canyon Grill atop Lookout. Bea, as she was called, operated convenience stores with her business partner, Glenda. They filed for the original beer license for their "Mountain Top" store on Lookout and shortly afterward opened the "B&G Jiffway" on Highway 299, in the location of the present truck stop.

 
"She was in some kind of business from a very young age," Lawton Haygood wrote of his mother in an email to The Planet. "Way before women's surge into business. It never intimidated her. She was fearless."

 

As for facing down the county government and the "drys,": "This was just typical for her," wrote her son. "She thought it was so stupid for the county losing the tax on beer sales." 

This photo of Bea Haygood at roughly the time of her application for a malt beverage license is courtesy her son, Lawton Haygood.


Bea Haygood is deceased. Glenda Scott is alive and well on Lookout Mountain, but The Planet was unable to contact her in time for this article.
 

But back to 1981. Besides the aforementioned filler article about how much tax revenue Georgia and its wet counties were raking in, and the letter in reaction, the first mention in The Dade Sentinel of the Haygood-Scott application was in a June 3, 1981, article by editor Myrna McMahan, headlined: "Moore rejects application for malt drink licenses."
 

Ms. McMahan wrote that the application had been filed, Moore had turned it down, and attorney Levy had stated his intention to file suit in U.S. District Court in Rome if Larry Moore did not grant the license by a May 18 deadline, now passed.

 
"The Haygood-Scott application also contained references to an understanding that the American Legion Post in Trenton and the AmVet Club located five miles south of Trenton have licenses for dispensing malt beverages," wrote Ms. McMahan.


There, explained Larry Moore 36 years later, was the rub. At the heart of the Haygood-Scott lawsuit was the fact that Dade was a dry county but not really dry. Stores couldn't sell booze and restaurants couldn't serve it, but the local American Legion post and the AmVets Club--AmVets are another veterans' group, still in existence but no longer in Dade Couty--could and did. 


Back then, explained Moore, the AmVets Club was located immediately north of the current Glass Farm plant nursery on Highway 11 between Trenton and Rising Fawn. "They had whiskey there, whatever you wanted there," said Moore. "It was a wide-open bar."


Current District 4 Dade Commissioner Allan Bradford said the American Legion post back then did not sell hard liquor, but recalls that it did sell beer.

 
And then, added Larry Moore, there were: "Numerous bootleggers." He couldn't give a precise count but said if you wanted Falstaff beer you went one place, Budweiser another. "Each of them had a separate brand," he said.

 

In any case, Myrna McMahan's June 3 article chronicled, Moore did deny the Haygood/Scott beer license, and as for the places that did serve alcohol, Ms. McMahan wrote: "Commissioner Moore stated emphatically that the post and club 'have not been issued malt beverage licenses by Dade County.' "
 

Moore had also said, wrote Ms. McMahan, that Dade Superior Court had denied a malt beverage application by a local citizen as recently as July 1979 and that in December 1979 a beer license "straw poll" had been defeated in Trenton. 
 

"In addition," Moore is quoted as saying in the article, "many people in Dade County strongly oppose malt beverage sales within the county." 


Moore's own position at the time was nominally "dry," but he also had this message for the county at large: 
 

"I would like to state that when I was elected to this office, I told all the voters that if I was approached by a request for a beer license that I would be willing to hold a referendum on the issue and that I would abide by the decision," Moore is quoted in the June 3 article. "Now I find that I cannot legally hold a referendum to decide the issue. Dade County is wet or dry by virtue of the commissioner's office only."

 
This again shows that the alcohol issue was already old enough to have been a campaign issue in the 1980 race. And as for the question being in the hands of the commissioner alone, Moore made it clear to Ms. McMahan he did not think that was a situation fated to endure much longer. The state of Georgia was "wet," he explained, with only six counties in the state still "dry." He had spoken with attorneys and with commissioners of other counties who had faced federal lawsuits over the beer question, he said, and: "I received no encouragement."

 
"The issue is whether or not to fight it," said Moore in the June 3 Sentinel. "The threat of court action is real. The cost of going to federal court will be high and the odds are against our winning."

 
To be continued in Part 2 of this series, "Sinners v. Aginners"...


A Note to Old-Timers: Do you have pictures of the AmVets Club or American Legion Post back in the day, or of townies swilling beer on the town square? If you would like to share them with The Planet and its readers, please scan and email to news@dadeplanet.com. 

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