Beer and Loathing in Dade County, Part 2: Sinners v. Aginners

March 1, 2017

The B&G Jiffway, the modern, spanking-new convenience store at I-24 and Hwy. 299 where Bea Haygood and Glenda Scott wanted to sell beer in 1981.  (Photo courtesy of Lawton Haygood.) 

 

This series is about how alcoholic beverages came to be sold in Dade County. It is a story that began a long time ago and even now continues to unfold.

 

In part 1, we looked at how newly-elected Sole Commissioner Larry Moore took office in January 1981 only to face in February Dade County's first skirmish with modernization of its blue laws. Local entrepreneurs Bea Haygood and Glenda Scott applied on Feb. 2 for a permit to sell malt beverages, and their attorney, Daniel C.B. Levy, promised a federal lawsuit if Moore denied it.


Which Moore promptly did, and the lawsuit was filed. Moore, the then-county attorney, Bob McClure, and an outside attorney retained by Moore fought to keep the county dry--but Moore from the onset warned his constituents he expected to lose that battle. 


"He made it clear he was not going to bankrupt the county fighting a lawsuit over a can of beer," said current Dade County boss Ted Rumley.


The basis for the Haygood/Scott lawsuit was that Dade was a dry county in name only; bootleggers were rife and two veterans' clubs sold drinks openly. There was also plenty of hooch swilled overtly on the Trenton town square, as both Moore and Rumley, chairman of the five-member Dade County Board of Commissioners that replaced Moore in 1992, recalled in separate interviews. Especially on Election Day, said Rumley.
 

On election night, said Rumley: "People would park all the way to the red light on the side of the road." Their owners congregated on the square, waiting to hear (and possibly object to) the results as ballots came in from the precincts. "They'd be drinking that old liquor from Sand Mountain," said Rumley. "There were very few times there wasn't a fight." 
 

The law wasn't much help, said Rumley. "We only had one deputy and one sheriff then," he  said. "They'd always deputize a bunch of people to get them to help them, but usually when a fight broke out, half of them were drunk." 
 

But back to the lawsuit. Attorney Levy had given Moore a May 18, 1981, deadline, which had passed when then-Dade County Sentinel editor Myrna McMahan broke the news in a big front-page spread on June 3, detailed in Part 1. 
 

What did folks think of all this? The Dade Planet sifted through earlier annals to no avail. In 1981, as now, Dade Countians were slow to write letters to the editor. For the rest of that month, all The Planet netted was an empassioned letter from 12-year-old Carl Towns, a student at Dade Middle School, telling the editor: "I'm sick and tired of the KKK killing black people." 
 

There was no mention of the KKK having done such a thing in Dade County. Young Towns had heard about it on TV, he wrote.
 

On July 1, 1981, The Sentinel printed an open letter from Sole Commissioner Moore. He reported that on June 25, the county's attorneys had filed an answer to the lawsuit and that he was still fighting malt beverage sales in Dade. "However, if I am unsuccessful I will require the right to regulate them," he added. 
 

Expecting to lose, Moore had begun putting together the Alcoholic Beverage Control

Board, or so-called Beer Board, to set rules for sales. 
 

On July 8 (the Sentinel then as now was a weekly newspaper, published only on Wednesdays) the big news was that a curbside farmers market was opening in Trenton to feature homegrown produce. Organizers mentioned were local gardeners Dottie Abercrombie and Horace Holt. Holt at that time wrote a gardening column for The Sentinel that considerably slowed The Planet's progress through the annals of

that summer of '81. 

 

(Another attractive diversion: That summer, The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia began showing in Chattanooga theaters, said The Sentinel. This was of interest locally because the movie had been filmed in Dade.)

 

(Readers may watch the movie on YouTube, though The Planet is hesitant to recommend it. A sit-com character once memorably described The Three Musketeers as "a movie based on the candy bar." The Night is a movie based on the pop song--loosely--and may have done better to rely on chocolate. But readers may enjoy the scenery.) 

 

Also on July 8 came the announcement of a public meeting on July 14.  
 

"We'd have a quarterly meeting every three months, and then open the floor for questions and answers. That was sometimes a pretty good challenge," Larry Moore told The Planet. "I had to stand there and take all the flak."
 

Then as now, apparently, Dade Countians could be contentious. But then as not now, they showed up. Usually there were over 100 people at the meetings, said Moore, with 50 or 60 people probably the lowest attendance he remembered. These days, nothing short of a monster tax  hike will fill up the Commission Room of a Thursday evening. 
 

And finally on July 8 there was a little action on the editorial page. "Wine is a mocker," wrote Pastor William E. Hampton of New Salem Baptist. Most of the print on the overexposed microfilm was illegible but enough of Rev. Hamptom's letter had survived to attest he was what Larry Moore called an aginner. And Tena Minor, who regularly wrote up the Rising Fawn news for The Sentinel, had also submitted a letter to the editor quoting the Bible and thanking God for Commissioner Moore and his continued opposition to alcohol sales.
 

News of the July 14 meeting was a disappointment to a researcher looking for adult-beverage-related information. Commissioner Moore had spoken mostly about the county's indebtedness of $450,000, according to Myrna McMahan's report. The Planet had to be content with this headline: "Trenton Skate Team bringing home trophies." Trenton had a skate team? Who knew?
 

On July 29 came a teaser: "Preliminary hearing in U.S. District Court last week." But there were no details. 
 

​​There was nothing about the lawsuit in the Aug. 5 Sentinel, either. All other news had taken a back seat to these glad tidings: "McDonald's Coming to Dade County!" The fast-food restaurant opened the following October.

 

 

But there was a not-unconnected editorial by Myrna McMahan that Wednesday: There were concerns that Dade might have to build a new jail to comply with federal guidelines. Previously cryptic paragraphs in The Sentinel about a struggle by civil attorneys to gain access to jail inmates without consulting their criminal lawyers became clearer: Federal attorneys needed to interview inmates about whether their civil rights were being violated by conditions at the jail. What it boiled down to was that already debt-burdened Dade might shortly be need of yet more revenues--as in beer taxes--to build a new slammer. 
 

The old jail, in what is now Veterans Square, is obscured by trees in this photo from the library's collection. Photographer unknown.

 

Finally, in the Aug. 12, 1981, Sentinel, came the headline: "Ruling issued."  
Judge Harold Murphy of the U.S. District Court in Rome had decreed on Aug. 5, wrote Myrna, that Larry Moore must issue malt beverage licenses unless he could submit a valid basis for denying them within 30 days. The sale of liquor by the AmVets Club, unimpeded by local law enforcement, Judge Murphy found, "constituted operation and sale with a permit." 

 

"The Court must presume that some action, whether oral or written, has been taken by some commissioner prior to Jan. 1, 1981, due to the evidence of continued operation," the judge had written. And with one group being permitted to sell adult beverages in the county, basic fairness dictated that that standard must apply to all. 
 

Why had Dade's law enforcement allowed the bootleggers and veterans to sell a commodity forbidden by law in the county? The Planet asked Larry Moore, who couldn't answer.
 

But in the next week's Sentinel, Aug. 19, 1981, former Sole Commissioner Dan Hall said law enforcement had interfered with booze sales, if only sporadically: then-Sheriff Cubie Steele had in fact raided AmVets at one point, Hall said in a statement on the front page.
 

That Aug. 19 Sentinel afforded Hall and Moore, after the acrimony of the preceding year's campaign, yet another chance to duke it out in public. Moore said he had been unable to prove whether or not a permit had been granted AmVets "due to the disappearance of certain records in the Office of the Commissioner."  Hall said Moore had "prior commitments to issue a beer license and had also promised church groups he wouldn't." 
 

"He is simply using this as an out to to satisfy both the 'wets' and the 'drys,' " accused Hall. He also said Moore had borrowed all the money he could and was looking for new revenues. "But it won't bring in that much money," he said.
 

Moore made it clear in the Aug. 19 Sentinel that he would not appeal Judge Murphy's ruling. "The judge's letter leaves me no alternative but to adopt this ordinance for the regulation and control of malt beverage and wine sales, regardless of my personal feelings on the issue," he said.


He set a public meeting on the subject for 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 27, but said he intended to adopt an ordinance allowing for beer and wine sales on or around the 28th.
 

It was only now that public reaction became evident in the annals. Letters to the editor on Aug. 19 referred to "the invasion of Christian beliefs" and threatened not to trade at stores that sold alcoholic beverages.
 

In the Aug. 26 Sentinel came a letter to the editor from a Phil Harris, who pointed out that Bea Haygood, who brought the lawsuit, was a relative of Larry Moore's. Other sources have referred to her as Moore's aunt. Actually, wrote her son, Lawton Haygood, in an email to The Planet: "Larry's dad, Sherman Moore senior, was her second cousin is what I understood." 
 

Over 100 people attended Moore's Aug. 27  meeting, reported The Sentinel, some urging Moore to countersue and others applauding the ruling. In Moore's interview with The Dade Planet in 2017, he remembered more of the former than of the latter. "The people that came out to meetings, they were the 'aginners,' " he said. "We had some preachers, I won't mention their names, but they gave me a pretty hard time."
 

In the Sept. 2, 1981, Sentinel came the news that Commissioner Moore would adopt the ordinance on Sept. 5. A beer board had been established and fees set for licenses.

 

To apply cost $100, with an additional $500 to be paid for the privilege of selling beer

or wine, $750 to sell both.
 

"But in the meantime," wrote Myrna McMahan, "ministers throughout the community are meeting to discuss what could be done."
 

On Sept. 16 she wrote that 19 local churches in Dade had banded together to "organize a public outcry." Some 700 people had signed a petition opposing alcohol sales. Rev. Bill Hampton of New Salem Baptist Church was named the "moderator" of the movement, and there was a letter from Rev. Fred Leonard of Piney Grove Baptist explaining how important the resistance was "though a bit late getting started."  
 

A bit too late, as it turned out. On the same date, The Sentinel announced that applications had been approved for beer sales by six local stores: They were listed as: Avaco, Delta Red Ace, B&G Jiffway #1 and Jiffway #2, S&S Convenience and

GW Mtntop Shopping Center. It was the "Mtntop" store that Bea Haygood and Glenda Scott originally sought a license for, beginning the lawsuit. Their B&G Jiffways came later.
 

 The money pours in

Beer sales began that fall and Dade County promptly began collecting revenues. "We set five cents a can as the charge to the county," said Larry Moore. "The first year we got $140,000 of revenue and the second year went to 160,000, and to my knowledge it's maintained that or more the whole time."
 

Was that a lot of money in the early 1980s? asked The Planet.
 

"That was the largest source of revenue that we had," said Moore.

 

Epilogue

That's it. The blue laws haven't changed in Dade County from 1981 until this day. In 1996, Dade voters turned down a liquor-by-the-drink referendum. The issue didn't recur until last November, when, shocking many observers, every voting precinct came in in favor of liquor by the drink.

 

But in the intervening months, the Dade County Commission has taken no action toward creating a process to issue liquor licenses.The commissioners are expected to at least broach the subject at their March meeting this Thursday night. Individuals have spoken out at previous meetings to urge the commissioners to action, and a citizens group is on the agenda to address the commissioners on Thursday.

 

The Trenton City Commission writes its own ordinances regarding alcohol sales, so rules inside the city were not affected by the county's 1981 cataclysm. Trenton City Clerk Lucretia Houts, leafing back through Trenton City Commission meeting minutes, surmised that the town stayed "dry" until February 1986, when:

 

"Mayor [Gene] Carter presented the ordinance for the sale of wine and malt liquor drawn up by the previous mayor and council. The straw poll taken in 1985 indicated the citizens wanted the ordinance adopted."

 

So Trenton was five years behind the county with package sales--but then, in 2010, beat Dade to the punch for on-premises sales. After a few contentious public meetings featuring bused-in church congregations pitted against "wets," the city passed an ordinance allowing beer and wine at restaurants.

 

Will Dade now catch up to Trenton, and in fact go the town one better by allowing hard alcohol as well as beer and wine? To find out, or even to participate in the decision, citizens are welcome to attend Thursday's county commission meeting.

 

It begins at 6 p.m.

 

The Dade Planet thanks Lucretia Houts for her help in researching the Trenton angle, Lawton Haygood for his photographs and memories, County Boss Ted Rumley for starting the ball rolling and above all Marshana Sharp and April TInker at the Dade Public Library for their help with the monster microfilm machine.  

 

 The Planet cannot resist throwing in this shot of the square, also from the library's collection, after the old jail was torn down later in the '80s. A new jail was one of the projects Dade needed that beer money for.

 

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